Archive for December, 2009


Are here – so I won’t be until Jan 18.

Have a good one!


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This was a big week for us at CCIW.

We took the first step of commissioning what’s called a Conservation Management Plan, basically a masterplan for a heritage site, which the entire of St John’s Ashfield is. The long term hope is to build a long day care center in one corner, and some toilets with attached ministry center next to the church building (we have none within 80 metres).

It got me thinking – why the need for a ministry center? And the answer has to do with the 3 spaces of church life:

  • parking space
  • seating space
  • foyer space – for community milling around / standing after the service

The thing is: the growth of any one congregation is capped at the lowest of these three. We have seating for 220, parking for more, but only foyer space for 90 (and we only got that by taking seating out, down to 170). Though the building looks big enough, the truth is that we can never grow a congregation beyond 90.

Which is a shame, considering that the other parameters of the site permit 200+. Hence the need for a foyer.

So, how have others responded to the 3 spaces of church life?

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Faith in Australia

What do you make of the results of the 2 recent surveys (CPX and Nielsen) of Australian faith?

The Nielsen survey ( and the CPX results are roughly the same) show personal belief in God is still relatively strong (68%); a whopping 50% see themselves as Christians, and of these (I think that is the right interpretation of the figures), 94% believe Jesus was an historical figure, 91% hold he was the Son of God and 85% believe he rose from the dead.

from flickr by jnunemaker

And yet, 1% of Sydney / Mountains / Woolongong and south coast dwellers attend an Anglican church, and around the same in total for the other Protestant denominations – let’s be generous, and call it 3%. If half of the 50% who call themselves Christians are Roman Catholics, that means there are roughly 20% of the entire population who have relatively conventional Christian beliefs who choose not to go to church – 20 times those who actually attend an Anglican church!

Two things leap up at me

  1. Surely they should be one of the main points of focus for mission. Part of that is taking a long hard look at ourselves and figuring out why we so spectacularly fail to connect with them. And then being very deliberate about doing better.
  2. Second, I wonder if it is in part theologically driven. Do this test: run mentally through your 2-minute gospel presentation. Creation – sin – Jesus – judgment – repentance, or whatever. Now, notice that fact that for most of us, there is no place in the gospel for the church. At best, it gets tacked on at the end as a resource for living the Christian life. Is it any wonder that if we have no place in the gospel for the church, neither does the 20%? They are perfectly content to be Christian without the church. Ephesians would find this inconceivable.

Don’t get me wrong – the Roman Catholic doctrine of church, which idolatrously inserts it between God and people as the mediator of grace, is an abomination. The whole RC sacramental construction is wicked. But the only alternative to false Christian communalism is not false Christian individualism.

As I mentioned before, for me Ephesians is the pointy end of the NT on this. I suspect that we have muted its clarity by misunderstanding its references to the church as being to a heavenly and eschatological entity (as PTOB put it in his famous article), rather than speaking to the earthly and present entity with which we actually have to deal.

So, how do we connect with the missing 20%?

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So, why?

Two answers, one pragmatic, the other more principled.

From flickr by Darren Stones

First the pragmatic issue. The fact is, that most of the Australian church has made its peace with women priests / presbyters and also bishops. This is almost impossible to reverse. At the same time, Sydney clergy (including me) remain overwhelmingly against this move. The two can’t mix, at least, not in any great numbers, and not at the level of episcopal leadership. But Melbourne has both women priests / presbyters and bishops, and so is seen as kosher by the rest of the Australian church. It remains a potential source of strengthening nationally.

But there is a second reason as well. The fact is that our style in Sydney has little of the flexibility needed to work in an ecclesiastically missional context. We simply don’t have the patience (or perhaps wisdom) to distinguish gnats and camels, to fight fights that are worthwhile and let others go through to the keeper.

And we keep behaving badly in relation to the national church. If you checkout the minutes of the recent Standing Committee here (as the first of other matters near the bottom), you’ll see a motion telling the General Synod how to suck liturgical eggs (including the astonishing use only authorised services – just as we do in Sydney – not!). It strikes me as patronising and petulant. You can smell the bridges burning.

Melbourne has a growing evangelical segment, soon to be a majority. They have a great theological college, whose graduates are acceptable nationally. Hence, I suggest that revival of Anglicanism in Australia will come from Melbourne.

What to do about that? Perhaps nothin’ much, not even send people to Melbourne, unless they are genuinely prepared to work missionally. Ironically, it turns out to be important in the larger scheme of things that Sydney keeps on being Sydney. Melbourne needs to keep looking good against the backdrop of a hard line Sydney!

At the same time, I wonder whether the time will be reasonably close when we bite the bullet, declare that we feel the freedom to plant Anglican churches in other Dioceses, and just get on with it, unconstrained by denominational niceties. There is a bracing consistency to such a stance!

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Back again, again

The mad rush of December – planning, recruiting leaders, mission, Christmas – has blocked any blogging of late, but I’m back, with the though to blog more consistently if less frequently next year.

But tomorrow I’ll post some thoughts on how I came to realise that the future of Australian Anglicanism lies not with Sydney, but with Melbourne

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