In the medieval church the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was appointed by the crown in England, needed to receive a pallium from the Pope which represented his ecclesiastical authority. The pallium was thin scarf-like vestment and the last Archbishop of Canterbury to receive one was Thomas Cranmer. Just a few years after receiving his pallium, Cranmer led the Church of England out of papal jurisdiction and by the end of his episcopacy he had done away with sacerdotal vestments entirely. One element of the English Reformation was that the appointment of an Archbishop of Canterbury no longer required the validation or support of an external ecclesiastical authority.
On the first night of the 2018 session of Synod a report was presented proposing Sydney Diocese supply substantial financial support for Bathurst Diocese. The extent of the support was $1.5 million paid over six years ($250K pa) which would be used to fund both a bishop and registrar for Bathurst. In return for Sydney meeting the financial costs, Bathurst would have to elect a bishop that received the approval of the Archbishop of Sydney. Why would Bathurst submit to this external ecclesiastical infringement? The short answer is that it is a financial imperative. The report said “Bathurst has fallen on hard times”. The reasons given were changing rural demographics as well as reckless overspending and the need to compensate victims of historic child sexual abuse. The result is that they cannot afford to pay their own bishop. The proposed solution was that Sydney would pay for their bishop but he will not be entirely their own choice. Written support will be required from the Archbishop of Sydney for the funds to flow and the written support can be withdrawn at any time entailing the cessation of financial support.
The thrust of the argument given for appropriating $1.5 million of diocesan funds for this purpose essentially boiled down to three factors: charity, mission and precedent. In terms of the first point, those promoting the motion to support Bathurst argued that the diocesan “kitty is bone dry”. Synod was told that as Christian brothers and sisters, “It is just the right thing to do!” Furthermore, the argument was put that just as the Apostle Paul commended the Gentile churches to financially support the impoverished church in Jerusalem, so Synod should provide the funding for Bathurst’s bishop and registrar. The parallel, however, was weak at a number of levels. For example, the Jerusalem church was not looking to fund a bishop, they were not in poverty because of reckless overspending and compensation for sin, and, importantly, the gift was given without strings attached by the givers. This last point was picked up by a member of synod who argued that if Sydney was to be charitable then it should give the money freely or else not give it at all. Another member of synod sought to amend the motion so that rather than merely a welfare subsidy to meet ongoing costs, Sydney would give $1million each year for six years to replenish Bathurst’s endowment so the diocese could stand on its own feet again. If charity really was the motivation and “it was just the right thing to do” then each of these suggestions had merit. Nevertheless, neither was endorsed by the Synod.
The missional argument for giving the financial support was based largely on the census figures for Bathurst Diocese. The report included the data that there are 33 parishes and 17 ministers working more than 3 days a week in the Diocese. According to the last census the population is 275,000 and 23.3% (64,000) identify as Anglicans. The report went on to quote the Lord’s words in Jonah 4:11: “Nineveh has more than a [sic] 120,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” Indeed, this is a very compelling missional motivation. What was lacking in the figures presented to Synod was any accounting of the workers who would take the gospel into the harvest. With only 17 ministers working more than three days a week less than half of the parishes in the diocese have a dedicated pastoral and missional leader. With so few in the front line, are Bathurst and Sydney expecting too much of this episcopal leader’s missional ability? Furthermore, the number of clergy was really the only hint the report gave about how many people regularly attend an Anglican church and when considering that some clergy are supported by organisations such as BCA one must conclude there are not many practicing Anglicans to partake in the mission at all. The mover of the motion was asked roughly how many people attended Anglican churches in the diocese on an average Sunday but was unsure of the figure. Another issue that was sadly overlooked was the age demographic of these Anglican churchgoers. The census figure of Anglicans is relatively meaningless in the context of assessing the strategic missional significance of Sydney’s financial investment.
Of even greater significance, however, is the theological priorities of those who would undertake the mission. Those familiar with the history of Bathurst will know that, although it began as an evangelical diocese, by the early years of the twentieth century it was marked by advanced Anglo-Catholicism. Essentially the gospel priorities of the reformation—Bible alone, Faith alone, Grace alone—were undermined in this movement. The relationship between Bathurst and Sydney deteriorated further when, in the 1940s, Bishop Wylde of Bathurst, sought to impose illegal liturgical innovations on the diocese. Key leaders in Sydney supported some Bathurst parishes in a legal resistance against the bishop. While the details of the Red Book Case need not be rehearsed here, the point is that past leaders of Sydney Diocese were so concerned at what they believed was the perversion of the gospel in the practice and belief of Bathurst Diocese they were willing to go to court to stop it. Sadly, while the report spoke a great deal of the missional importance of funding a bishop and registrar, there was little evidence that the priorities of those in the parishes of Bathurst were biblical gospel priorities.
The significance of this oversight should be put in the context of recent Sydney Diocesan involvement in the national Anglican scene. In 2014 the Viabilities and Structures Task Force of Australia’s General Synod produced a report assessing the state of churches across the country. Like the proposal regarding Bathurst, the viabilities and structures task force used census figures to measure how many Anglicans there were (rather than those actually attending church) and it looked at the future financial viability of dioceses. Sydney Synod responded to the report in 2015 asserting both that a “glaring failure of the Report is its employment of census figures when discussing attendance and numbers of clergy” and that the “viability of churches and church structures is not principally about finances and resources but gospel integrity.” It appears in 2015 Sydney Synod received a report criticising particular failures of a General Synod’s approach but in 2018 Sydney Synod was presented with an internal report with exactly the same flaws.
The final reason given for offering support to Bathurst was that there is a precedent. Armidale was particularly highlighted, demonstratingthe similarity of demographics and pointing out that Sydney has supported ministry in Armidale previously. The report stated “If it makes sense to support Anglican gospel ministry in Armidale, then it makes sense to support Anglican gospel ministry in Bathurst.” The next paragraph included the sentence “Through our Work Outside the Diocese (WOD) committee, Sydney Diocese currently provides almost $100,000 annually to support evangelical ministry in the Diocese of Armidale, the Diocese of the Northern Territory, the Diocese of North West WA and the Diocese of Tasmania.” There are two things worth noting about the argument from precedent. Firstly, four dioceses usually share almost $100,000 i.e. on average a little less than $25,000 each. What is proposed for Bathurst is an order of magnitude larger than what is generally given to other evangelical dioceses. Secondly, according to the report, the WOD committee gave the money “to support evangelical ministry”. This is a telling comment and explains much about the proposal.
Why has Sydney not supported Anglican ministry in Bathurst previously? It is because Sydney believes evangelical ministry is authentic Anglican ministry and Bathurst has not been evangelical. Why would Sydney offer support only on the strict condition that the bishop must receive the endorsement of Sydney’s Archbishop? It is because Sydney believes that through the influence of an evangelical bishop, or at least evangelically sympathetic bishop, evangelical ministry can expand and flourish in Bathurst. Although these reasons were not stated in the report or the arguments at Synod—and such weak arguments were used in their place—they are surely the reasons that stand behind the proposal and its particular condition. Those in Sydney Synod understood this, saw the potential gospel good, and supported the appropriation of the funds. Bathurst had previously unanimously endorsed the proposal stating their understanding that the diocese would retain “its independence, identity and integrity”. Well, sending a pallium will cost Sydney $250,000 per year. For Bathurst, receiving a pallium will cost also. It will cost the loss of autonomy in episcopal appointment. But surely both dioceses perceive the treasures in heaven that will be stored up as this initiative, and the evangelical ministry it promotes, expands the gospel growth in western N.S.W.