28 May 2024

Grey Spaces: Interesting questions, but not radical enough

Leigh Mackay

16 May 2023

Jeffrey W. Driver, Grey Spaces: Searching Out the Church in the Shadows of Abuse. Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2022. 

Bishop Driver loves the church and this book is a labour of love. His journey is to reflect deeply on the Royal Commission’s exposure of the Anglican Church’s failure in recognising and dealing with sexual abuse.  

As a former Diocesan Registrar, I found the early chapters helpful to understand the evolution of church structures and how power is largely exercised by the clergy. To be a holy creation and part of the world will always be a difficult balancing act. Working for the church I met the best people I’ve ever encountered – and the worst. All mixed up together. But encountering the best made it worthwhile. 

Bishop Driver draws a number of conclusions: 

  • “The church [is] out of step with the world around it and responding in ways … contrary to its own foundational message.” 
  • Practises and structures supported by tradition have become rigid and less amenable to question and change. 
  • “The royal commission was particularly scathing about how the bishops contributed to the tragedy of abuse …in their own leadership, within structures of governance, and in their responsibility for the culture of the dioceses they served.” 

In summary, he writes, “[there is] a growing discord between the structures, leadership, and vocational culture of the church and its missional context.” 

Read more: A dawning hope for trauma in the church

He then explores some ways to think about these systemic issues. As a retired archbishop he has considerable standing to offer his thoughts. And some are radical. For example, to mitigate against a repeat of past errors he calls for the church (and synod in particular) to be a “space for conflict, critique, and sustained disagreement.” He also acknowledges the cultural challenges this will involve. 

But in the unescapable tension between episcopal ministry and management, he is of the view that when they get too close “the risk is that the latter colonizes the former.” It is unclear what he means. In my experience, in this classic example of clergy-meet-lay space the bishops have the numbers. And the number of Anglican dioceses in severe financial straits I suggest supports my view. 

Interestingly Bishop Driver does not mention gender. The influx of so many women into the ranks of the ordained 20-30 years ago had a profound impact on the vocational culture of the Anglican Church. Perhaps it was because so many were of mature age and had such diverse life experiences. It offers a potential case study of how to embrace change. 

Read more: Cardinal’s death may trigger intense emotion for abuse survivors

There are a few sections where Bishop Driver moves from the academic to the personal. They reveal the costliness of his journey and heighten the impact of this important book. 

While I think Bishop Driver has not been radical enough, this book does “lift the lid” and pose interesting questions. I wonder who will read this short, dense book and what Anglican synod will be brave enough to engage with the real issues this book identifies. 

Leigh Mackay OAM was registrar of the Diocese of Melbourne from 1995 to 2001, and is Canon Emerita of St Paul’s Cathedral. 

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