Readers who thought I was exaggerating when I likened the Melbourne Anglican Diocese’s election of its next leader to the Great Eastern Steeplechase at Oakbank will have to think again.

The Melbourne Diocese synod of over 800 (not 400 as was originally reported) met on Friday night and Saturday to choose between four candidates to replace Dr Peter Watson, who retired in October last year.

It will have to meet again tonight because, after ten, yes ten, ballots on Saturday the Diocese was still unable to agree! Melbourne Anglicans claim to be a “diverse” church; in truth they are just hopelessly divided.

The synod voted by exhaustive ballot on two separate occasions to eliminate three of the nominees, leaving just the UK Bishop, Michael Doe, to be voted on in separate ballots by the house of the laity and clergy. In the house of laity he secured the necessary two-thirds majority – no mean feat given the deep divisions in the church.

But he was unable to get a two-thirds majority among the clergy, so the whole process will have to start again tonight – with all four candidates back in the field.

Factionalism in the Anglican Church is more rife than it has ever been, especially in Melbourne where there is just about a 50/50 split between the evangelicals (generally low church and very conservative on social and church issues) and a loose alliance between liberals and “catholics” who are high church, but very much progressives on social issues and key church issues such as women bishops.

Unsurprisingly, each faction endorsed two candidates – so it is little wonder that the “consensus” required (two-thirds majorities) is difficult to achieve.

Today’s Age reports that both factions are “strong united” on one thing – after 13 months without a leader they truly want to elect someone.

But that wonderment is no guarantee that tonight’s final session will achieve the required consensus. If it doesn’t, the stewards will declare it a no race, new nominations will be called, and a diocese desperately needing strong leadership won’t have a leader – strong or otherwise – until well into 2007!

And we thought the counting of Senate ballots was complex!