by John Bunyan
from Signs of the Times No. 70 - Jul 2018

Canon Tilby’s article (Church Times 27th April 2018) is all too relevant to the few liberals left in Sydney Diocese, where a very radical conservative Evangelical takeover is almost complete.

With major changes in the last 20 years, neo-puritanism is now dominant amongst the clergy. A small number of ministers retain the conservative evangelical but recognisably Anglican approach of Archbishops Loane, Robinson and Goodhew. But in parochial positions there are now no liberals, only a few ‘liberal catholic’ clergy of a rather elite ‘affirming Catholicism’ kind, and hardly any ‘middle of the road’.

Moore Theological College has been a major influence in all this, but also the long-standing Anglican Church League (ACL) with what Archdeacon R. B. S. Hammond called its ‘carnal’ party politics.

Archbishop Loane was amazed at the changes occurring even in his time (1966-1982), and it is fair to say that, despite being different in important respects from that of the Church of England, our experience since then should be considered alongside Angela Tilby’s and Martyn Percy’s thoughtful writings. Sydney’s story shows that Evangelical Anglicanism can become much more extreme and intolerant.

The saddest thing is the effect of all this on people, as Canon Tilby says, ‘patronised by the saved and the certain’. My last post was as Rector of a lively middle-class broad-church BCP parish. Before and since retirement in 2001, as an honorary Anglican hospital chaplain (unnoticed and unapproved by the diocese), I have probably met more than 22,000 patients who identify as Anglican (mostly), Protestant or Orthodox on weekly visits; but local clergy will rarely respond to emergency calls, few ever visit even their own churchgoers, and the diocese has been unable to find even one priest to join our team as a paid half-time chaplain since this ministry is not ‘evangelistic’!

As for many churchgoers, Canon Tilby is right in what she says about the abandonment of ‘traditional religion’, in parts of Sydney impossible to find. On Sundays I take two hours by bus and train to get to a ‘normal’ service, and some others undertake similar long journeys, but many either endure endless talk of heaven and hell for the sake of friends and fellowship or, much more often, cease to attend at all.

‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy’, Faber’s hymn reminds us, and of course we are all in need of that mercy, aware of our own narrowness in some respects, but - as I try to be through my books - seeking to be enthusiastic for truth, and at least endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

John Bunyan is a licensed priest of the Diocese of Sydney, a parishioner of St John the Baptist Canberra and adherent of St Stephen’s Uniting Church in Sydney, and a member of Kings’ Chapel, Boston USA. As well as being an honorary C of E hospital chaplain, he is also Honorary Chaplain of the Australian Intelligence Corps Association and a member of various conservationist, theological, liturgical, musical and historical organisations.

Read Martyn Percy’s view ‘Whose kingdom are we building? Leading Christian theologian challenges Church of England ahead of #ThyKingdomCome global prayer campaign’.