Anglican Synod 2004: Are liberal Anglicanism's days numbered?

Anglican Synod 2004: Are liberal Anglicanism's days numbered?

Rev Nigel Zimmerman

Rev Nigel Zimmerman studied Journalism at the Queensland University of Technology and this year completed his Master of Theological Studies. He was ordained Deacon in the Anglican Church of Australia in November 2003 and has begun his first curacy as Deacon Assistant in the Anglican Parish of Murraylands and Chaplain to Bishop Ross Davies of The Murray.

The Anglican Church of Australia (ACA) has rejected women bishops. Between 2-8 October, representatives of the 20 dioceses gathered in Perth under the soon-to-retire Primate, Archbishop Peter Carnley. Heated debate saw not only women bishops, but actively homosexual clergy and same-sex blessings all disallowed to the chagrin of theological liberals.

This was due to the combined efforts of the growing Gospel-centred Evangelical conglomerate of Sydney Diocese and the smaller but also Gospel-centred Anglo-Catholics from around the country. Furthermore, in a world-first, the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC, dubbed "continuing" Anglicans) received tacit approval from the Primate himself in his opening speech.

Orthodox stirrings

Since 1992, when canon law was altered to "allow" women priests, theological warfare has ripped official Anglicanism apart. As the women bishops debate was launched in earnest, orthodox (both Evangelical and Catholic) Anglicans have watched the liberal onslaught with dismay. But there have been stirrings of a way forward only now coming to life.

Forward in Faith (FIF) is an international organisation which began in response to the ordination of women in the Anglican Communion. Over the past decade, it has worked as closely as possible with orthodox Anglicans throughout the Third World and more recently with the Anglican "continuers", Anglican bodies forced out of communion with "official" Anglicanism for the sake of keeping catholic faith and order in a sacramental stream consistent with the great Patristic tradition.

Much more recently, FIF and the TAC have expressed their "full communion" and recognition of each other's ministries. There is a widespread acknowledgement that continuing Anglicans wish to pursue serious dialogue with the intention of reaching full communion with the wider Catholic Church.

On 3 June this year, after twelve years of patiently asking Anglican bishops in Australia to provide some form of alternate episcopal care, orthodox Anglicans have come together in unity with a plan. In June, FIF, in conjunction with the TAC, formed itself into an electoral college and unanimously elected Fr David Chislett, Rector of All Saints' Wickham Terrace in Brisbane, as a bishop - although no date has as yet been set for his consecration.

While it is true that Archbishop Carnley of Perth is an open supporter of women priests and bishops, it is also true he has been a sensitive listener to FIF in recent times. He is a man facing the very real extinction of Anglicanism in this country with some honesty, unlike many of his liberal friends who appear to be avoiding the inevitable.

Declining numbers, the recent crisis of mis-handling of sexual abuse matters, an increasing irrelevancy among the general public: these are all matters which have not been curbed by the advent of women priests or the loose morality preached from many an Anglican pulpit.

To even mention either FIF or the TAC in earshot of many liberal bishops in Australia is to immediately attract venom and often outright anger. There seems to be a genuine fear that many Anglicans have really lost interest in the great experiment of liberal Anglicanism. And after all, where are all the liberals under 55?

In his Presidential Address, Archbishop Carnley acknowledged what FIF is trying to achieve and said, "Meanwhile, a commitment to the spirit of ecumenism leads me to the view that we must preserve the most friendly and creative relationship possible with Archbishop Hepworth and the member Churches of the Traditional Anglican Communion."

Despite the Primate's care, Archbishop Philip Aspinall of Brisbane offered something extraordinary to the debate. Despite an open discussion with the Archbishop and what seemed to be a genuine attempt to reach some form of continued understanding, he overturned his dialogue with FIF completely by attempting to pass a "Canon To Restrain Certain Consecrations" (Bill No. 23).

New evangelisation

Nobody at the Synod said it out loud, but the target of this canon was clear. Bishop Ross Davies of The Murray has been a public supporter of Fr David Chislett's Episcopal election. As the only diocesan bishop in Australia who is also a member of FIF, liberal bishops are fearful that with legal obstacles out of the way, he will be a co-consecrator of Fr Chislett.

The bill which would have prevented his involvement in such a consecration failed.

The problem for the liberal Anglican establishment is that there have been soundings from all over the country of support for Fr Chislett in his election as a bishop. Liberal bishops who have not been willing to provide orthodox Anglicans with alternate episcopal care are running scared that a "new evangelisation" will be taking place because of Fr Chislett's consecration.

What we are all left with is a strong will to achieve a place for orthodox Anglicans in Australia, an even stronger confident Evangelical majority and of course a sad group of 1960s style Anglican liberal bishops - ruthlessly protecting their property and their finances, but lamentably out of touch with what is really going on in their parishes.

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