Bishop retires again but his helping hand knows no rest

Bishop John Harrower has retired from his role as Bishop Assisting the Primate

Bishop John Harrower, who has retired from his role as Bishop Assisting the Primate but will continue to help Archbishop Philip Freier with pastoral matters on a voluntary basis.

By Mark Brolly

May 7 2020Bishop John Harrower has retired again, this time as Bishop Assisting the Primate now that Adelaide's Archbishop Geoff Smith has succeeded Melbourne's Archbishop Philip Freier in the national role.

Bishop Harrower, who retired as Bishop of Tasmania almost five years ago after 15 years in the Apple Isle, formally finishes his role with Dr Freier in July but has started long-service leave after "hand-over" duties on primatial matters.

Yet, even now, he is not quite finished assisting Dr Freier: he is to help the Archbishop with some pastoral matters on a voluntary basis for the rest of this year until mid-2021.

But four-and-a-half years in what was meant to be a half-time role in the Primate's office has convinced him that the Primacy should be a full-time role, probably based in Canberra.

"I think the Anglican Church desperately needs a full-time person in that role," Bishop Harrower said. "Philip could have contributed so much more if he had have had the time."

The Church in Australia has 23 dioceses with a strongly local focus, he explained, and a General Synod with limited authority.

"When you have something like a Royal Commission [into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse] come along, you realise that our lack of a national structure is a grave weakness.

"Australian society is demanding more. Look at the Royal Commission's report on the Anglican Church."

Bishop Harrower described his time assisting Archbishop Freier as "a very satisfying relationship for both of us".

"We knew each other well and had great confidence in each other. We would discuss things and would not always agree on everything but that was part of the richness of our relationship."

It was fitting that a retired Bishop of Tasmania should take the role, he explained, because the Diocese of Tasmania is "extra-provincial", not belonging to a province but having a special relationship with the Primate.

Dr Freier approached him about the role at the annual bishops conference in early 2015. The two men came to know each other well 15 years earlier when Dr Freier was the recently consecrated Bishop of the Northern Territory and John Harrower was about to cross Bass Strait to become a bishop.

"I thought that [his role assisting Dr Freier] would be a useful and helpful transitional role -- useful for me and helpful to him in terms of me having been a full-time diocesan bishop in Tasmania to a half-time role assisting the Primate."

Bishop Harrower praised Archbishop Freier for his keen intellect, saying he had "a fine Christian mind".

But the role assisting the Primate was bigger than Bishop Harrower had anticipated and he spoke warmly of working with Dr Freier, his media adviser Barney Zwartz and the General Secretary of the General Synod, Ms Anne Hywood, as difficult issues such as child sexual abuse and same-sex marriage tested the Church.

He said the Archbishop's regular TMA column was a very good monthly discipline "because it brought from the man the contribution that we all wanted and needed for both the Church and society".

Bishop Harrower also praised Archbishop Freier for his "reassuring and particularly comforting voice" in 2016 when police thwarted plans for a Christmas bomb attack at Flinders Street Station, Federation Square and St Paul's Cathedral.

The former Church Missionary Society (CMS) missionary in some of the darkest days in Argentina's history, Vicar of what is now Glen Waverley Anglican Church (GWAC) and Archdeacon of Kew is looking forward to spending time with his wife Gayelene ("I owe my bride some time," he said), their two sons and three grandchildren, as well as supporting Gayelene with her work redecorating old cards and selling them, with the proceeds going to CMS.