Falling apart and coming together

Many Australian Anglicans seem largely unaware of the speed at which global Anglicanism is unravelling and regrouping, in a variety of ways, into its historic constituent elements. Within Australia long-standing diocesan diversity has tended to mask this process. We have lived together – often uneasily enough – with controlled conflict surfacing at gatherings such as General (and local) Synods and Bishops Meetings. In more recent times, Primates have had to work hard to maintain an image of increasingly tenuous unity which is often lacking in substance. On the ground, the overall reality is one of massive numerical and financial decline, plummeting morale, and widening cracks of pluralism, often papered over by predictable rhetoric supported by ecclesiastical engineering.

We are long overdue for the scales to fall from our eyes and face with Christian honesty and charity the present state of affairs for the sake of the Gospel we are called to serve. Not least is it time for some wholesome penitence as to the decisions and policies that have brought us to our present sorry state. However, as many complain, bishops continue to pontificate, as emperors without clothes, over illusory diocesan empires with high walls, as they face mounting financial problems; amalgamating vacant parishes; evaporating priests of quality; and the devastation, or dread, of moral scandals with the threat of crippling litigation. In the face of such difficulties the bishops need our prayers, not our scorn. Nonetheless, we of Forward in Faith need from them, in practical terms, Lambeth 1998’s recognition that ‘we are loyal Anglicans’. We have very publicly asked, on more than one occasion, that they talk with us and seek reconciliation with us – as we have sought to do with them – rather than hearing of contempt and accusations about us to others. The response, to us directly, has been a deafening silence.

It is a sad indication of priorities that rather than seriously engage with the confronting realities indicated above, so many Australian Anglicans, along with their bishops, remain distracted by, and preoccupied with, attempts to introduce the deeply divisive novelty of women bishops. The latest proposals in this regard, as to which there has been no attempt, or apparent desire, to discuss any of this with us, is to come before General Synod again in October. Provisions, such as they are, for people like ourselves, would not have been acceptable to us even in 1992. To describe them as grossly inadequate and unable to recognize our position would be to put it mildly. There is every likelihood that these watered down and unacceptable ‘provisions’, in any case, will be detached from the women bishops legislation itself and dispatched to the procedural rubbish bin. Whilst difficult to assess at this stage, there is every possibility that the ‘further Clarification Canon’ regarding women bishops may not gain the necessary numbers to be passed.

Father David Chislett, the Vice Chairman of FiFA, and myself, along with other members of FiF International, met in February in London; first for internal consultation, and then with the Archbishop of Canterbury to discuss, variously, our future. While the meeting gave most of its attention to the possibility of an English ‘Third Province’, the Archbishop was well aware of the impossible position we face in Australia and that some difficult decisions must be made by us.

Following this, the National Council of FiFA met in Melbourne on 3rd June to discuss our present situation and a way forward in light of our Mission Statement. A number of important decisions were made. It was unanimously resolved:

1. That this Council of Forward in Faith, Australia, commits itself to working alongside the Most Reverend John Hepworth and the Traditional Anglican Communion, with the acknowledgement of the Archbishop of Canterbury, to provide adequate alternative episcopal oversight reflecting the principles outlined in the Communion Statement of Forward in Faith Australia.

2. That this Council forms itself into an Electoral College, as the need arises, for the proposal of candidates for consecration as bishops to provide alternative episcopal oversight in terms of Resolution 1.

3. That the Reverend David Chislett be nominated by the Council for consecration as a bishop to provide alternative episcopal oversight in the terms of Resolution 1.

The anticipated outcome of this will be the TAC and FiF in Australia ‘sharing’ a bishop who shall remain Rector of his parish, as with Fathers Moyer and Ilgenfritz in the USA. The hope is that through dialogue and co-operation a ‘pastoral’ rather than a strictly ‘canonical’ approach will nurture the emergence outside England of the equivalent of the ‘Free Province’ toward which FiF in England are working. It has been suggested that this process include a moratorium on dealing with parish property issues (for, say, 20 years). Nothing will happen for a while – at least not until the results of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Eames Commission (on the nature of the new Anglican Impaired Communion), due to report back in September, have been released and digested. Father Chislett’s name is now simply ‘on the table’ with those of Fathers Moyer and Ilgenfritz. It is envisaged that the three bishops will be consecrated together by an equal number of Anglican Communion Diocesan Bishops and TAC Bishops. TAC is, of course, in full Communion with FiF worldwide.

Behind this development, and associated with it, I should identify a positive correspondence and emerging dialogue between Archbishop Hepworth with both the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Australian Primate. We are encouraged not only by this but also a cordial and likewise positive exchange of letters between Father Chislett and Archbishop Carnley who has congratulated him on his episcopal election. The Primate, too, speaks of a dialogue, which we will gladly seek to pursue with him.

All this is an exciting and very positive development. Prayerfully, and under God, we have taken an initiative which, in spite of whatever difficulties may lie ahead, free us to give greater attention to the priority of Gospel proclamation, winning souls for Christ, and engaging in his mission to the world. It is time for us to move on from other people’s agendas, which have left us out in the cold, and the consequent spiritually exhausting distraction of fruitless rearguard actions.

One very recent development, of particular interest to us, is that the Diocese of Ruvuma in Tanzania (formerly Zanzibar of Bishop Weston fame) is now in full Communion with the TAC. Other Catholic dioceses in Tanzania are likely to follow suit. Ruvuma’s bishop, Dr Maternus Kapinga, will be a keynote speaker at our next FiFA Conference to be held in Melbourne in November 2005.

David Robarts OAM is National Chairman Forward in Faith Australia