31 May 2023

Melbourne Church unlikely to be changed by new Southern Cross denomination: Clergy

Anglicans in Melbourne would not be unduly affected by the formation of a new diocese. Picture: iStock.

Jenan Taylor

23 August 2022

Melbourne clergy have reassured parishioners that the formation of an Australian diocese by the Global Anglican Future Conference Australia is unlikely to affect the Melbourne church.

Priests across Melbourne have sought to clarify parishioners’ understanding about the emergence of the Diocese of the Southern Cross and what it meant for them.

GAFCON Australia recently announced that it was not linked to the Anglican Churches of Australia, and that it encouraged Anglicans to continue within their own churches.

St Jude’s Carlton vicar the Reverend John Forsyth sent his congregation a circular on Friday after a number of parishioners had contacted him asking about the situation.

In it, Mr Forsyth reassured parishioners that St Jude’s would be remaining within the Diocese of Melbourne, and that the existing parishes and diocesan structures of the Anglican Church of Australia would remain unchanged.

Mr Forsyth said some of them knew very little about how the Anglican church in Australia was structured, because they were new to church.

He said even for those who had been involved with the church for several years, the situation could still be complicated and that he could see how there was a sadness around it for many people.

Mr Forsyth said he had hoped to offer clarity on the issues to reduce people’s anxiety.

Read more: Church ‘can find a way to stay together’: Primate

He said the issue itself as well concepts such as what a Synod was, were among the things that were important to help people understand.

He said he had also checked in with people because it was also important to try and help them pastorally as it was an issue that affected their lives, personally.

“I think sometimes that pastoral element gets lost amidst the broad issues and that’s really key as ministers of the gospel that we really care for our people in this process,” Mr Forsyth said.

Mr Forsyth said he would be surprised if any individuals wanted to leave the diocese for the new denomination, but that he would encourage them to stay if they were considering it.

Berwick Anglican locum Reverend Reece Kelly said some people had messaged him to ask if the church was splitting up.

He said those who knew about the Diocese of Southern Cross seemed to be confused by it, but that generally no one seemed to be against it.

Mr Kelly said people were more concerned about how the change might affect the Berwick church directly.

But, they seemed to accept that it would not mean too much for Melbourne at the moment, he said.

Asked what he thought it meant for Melbourne churches, former minister, the Reverend Rob Culhane said he didn’t see the Melbourne diocese as being unduly affected by the establishment of the Diocese of the Southern Cross.

Mr Culhane said the traditions that existed within Melbourne meant there was less of a chance of a situation like Brisbane arising, where a priest had left an Anglican congregation and become leader of the first church of the new diocese.

He said Melbourne’s Anglican church had navigated the tensions between progressives and conservatives for decades.

Reverend Rob Culhane. Picture: supplied.

Mr Culhane said it was a history that was aligned to the establishment of the Melbourne College of Divinity in 1910 which had illustrated an ecumenical spirit to work across differing theological views of that era.

It showed that the Melbourne diocese had always had a tolerant, working together kind of outlook, and a middle ground stance to issues, he said.

Mr Culhane said with the current issue, Melbourne was still holding a middle ground approach. He said it recognised that people had differences, but they were not substantial enough to impose on others.

“I feel taking the middle path, and wanting a middle of the road church, leads to a more settled, tolerant kind of diocese, where people who have different persuasions can actually sit together and work together and have a joke together,” Mr Culhane said.

“That that doesn’t happen in other cases where everything is either all black or white.”

Writing in The Age on Saturday, Melbourne Archbishop Philip Freier said that despite the Church continuing to support the traditional concept of marriage between a man and a woman, there had been some who had argued that it was wrongly progressive on marriage.

He said it had been one of a number of decades long points of contention between Australian Anglicans on a range of concerns.

Dr Freier said the GAFCON leaders’ decision to separate from the Church was a difficult one for those concerned and that it had been bound to unsettle people broadly.

He also noted that in Melbourne there had been a split in 2012 when incumbents from Preston and Kooyong had left the Anglican Church to join another denomination. But that occurrence had shown that the Anglican Church could continue to thrive, he said.

“Our experience of rebuilding parish ministries after the loss of leadership and, in one case the entire congregation, gives me confidence that it is possible for people to leave well and for the church that remains to continue well,” Dr Freier said.

“I am sure that the same protocols can be applied for any clergy and lay members of the Anglican Church who choose to join this new denomination.”

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