Facing the Future: bishops imagine a different church,
edited by Stephen Hale and Andrew Curnow (Acorn, 2009)
Here is a timely, interesting, easily-digestible and provoking book by a twenty-two strong flock of Australian Anglican bishops. (Is 'flock' the right collective term? Corrections and suggestions welcome!) Their brief was provide their vision for the future of the Anglican Church of Australia, and several chapters do exactly this. Others read more as reflections on ministry areas or themes central to their particular roles. What emerges is a helpful wide-ranging overview of the diversity of the Australian Anglican scene, with a focus on the challenges of mission and change.
Andrew Curnow's opening chapter sets the scene of a declining Anglican church facing these two challenges. Stephen Hale, in his closing reflection, is struck by four commonalities across the contributions: they each contain a sense of urgency; a note of optimism about the Church; an imperative to change; and a clear focus on mission. Of course given the theological diversity of the writers, there is no agreed definition of mission. Many EFAC members will naturally chime in with National Chairman Glenn Davies' chapter on the Gospel; but Phillip Aspinall, Roger Herft, and Kay Goldsworthy will give readers an insight into different Anglican emphases.
Like any edited volume, this book's strength is in the range of opinions and ideas, and the breadth of perspective it contains. You should not expect to agree with everything in it. The chapters are relatively short, and are stimulating rather than thorough. There are gems of wisdom here and there, and interesting case studies. However, the book's real value is in helping us to understand just a little more about the diversity of ministries undertaken in the name of the Anglican Church of Australia across the country.
For EFAC members, it will be tempting to pick-your-own bishop and agree with say, Peter Tasker's observation about the detrimental effect of the White Australia Policy on our multicultural mission, or applaud John Harrower's and Peter Brain's ministries, and dish the concept of 'civil', 'offend no one', 'inclusive' Anglicanism presented by others. But readers who read on humbly will find that this book provides us with a richer understanding of Australian Anglican self-identity, and the contexts in which many of our fellow evangelicals are doing their ministry.
I was frankly inspired by the amount of serious ministry reflection and actual ministry activity represented: country/ rural, multi-cultural, indigenous Australian, fresh expressions, schools, ADF chaplaincy, and of course parishes. Issues like church governance, role of the diocese and bishop, liturgy, change, ministry to the marginalised, are each discussed by leaders in the know. Be carefully critical, but also humble: there's plenty to learn and consider.
Who should read this book and why? Firstly, every senior Anglican leader should! But so also should those among us who are committed to Gospel ministry in the name of the Anglican Church of Australia. In a number of places there is an honest acknowledgement that much of the growth in the Church has occurred in 'flagship' evangelical parishes. Evangelicals are moving into an era of unprecedented potential influence in the life of our national Church. There are many many opportunities to serve, to partner, to help resource, to train and to pray with and for fellow Anglicans who are grappling with the need to change in order to be more effective in mission. This book will help equip evangelicals to serve the wider Church better. For that reason, and the ones above, I commend it.