The next stage in a process that is surely the Anglican
equivalent of the Great Eastern Steeplechase held at Oakbank every Easter
(4,800 metres, 24 steeples) will begin tonight when the synod of the Anglican
Diocese of Melbourne meets (again) to try and elect its next
Archbishop.

The 400 synod members will have before them four
candidates – a different four from the list they could not agree on earlier this
year. If Centrebet were to run a
book on the contest, the shortest price would be “no result”, or “please try
again” given the deep divisions within the diocese over the
issue.

The last time the synod tried to elect its Archbishop,
the Dean of Brisbane, John Parkes, came closest to winning but his name has not
even been put forward by the archaic “Board of Nominators” this
time.

A measure of how truly painful the process has become is
surely confirmed by the fact that the Board of Nominators has held 47 meetings
since it began the process a year ago – and the role of the Board of Nominators
is mainly to sift through possible candidates and submit a list of up to six for
the synod to consider. Is it any wonder the synod has allocated tonight,
tomorrow, and even Monday night to make a decision? And there is every chance
there won’t be a decision at all.

The four contenders this time are the Bishop of the
Northern Territory, Dr Philip Freier, the Archdeacon
of Frankston and Rector of Mount Eliza, Dr David Powys, and two overseas
candidates, the Bishop of Highveld in South Africa,
Bishop David Beetge, and the General Secretary of the
United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and Assistant Bishop of
Southwark, UK, Bishop Michael Doe.

Given that half the field are foreigners, perhaps the
trade union movement will need to extend its campaign against foreign workers to
the Anglican Church?

If conservative Sydney Anglicans are hoping one of the
candidates will follow their hard line on issues such as women bishops they will
be disappointed.

As the Board of Nominators Chair, Dr Muriel Porter, said
when releasing the list of nominations, all four candidates had to agree with
the Diocese’s commitment to the “admission of women to all three orders of the
church – deacons, priests and bishops”.

If one of the contenders can negotiate the obstacle
course that is the selection process – ending with the need to get a majority of
votes in both the “house” of clergy and the “house” of laity one of their first
tasks will be to find a new official residence to live in. The Diocese is so cash-strapped that historic Bishopscourt is up for sale or lease!

He will also be confronted with the worrying news that
church attendances in the Melbourne Diocese have fallen alarmingly in recent
years – and have to play serious “catch up” given that the position of
Archbishop has been vacant since October last year.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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