With all the garbage spouted in the name of Christianity by Sydney Anglican leaders and their sycophants it’s easy to forget that God is still very much present here. Contrary to the impression I worry my blog has often given, Christ hasn’t simply thrown in the towel and left. There are still parishes where those not prepared to baptise misogyny and bigotry are welcome, and where “biblical teaching” isn’t simply an oxymoronic euphemism for rehashing the same old theologically dubious misinterpretations of Romans.
Nor should anyone for a moment believe the official lie about these churches dying. They’re not. In fact the so-called “liberal” churches are flourishing. (To understand that term as it’s used in Sydney you need to remember that wearing a cassock and surplice is generally defined as “high church”, and women reading the Bible aloud in the presence of men is routinely derided as “liberal” by at least one member of standing committee.) Whilst Archbishop Jensen’s vision for 10% growth has proven a spectacular failure, many non-party line churches (i.e. those identifying with the broader Anglican Communion) have exceeded this target many times over.
It was at one such place that I spent a really wonderful morning a few Sundays back. The minister – someone I respect enormously – was celebrating his twentieth year of service in the parish. Between the regular congregation, prominent members of the local community, and a score of notorious diocesan troublemakers ;-D the church was packed with those whom against all odds were found by Christ and held fast in love: old-age pensioners, young professional couples and their children, more than a few ex-prisoners (including one fellow who looked suspiciously like he was out on day-release), former Moore-college lecturers and ne'er-do-wells, and teenagers just beginning upon the voyage that is faith. The sick, the healthy, the learned and the illiterate: together we sung God’s praise, declared our belief, shared in the Sacraments, and heard the Gospel proclaimed in the face of a machine which would deny many of us present have any right to call ourselves Christians.
After the sermon (which was one of the very few I’ve ever heard that can honestly be described as life-changing), the minister shared something of his own journey. I won’t repeat it here, but suffice it to say he’s someone whom can even speak graciously of the diocese which tried to sue his wife rather make a claim upon insurance policies (the case was quickly withdrawn when the local secular media found out). Nor was I the only one left feeling deeply empowered and encouraged by the time he’d finished.
As you’d expect the Anglican Church League power-brokers were conspicuous in their absence: no bishop bothered attending. The only diocesan representative was a single archdeacon, who left as soon as the service was over. As an old friend I was great to see again said afterwards, “Perhaps the venerable archdeacon just felt embarrassed by his ridiculous vestments” – in that part of the city on a Sunday morning the only people wearing a business suit are shonky real-estate agents. Even lawyers visiting clients whose Saturday night excesses have ended in the police lock up don’t bother dressing like that anymore – so much for the prevailing local “wisdom” that the best way for a priest to relate to the unchurched involves impersonating a business man.
In fact what looked awfully like an unofficial boycott on the part of the heirarchy meant there was actually a bigger representation from the local mosque, who’d come to show their respect for someone they recognise as a leading “Man of the Book” than there was from those leading the diocese in which this minister has spent his life serving. Which can’t help reminding me of something I once read somewhere about prophets not being welcome in their own country…
So please - don't stop praying for us, or for dioceses like Newcastle (Australia) or Christchurch (New Zealand) where Sydney's Matthians (the more accurate term for what are often called "the Jensenites") have most aggressively pursued their tactic of border crossing. Your prayers are heard, just as are ours of thanksgiving for the faithful commitment to love, justice and truth shown by American Episcopalians, Canadians, and those in the C of E who haven't been seduced by a gospel of poison and power.
And never forget it'll take more than misogyny, bigotry and hatred to silence the Holy Spirit!