In what is obviously a compromise, and probably a commonsense, outcome, Melbourne Anglicans last night finally chose their new Archbishop, Dr Philip Freier, the current Bishop of the Northern Territory.
On the fourth – and final – night of balloting for the position, the 850 Synod members gave Dr Freier the necessary two third majority in the “houses” of the clergy and the laity.
The selection will probably appease both factions in the Melbourne church. Dr Freier belongs to the Anglo-Catholic wing (faction) of the church but he will be at least acceptable to Melbourne’s evangelical win.
He will need to be – because, as the Synod votes revealed, the Diocese is just about split right down the middle between the Anglo-Catholics and the evangelicals.
To get an outcome, the synod members had to go through twelve ballots at the weekend, and two last night. But it became clear that Bishop Freier had it in the bag when he fell just two votes short of the majorities he needed in the first ballot. Unsurprisingly, he won an overwhelming 75% in the final ballot.
The challenges ahead will be daunting. The first will be to unite the factions bitterly divided over the election of the Archbishop. Dr Freier was balloted out on Saturday, but was reinstated to the field when UK Bishop, Michael Doe, could not secure the support of the Diocese’s clergy.
But Dr Freier’s biggest challenge will be to try and reverse the alarming decline in attendances at church services in Melbourne Diocese. And then he will need to address critical financial problems as well.
The new Archbishop was appointed Bishop of the Northern Territory in 1999 after serving at a parish priest at Kowanyama in the Gulf of Carpentaria and at a number of parishes in the Brisbane Diocese.