NT bishop honours one invitation and arrives with his own

Bishop Greg Anderson has big ambitions for the Church in his Territory.

By Mark Brolly

February 17 2016Bishop Greg Anderson came to the Church Missionary Society’s annual Summer Under the Son (SUTS) gathering in East Burwood last month with much to give – but  also, frankly, in the hope of receiving something in return.

The leader of the Northern Territory’s Anglicans spoke about the work of the Church in his diocese. But he was on the lookout for partnerships, particularly with parishes in the rest of Australia with Indigenous ministry, and for people willing to head north as missionaries (clerical and lay) or to work in remote communities in health, education or as mechanics to stand alongside church leaders there.

He is keen, too, to plant churches in growing areas of the Territory, such as the northern suburbs of Darwin, its satellite city of Palmerston (where only one Anglican church serves a population of 30,000 people) and Alice Springs.

“It would be great to have thriving Aboriginal churches in remote communities,” Bishop Anderson told TMA at SUTS, held at the Crossway Baptist Centre. “At the moment, those churches have a limited capacity and I think to thrive, they need external partnerships.

“I want to stress that it’s not about white people coming in from outside and running the church. People from outside need to be ready to learn and watch and stand alongside, and not to dominate. I have already talked to the church leaders and they have said that is what they think is needed as well.”

Bishop Anderson said most Anglican churches in his diocese were in Arnhem Land, with perhaps 100 people gathering for church out of a population of about 5000. But only 500 people go to Anglican churches across the whole NT, so one in five worshipping Anglicans there is in an Aboriginal community.

“I hope that in 30 years’ time there will be 10 times more people in Anglican churches than there are now,” he said. “... There is a particular challenge for Aboriginal men because in traditional Aboriginal culture, men hold a lot of spiritual power and that is at risk when they become Christians. So they have to be absolutely sure that this Christian God has more power than their traditional spirit Dreamings.”

Asked about evangelising Indigenous people who already had strong spiritual traditions of their own, Bishop Anderson replied: “The story of Jesus is a story for all people and all cultures and our responses to it will be shaped by who we are culturally. But all of us have to do the hard work to see what the impact of the story of Jesus is in our own culture and that needs to be done in a biblically informed way.”

Evangelising the wider Territory culture is also a challenge as big as the Territory itself, especially as only one parish in his diocese can afford more than one minister. Hence, his desire for partnerships, material as well as spiritual.

In his presidential charge to his synod last April, Bishop Anderson said: “Statistics on church growth show that on the whole, new church plants do better than established churches on just about all measures. The solution is not to close all our churches and plant new ones! However, we must be open to new possibilities... Are there ways that we can do church with technology? In fly-in-fly-out environments? With interest group niches? With tourists?”

Melbourne is not wholly foreign territory for Bishop Anderson. His mother hails from East Kew and his parents-in-law are both from bayside suburbs. He and his wife Annette studied at the CMS training college, St Andrew’s Hall in Parkville, for six months in 1994.

Born in Sydney and a cradle Anglican, he was introduced to the NT in 1986 when he was researching the traditional songs of central Arnhem land. He returned there with CMS in 1995 and lived first at Numbulwar, on the Gulf of Carpentaria, and then in Darwin.

Dr Anderson was the first person to be ordained by Dr Freier, one of his predecessors in Darwin.

From 2007, he was head of the Mission Department at Moore Theological College in Sydney until  installed as Bishop of the NT in 2014.

His vision for the NT was perhaps expressed most succinctly in a promotional video for SUTS: “I would love to see the Diocese of the Northern Territory being a model for the rest of Australia, even a model for the rest of the world, of what God is doing creating a new family, one new family around Jesus, of people from every different nation and language and tribe and race... If we can show that we are part of one family together, that we are worshipping the same Lord Jesus across that enormous cultural spectrum, then I think we’re showing something big about what God is doing in the world.”