EFAC Australia

Phenomenal Sydney:
Anglicans in a Time of Change, 1945-2013.
Marcia Cameron. Wipf & Stock 2016.

One of the things friends and enemies alike agree about Sydney Diocese is it is different. What is it that makes Sydney so Sydney? Marcia Cameron explores this partly by analysis and partly by telling stories of this most recent period in the life of Sydney.

Her opening chapter is a good outline of the background and the main issues to be raised in the book. Four main characteristics of Sydney are a commitment to the centrality of the Bible; a militant faith; equipping clergy well; and a shying away from conforming to the current model of “Anglican” in the wider Australian church. Plus a few others.

This first chapter should be contrasted with the final one where Cameron refers to Wei-Han Kuan’s PhD thesis that four vital contributions are required for evangelical continuity in a diocese: healthy evangelical parishes; healthy evangelical societies; a healthy evangelical training college; and a supportive diocesan bishop. All four of which Sydney has had in recent years.

Chapter Two is a helpful overview of the years between 1788 and 1945 and makes it clear that evangelicals didn’t always rule. Chapter Three outlines some of the big issues in Archbishop Mowll’s time including the transformation of the CENEF centre, the Red Book case, and the CESA. This chapter introduces a major sub-theme of the book – the ministry of women. When I first read the book I found this very interesting since it provided a lot of detail about things that happened after I left the diocese (and my fellow student Jacinth Myles got a good press). On a second reading it became clearer that this is a major theme of the book. Readers may be divided as to whether this makes the book better or worse. Sydney is often portrayed, by outsiders at least, as anti-women. Cameron is obviously sympathetic to the cause and does provide a lot of detail about the progress of both the debates and the actual ministry of women in Sydney diocese.

The discussion of the Constitution of the national church is good, partly because of the various interviews with key players and the use of the archives of the Australian Church Record (a significant source for the book). Cameron regards the debates over the constitution to be essentially about identity. This is a helpful insight. She says, “The threat to who we are makes Sydney defensive and also forces us to experiment.” (64) This is an important bit of history and I would have liked to have been told a bit more about it.

The Gough years are portrayed as a mixed bag of some good – the Billy Graham Crusades, election of women to synod, the Archbishop’s Commission; and not so good – the tensions between the Archbishop and some of the younger leaders such as Knox, Robinson and Loane. Cameron also deals well with the alleged reasons for Gough’s resignation.

The Loane episcopacy outlines some of the debates – homosexuality (briefly) and women’s ministry (nearly seven pages). In this and other chapters some attention is given to parishes – in this case St Barnabas and the ministries of Paul and Anita Barnett. Prayer Book revision was a big issue in Loane’s time and Cameron gives a helpful overview of it, as well as his time as Primate.

John Chapman is introduced in this chapter – but only gets a few mentions – mostly in relation to his work with others such as Barnett and Philip Jensen. This for me is a major omission. I think there is a case for considering Chapman to have had a more significant influence than even Philip Jensen in the diocese. Perhaps it indicates a lack of source material – or a difference of judgment between the author and the reviewer.

The Robinson years were dominated by the debates about the ordination of women. As we might expect by this stage in the book, Cameron gives a thorough report on the progress of the debates and events. I think this section is a very helpful contribution to the history and understanding of the issue. Lay Presidency, homosexuality and the consecration of a CESA bishop also occupied Robinson’s attention. Cameron has some sympathy for the Archbishop whom she describes as an irenic scholar. She admires the unity (without agreeing with it I think) with which the diocesan leadership and Moore College stood together on the question of women’s ordination, but is also sympathetic to those who had different views – some of whom moved out to other places.

Cameron identifies Harry Goodhew’s time as less than happy. More about women’s ordination, the Pymble matter, the Anglican Counselling Centre controversy, lay and diaconal presidency, new prayer book revision, the rise of REPA are all discussed. And a long section on Philip Jensen’s ministry morphs into women’s ministry and the appointment of an Archdeacon for the Promotion of Women’s ministry, MOW and Equal but Different. The “Sydney Heresy” gets some good analysis.

The Jensen episcopacy is too recent according to the author to bear too much analysis but some sketches are made to do with the Priscilla and Aquila Centre and GAFCON. Cameron concludes with the comment that it is missionary and evangelistic action arising from the centrality of the Bible that sets Sydney apart; as well as its wealth, size, and positions on women’s ministry, lay presidency, church planting, homosexual behaviour and so on.
Overall the book is very interesting and gains from the use of a wide variety of sources including lots of interviews. However neither the four characteristics of Sydney outlined in the opening chapter or Kuan’s four identifiers of evangelical continuity are used as a structural or thematic grid for the book. Neither is Kuan’s summary used as a way of drawing the threads together. The book is mostly about the archbishops, the issues they faced and what they did, and the development (or not) of women’s ministry.

Dale Appleby, WA