15 August 2023
A new network of Anglicans hopes to encourage unity in the church among those of different beliefs in the face of increasing tribalism.
The National Comprehensive Anglicanism Network wants to provide encouragement for Christians to work together for the truth that is in Jesus, rather than leaving people behind.
Leaders say it will aim to build connection through encouraging grassroots communication, and facilitating conversation, with joyfulness about the faith.
It comes as the Anglican Church worldwide and in Australia faces division over the issue of same-sex marriage within the church. Some member churches have left the communion to become part of separate “dioceses” aligned with the Global Anglican Future Conference – an organisation opposed to same-sex marriage.
National Comprehensive Anglicanism Network chair Bishop Stephen Pickard said the network hoped to gather Anglicans concerned about one fundamental issue: the church’s witness to the gospel. He said in unity, the church had a much more credible witness to the gospel.
Bishop Pickard said he hoped the network would encourage consultation and listening at a local level by providing a means of communication.
He said the network wanted to foster a broad-based, comprehensive Anglicanism, which was welcoming of a wide range of views.
Bishop Pickard said the network wanted to encourage Anglicans to feel connected to each other on the ground in churches. He hoped conversations, consulting and listening would unlock potential for people to have their own conversations and make their own enquiries, with an element of joyfulness.
Bishop Pickard said after the 2022 General Synod there was consensus among a group of Anglicans that the Australian church needed a platform for a variety of voices, in the context of an emerging tribalism.
At the 2022 General Synod, representatives from across the Australian Church voted not to vote on a motion Being the Body of Christ which called on Anglicans to respect one-and-other’s culture, build on what they had in common and where they differed to seek to discover each other’s faith as it was today, in the spirit of Philippians 3:13.
But Bishop Pickard said members planned for the network to exist in response to more than a single issue, as the question of the church’s oneness and its witness to the gospel was perennial. He said differences of opinion about the fundamentals of the faith had circulated for centuries, centred around different issues.
Bishop Pickard said the early Christian creeds’ articulation of the basic belief of the Christian community constituted the framework of the fundamentals of belief for the network.
Bishop Pickard said the network hoped to focus on places of nourishment for the church. He was concerned that energy was often spent policing the boundaries, rather than being put into mission in an increasingly secular culture.
“Where you’re looking, that’s where you throw your energy. Excessive focus on boundaries, sucks up a lot of energy for mission,” Bishop Pickard said.
“The places where [the church is] really growing, and there’s a sense of aliveness, are the places where they’re looking at the remarkable watering holes of faith, and the places that give life to people. The places where it’s struggling are places where there’s a lot of internal political issues.”
Bishop Pickard said people from all walks of Anglicanism had signed up for the network’s mailing list so far, a test of the diversity of views within the network.
Network member Dr Jane Freemantle said it was important to her to be part of a group of people who were loving, and wanted to spread the word of God as a God of love. Dr Freemantle joined about two years ago, because Anglicanism was discussed as being comprehensive and inclusive within the network.
She hoped NCAN would encourage Anglicans to come together in love.
“It really spoke to me because of the whole issue of being comprehensive and inclusive, and embracing all God’s people, and the way it was being discussed was the kind of Anglicanism I was inclined to be [part of],” Dr Freemantle said.
“In an environment when people are encouraging us to polarise. More than ever before we need to come together as God’s people.
“It’s just so important, we need to be together. We can agree to disagree. The great thing about Anglicanism is it’s a very broad spectrum, and we love each other.”
The network’s overview statement references the 1968 Lambeth Conference definition of comprehensiveness, which describes it as demanding “agreement on fundamentals, while tolerating disagreement on matters in which Christians may differ without … breaking communion”.