The divisions within the Anglican Church have emerged again. A
leading Melbourne Anglican has opposed the election of a “liberal”
archbishop for the Melbourne Diocese when the diocese’s synod tries
once more to elect a successor to Dr Peter Watson, who retired last year.

The Reverend Peter Corney, the
Director of the Institute of Christian
Leadership, has recently highlighted the truly
parlous state of the Diocese of Melbourne, and has drawn attention to the
divisions that have seen the synod deadlocked over the election of a new

And there is no guarantee it will reach an agreement. The successful candidate needs to gain an absolute majority of votes in
both the “house” of clergy and “house” of laity. In the first vote in February,
the Dean of Brisbane, John Parkes (who I must declare is a friend), gained the
majority support of the laity, but not the clergy.

The Diocese has been “leaderless” for the best part of a
year at a time when its very viability is on the line. Estimated Sunday
attendances at churches in Melbourne have dropped from an average of
50,000 in 1980 to just on 21,000 this year – in a city of well over three

Many would argue it has been “leaderless” for a lot
longer! The former Archbishop, Peter Watson, was, in Corney’s words, not the “dynamic, innovative leader the diocese
needed”. He must have been in an exceedingly charitable mood at the

In today’s Australian, Peter Corney blames the Diocese’s “liberal” faction for the
decline, describing it as ineffective and a catalyst for decline. The problem
with that argument is that the “liberal” dioceses/parishes are not the only ones on the slide.

At a seminar last weekend on the Diocese’s future,
Bishop Phillip Huggins said the Diocese had a “harsh corporate culture” that
was wearing people out. Bishop Paul White said the Diocese needed “an accountable visionary leader who would be a clear public
voice in the community”.

Many would say Hear! Hear! to

The problem for the Anglican Church in Melbourne is that while it
remains deeply divided over whether it wants a “liberal” or a “conservative”
leader, the diocese continues on a steep downward slide, one that is having a
major financial impact as well. So much so that the Diocese
has sought expressions of interest for the Archbishop’s official residence,
“Bishopscourt”, reportedly worth ten million dollars
or more.

If the Melbourne synod cannot put aside its factional differences,
and elect an Archbishop, not only won’t he have a residence to live in,
he also won’t have much of a church to preside over!

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey