Sydney’s next Archbishop

I enjoyed Paul Levy’s rollicking post on Reformation21 the other day about the current election campaign among Sydney Anglicans for our next Archbishop—particularly the bit where he referred to The Briefing as one of the unfortunate gifts that Sydney has inflicted upon the world. For a mob of upstart colonials like us, having someone from the Mother Country even acknowledge our existence causes an involuntary touch of the forelock. But to admit that we have become the means of God’s grace to the Brits by being a thorn in their flesh—this is a compliment beyond telling. (I will ask our British distributors to inflict a life-time gift Briefing subscription upon Paul as a mark of appreciation.)

But Paul’s main point was to ponder the strange business of Sydney’s imminent election of a new Archbishop. His perspective was that of a slightly bemused outsider, and I can hardly blame him for that. I sometimes find the culture of Sydney Anglican evangelicalism bemusing, and I’ve been here for all of my adult life. I thought it might be helpful for our many friends around Australia and overseas to provide an insider’s guide to the forthcoming election.

First, you must understand that the Archbishop is the chief denominational official and spokesman for the 300 or so local Anglican churches in Sydney. He has an important role in managing and leading what we do together as a fellowship, although his power over individual churches is limited. So for example, the Archbishop is involved in the process of choosing ministers for local congregations but does not dominate it. The local congregation itself drives the selection process.

Also, the Archbishop doesn’t make up the rules that govern the ministry and life of the churches in our fellowship. That authority resides in the annual synod (or assembly), made up of clergy and lay representatives from all the local congregations (about 800 or so people in all). The Archbishop chairs the synod, as well as the Standing Committee that carries on the work of the synod throughout the year. He also has a right of veto over synod legislation.

In many ways, the Archbishop’s real power is threefold: he can have a significant influence over direction and policy through his leadership of diocesan committees and processes; he can shape the direction of the diocese through the numerous key appointments that are in his power to make; and (perhaps most importantly) by his teaching of God’s Word  he flies the flag for what we stand for, both to lead the diocese forward in the gospel and to interact with the wider society (often through the media).

The Archbishop is elected by the synod, and must secure a majority of both clergy and lay representatives (referred to as the two ‘houses’). Candidates for the position are nominated a few months in advance, and do not attend the election synod. Given that it is a significant decision, often with long-term implications (most Archbishops continue in the role until they retire), the synod representatives usually take it upon themselves to do some homework in advance as to the merits of the various candidates.

And this in turn leads to the mini ‘election campaign’ that Paul Levy commented upon in his piece at Reformation21.

While it is perhaps inevitable that some silly things will be said and done during this ‘homework’ period, it is still a necessary and good process in my view. There has to be some means of weighing up the pros and cons of different candidates, and to do so openly and honestly in advance, in fellowship with another, seems both wise and necessary. The synod electors need to think carefully about the positive reasons for electing various candidates, as well as the factors that make one or other candidate less suitable—given the significant impact the appointment will have on our fellowship over the coming decade.

So far, two candidates have been nominated: Glenn Davies and Rick Smith. Both are godly evangelical men, and both are widely respected and supported around the diocese. Here is a quick summary of the discussion so far surrounding these two men.

Glenn Davies is a 62-year-old Westminster-trained former Moore College lecturer and pastor, who has been a local bishop for the past decade. The positive arguments for Glenn are that he is a very winsome, intelligent and able leader and speaker, with runs on the board as a bishop, and solid experience with the media and in relating to other Anglican leaders around the world. He is seen as a safe pair of hands while the longer-term future leadership of the diocese is worked out. The arguments against Glenn are that he would be perhaps less dynamic as a ‘mission leader’ for the diocese, and that his theology, while Reformed, is at various points less representative of majority Sydney Anglicanism.

Rick Smith is a 49-year-old pastor and church planter, theologically sharp and conservative, with an impressive record of evangelism, ministry and leadership. The positive arguments for Rick are that he matches Glenn for intellect, character and the ability to lead an organization—but is a younger man with a more creative, evangelistic mindset, has a theology somewhat more representative of the diocese as a whole, and would be more likely to build the momentum for mission that has begun under the leadership of Peter Jensen. He is seen by many as the leader for the future. The arguments against Rick are that he is younger, untested in denominational leadership, and could be in the role for a long time (up to 21 years if granted an extension)*. He also has less experience with the media and with international Anglican relations.

I have friends on both sides of the discussion, and can appreciate the good cases that are being made for Glenn and Rick. My own view is that Rick would be the wiser choice, given the current challenges we face to reach our city with the gospel.

The final thing to say is that all of us Sydney Anglicans would appreciate your prayers as we wrestle through this together. Pray that the synod reps would weigh up the issues in a godly and thoughtful way, and make a wise decision. Pray that we would argue and differ as Christians should—with honesty, graciousness and a desire for the common good. And pray that when the dust settles, we will work together on the really important task of taking the gospel to the lost millions all around us.

* Edits: Added and then adjusted this point about length of tenure. Also adjusted Glenn’s age to 62 (sorry for wrongly making you a year older Glenn!).


Comments are closed.