The start of the general synod of the Anglican Church on Saturday reminded me of the start of the Caulfield Cup on the same day – the key “contender” played up rather badly at the barrier!
Sydney’s Archbishop Peter Jensen is not the titular head of the Anglican Church in Australia, but he is its most influential figure, and if there is ever to be a breakaway movement, then it won’t succeed unless he leads it.
Peter Jensen and the Sydney Anglican Diocese have been warning for some time that unity within the worldwide church, and the church in Australia in particular, is at serious risk of collapsing.
The Primate, Brisbane’s Phillip Aspinall, had been hoping that the recent “agreement” with the United States Episcopal Church on the contentious issues of gay Bishops and same-s-x marriages would enable the general synod – which brings together the church’s 24 dioceses – to put on a show of unity and harmony.
He will be disappointed, if not frustrated. On the eve of the general synod, Archbishop Jensen, and the powerful Standing Committee of the Sydney Diocese, made it very clear they did not support the Primate’s assessment that the US church had complied with the demands placed on it by the worldwide Anglican communion over the two issues.
The Sydney resolution, unsurprisingly, gave support to the view expressed by Peter Jensen that required Anglicans to “look steadfastly to a future in which the bonds of communion (within the worldwide church) have been permanently loosened”. To say that Peter Jensen is out of step with the Primate is an understatement.
The other vexed issue facing the Anglican Church in Australia – appointing women as Bishops – is unlikely to get much of as run at the general synod this week.
The recent decision by the church’s highest legal body to declare there is no obstacle in the church’s canons (laws) to women being appointed as Bishops effectively leaves it up to individual dioceses to decide whether or not to appoint them. There is no doubt several Dioceses, such as Melbourne and Perth, will appoint women to the church’s highest office when vacancies occur in the next year or so.
And when that happens, the rift with Sydney – which won’t even appoint women as priests – can only widen.
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What leaders like Phillip Aspinall will be hoping is that Peter Jensen’s frequent references to the bonds “loosening” means that neither Sydney, nor the equally conservative, and growing, African Church, will formally sever their links with the Anglican communion.
But that is not a position they can count on with certainty.