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Sydney’s Anglicans say building more churches in western Sydney and the urgent “discipling” of children are key to spreading their faith amid declining attendance and a hostile mainstream culture.
Church leaders are considering selling empty churches in older parts of the city to fund building in booming areas, such as the north and south-west fringes.
The Archbishop of Sydney, Kanishka RaffelCredit:Rhett Wyman
About 70 per cent of the church’s property assets are east of Parramatta, while residents of some outer suburbs have to drive 20 kilometres to the nearest church.
As the country’s most socially and theologically conservative diocese holds its synod, or parliament, for the first time in three years, divisions among the country’s Anglicans have deepened due to another defection to a Sydney-backed breakaway church, the Diocese of the Southern Cross.
In his opening address to the synod at the weekend, the Archbishop of Sydney, Kanishka Raffel, acknowledged the drop in those identifying as religious and Christian in the recent national census, but said it did not mean people were closed to Christianity.
Almost a third of the general population would go to church if invited by a friend, but more than half did not know a Christian, he said, quoting figures from a National Church Life Survey. Anglican schools and services such as Anglicare provided those connections, but potential recruits also needed churches.
While churches could be run from homes, “we are convinced that in new areas, the development of a church and ministry site has numerous advantages for both the ministry and the community”, Raffel said.
“If we do not get in ‘on the ground’ before development plans are settled, we will either be locked out for a long time or need to find considerably more money to enter later,” he told synod members, gathered for the opening ceremony at Oran Park in the city’s outer south-west.
Raffel said the church must also focus on young people, given three-quarters of Anglicans “made a decision to follow Christ” before they turned 20. Yet Anglican parents and schools trying to raise Christian children were battling a cultural context that was “hostile … to the biblical vision”.
“What I’m saying is that the discipling of children is both urgent and more necessary and more challenging than it has ever been,” he said. Discipling means encouraging others to follow Christianity.
Anglican schools have become a flashpoint between mainstream and Christian culture. The synod’s requirement that new principals and board members sign a statement of belief that marriage is between a man and a woman has caused a significant backlash in some school communities.
The issue has been referred to a synod-run consultation committee, which is considering feedback on the statement from concerned parents and school leaders.
Meanwhile, a priest in Brisbane has become the second to quit the Australian Anglican Church and join the breakaway movement, which was created for those convinced the Bible rules out same-sex marriage and who believe their bishops open to blessing them are too loose with the scriptures.
The breakaway movement is backed by the Diocese of Sydney, although Raffel said Sydney would not join nor fund it. The synod will on Wednesday be asked to vote on a motion welcoming the new church, even though dioceses in other states are opposed to it.
Peter Judge-Mears, the rector of St John’s Wishart in Brisbane’s southern suburbs, is the second minister to quit the Anglican Church and join the Diocese of the Southern Cross.
“This decision has been one I have wrestled long over. I am concerned that the mission of Jesus with which we are charged should be delayed no longer,” he said.
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