Electing a leader for challenging times

The Anglican Diocese of Sydney meets next week to elect a new Archbishop. Not from Sydney? Not an Anglican? Here’s why you should still care.

Glenn Davies (left) and Rick Smith
Glenn Davies (left) and Rick Smith (Photo Courtesy: sydneyanglicans.net)

If the phrase ‘church politics’ makes your eyes glaze over, you’re not alone. I suppose there are some people out there for whom it gets the blood racing (though lots of them won’t admit it), but for many, church politics is seen, at best, as something to tolerate; at worst, it’s seen as something to be despised or rejected.

There’s no doubt that church politics can become a distraction from the real work of ministry. Much worse, I’ve seen it become a forum for dishonesty, and an excuse to mistreat and manipulate brothers and sisters in Christ.

However, when done well and with godly, gospel-centred intentions, the whole enterprise can be a very good thing. After all, in its best form, ‘church politics’ is really just shorthand for working together for the sake of the gospel, and organising and deploying your resources (including your human resources) so they can be maximised for the sake of Christ-centred ministry. Good church politics are really important.

Next week in Sydney, around 800 Anglicans will meet for an ‘Election Synod’ to decide who will be the twelfth Archbishop of the Diocese. Naturally, those with the greatest interest will be the Synod members and the tens of thousands of people they represent. But for various reasons, this election should also be of special interest to a much wider audience. In particular, all those who call themselves evangelical Christians (especially in Australia or New Zealand), and all those around the world who call themselves evangelical Anglicans should pay careful, prayerful attention. The new Archbishop will come to office at a time of unique challenge, and with a unique opportunity to give leadership in worldwide evangelicalism.

If you’re wondering why I care, I’m a former Sydney Anglican – trained at Moore College, ordained in the Diocese. While I’ve left Sydney (for Christchurch) and Anglican ministry (for non-denominational campus ministry) and am a long way from the process now, I attended the last Election Synod in 2001 as an employee of Anglican Media Sydney, and as an assistant to the Returning Officer (ie: a vote counter). So yes, I admit it, I’m a recovering church politics nerd. In fact, 13 years ago, I invited a girl on a pseudo-date to Synod; I just celebrated my eleventh wedding anniversary with said girl. (Thank you for the standing ovation you are now giving me.)

So here’s an overview of how the process works, a quick introduction to the two candidates, and my take on why it all matters a great deal – even for non-Sydney non-Anglicans.

How the process works
For the first time ever, just two candidates have been nominated: Bishop Glenn Davies and Canon Rick Smith. According to detailed information on the Sydney diocesan website (which dates back to 1909), no previous election has had fewer than five nominees (this happened in both 1982 and 2001). The highest number of nominees was in 1958, when 16 men were nominated (including Sir Marcus Loane – who was later appointed to the role in 1966 – and the great John Stott).

There are around 800 Synod members – in very rough figures, just under 300 clergy (ordained), and just over 500 laity (non-ordained). In reality, fewer than 800 will vote. The nominees are determined before Synod and don’t attend.

A minimum of 20 Synod members must nominate a candidate. In this case, information published by each man’s respective support team shows that Rick Smith has 194 nominees (104 clergy, 90 laity); Glenn Davies has 182 (83 clergy, 99 laity).

From there, simplifying a complex process, a candidate must receive a majority of votes in both the House of Clergy and the House of Laity to be elected. If neither candidate can achieve this majority, there is provision for Synod to vote again. If there is still no result, Synod will adjourn – and the nomination process starts again, with the first step being scores of people tearing out their hair in frustration at the thought of doing the whole thing again.

Assuming an appointment is made, the new Archbishop will be ‘installed’ at St Andrew’s Cathedral on August 23rd.

The Candidates: Glenn Davies
Glenn Davies is currently the Bishop of the Northern Region of the Diocese, comprising 64 parishes. Before being appointed Bishop by Peter Jensen in 2001, Glenn served as assistant minister in the parish of Willoughby for two years, and was then appointed to the faculty of Moore Theological College (lecturing in both Old Testament and New Testament). He served at Moore from 1983 to 1995 before becoming rector of St Luke’s, Miranda until 2001, leading the church during a period of significant numerical growth.

During his time as Bishop, Glenn has served on numerous diocesan committees and boards (Moore College Council, Standing Committee and General Synod as a small sample), and has been a key figure in national and international church affairs – serving, for example, as Chairman of the Australian Branch of EFAC (Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion) and taking an important role as a theological adviser at the GAFCON meeting in 2008, where he helped draft the Jerusalem Declaration. Throughout his ministry, Glenn has also published a range of articles and contributed to a number of books.

Prior to his theological education (at Westminster Theological Seminary and Moore College), Glenn worked as a school teacher. He is 62 years old, married to Di, and they have two adult daughters.

Rick Smith
Rick Smith is currently the Senior Minister at Naremburn-Cammeray Anglican Church in Sydney’s north, a position he has held since 1999 after moving from the role of Assistant Minister at St Thomas’, North Sydney. Rick took a group of 30-40 people from St Thomas’ to help revitalise the then-struggling parish. During his tenure, Rick has overseen a time of consistent and very significant numerical growth in the parish. Naremburn-Cammeray is now one of the largest and fastest-growing parishes in the Diocese, with ten congregations meeting during the week. Of particular importance has been Rick’s focus on multicultural ministry, with a number of mostly Asian congregations being planted (including a Japanese church plant pastored by Graeme Smith, a former missionary to Japan).

Rick has also served in the wider Diocese in many ways, including (among other things) membership of Standing Committee and the Diocese’s Mission Board, as well as being one of the previous Archbishop’s Ministry Chaplains (preparing and mentoring ordination candidates). He has also been involved in national church affairs for a number of years, and attended GAFCON in 2008.

Prior to his theological education at Moore College, Rick worked in a range of roles for the National Australia Bank. He is married to Michelle and they have four children.

Of course, there is much more to say about each man. While I’ve tried to remain neutral in these descriptions, I hope it’s uncontroversial to say that Rick Smith and Glenn Davies are both wonderful men of God and excellent candidates for this office. I believe any other Anglican Diocese in the world (and I mean that literally) would be well served by having either man in a leadership role.

To give you a deeper, more subjective insight into these two outstanding men, I asked nominators of Glenn Davies and Rick Smith to provide a one paragraph answer to this question: ‘Why do you believe [the man you’re supporting] is the man best suited to serve as the next Archbishop of Sydney?’ I assured both sides I’d reproduce whatever I received in full. With thanks to the contributors for their time and insights, here it is:

On Glenn Davies (from Michael Stead, rector of St James’, Turramurra and a long-time friend and ministry colleague of Glenn): “Glenn has demonstrated the characteristics of godliness and experience the Bible tells us we ought to look for in the overseer of God’s people. As Bishop over the last 12 years, he has shown he has the leadership ability to direct our Diocese into the future, without getting overwhelmed by the machinery of the Diocese. He has the theological acumen to not lead us astray, to combat error and to commend and defend the gospel. He is a capable spokesman for the evangelical faith who is well known and well regarded beyond Sydney Diocese, both nationally and internationally. Furthermore, Glenn is a people-person. As a pastor, he cares for people, engages with them and gently leads them and guides them in the ways of the Lord. Glenn is also an experienced ‘public face’ – a good media spokesman who is able to engage with the media in a winsome and compelling way.”

On Rick Smith (from Sandy Grant, rector of St Michael’s, Wollongong and a long-time friend and ministry colleague of Rick): “Rick is a very effective, gospel-centred leader, yet not just a pragmatist. He is strongly principled, with a reformed evangelical theology, consistent with the Sydney Diocese; he’s unafraid to tackle the errors that matter, but is not always scrapping.

“He has a track record of overseeing the planting of multiple congregations, (not all ‘low-hanging fruit’, and not all instantly successful). This confirms a basic strategic direction in our diocese; but alongside, he also understands church revitalisation, having done it in the parish he serves, from a very low base. I believe we need both church revitalisation, as well as church-planting.

“Rick knows more than one part of the Sydney Diocese, having grown up in a multicultural part of Wollongong, adjacent to the Fairy Meadow migrant hostels; in addition, several of his parish’s church-plants have been effective in reaching people of non-Anglo backgrounds (i.e. Asian background, in general, and in addition, a specific Japanese ministry).

“He has consistently hired excellent pastoral staff, and is not afraid to select those who can outshine him in some respects. Indeed, because Rick has not grown a mega-congregation, but a wide network of congregations, he has a track record of trusting other preachers and leaders, and most importantly, a widely-recognised ability in building an excellent staff team. He is someone whose appointments and team-leadership I could trust, crucial given an Archbishop’s influence on appointments.

“He is a strong biblical preacher. He has preached at Synod, in my opinion, better than any other Synod preacher in the last half decade, since Al Stewart. My wife and I still remember a couple of his phrases when he preached at our church conference back in 2005. More recently, I’ve seen him answer questions on the fly pretty honestly and effectively, coming back to Jesus’ way in the gospel.

“Character: one insight – the way he cares for [his] elderly mother, visiting her regularly in a town well outside of Sydney where he lives. A second insight – Rick has been the source of generosity in his own time, and also with people from the parish he serves, in terms of helping church plants or revitalisations elsewhere. Cross-parish cooperation is not always smooth or easy, but it seems Rick understands the need for it to occur for the sake of mission.

“Rick is loyal to the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, with its agreed values and theological commitments. But as we face new matters, he is not afraid to take a position that is unpopular with his friends, if he thinks it necessary; so in 2012, he opposed the sale of Bishopscourt when most of his ‘mates’ had come to the point of thinking it should be sold. Of course, once the decision was made he accepted that and got on with ministry. He gives both his best judgment and gospel-based loyalty.”

For (heaps) more information on both men, I recommend you visit the websites set up by their respective supporters: whyrick.info and glenndavies.info.

Why you should care
So why should anyone but Sydney Anglicans care about a Sydney Anglican Archbishop being appointed? There are many reasons.

First, Christians should always care about the progress of the gospel in other parts of the world. We should never fall into the trap of being parochial, self-interested, naval-gazing – concerned about our own little patch but not about what God is doing elsewhere. Sydney is a massive city with millions of people who have a massive and urgent need to hear the gospel and repent. Under God, the Archbishop of Sydney can be a key figure in helping that to happen.

Not only that, but under God, the Archbishop plays a key role in the health of around 280 parishes, representing tens of thousands of Christians. The Archbishop needs be someone who can support, resource and direct these churches as they seek to grow people as disciples of Christ, be a blessing to their communities and make Jesus known. It’s a big job.

Care about this election because you care about God’s people in Sydney, and about the millions of lost people in Sydney.

Second, the Archbishop of Sydney automatically becomes one of the key public spokespeople for Christianity in Australia. The role has even been called the highest profile Christian position in the nation. That may be true – and if we’re talking about evangelical Christians, it’s even harder to disagree. The role is vital for the public promotion of the gospel of Jesus right around Australia – and (if done well) may even end up having an impact on the public presentation of the gospel in the wider region.

Third, worldwide Anglicanism is in bad health (to put it mildly!), and the future is uncertain. The Anglican Communion has fractured around key theological issues, with liberal dioceses (essentially the Western world, including most of Australia and New Zealand) calling into question such central ideas as the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, the place of the Bible in the Christian life, the centrality of the death of Jesus, and the truth of his resurrection. Meanwhile, Sydney has long assumed a leadership role among evangelical Anglicans seeking to uphold the Bible’s teaching on these (and other) issues. The Archbishop of the Diocese, then, is automatically thrust into a vital leadership role on the worldwide Anglican stage.

In particular, the major tipping point in worldwide Anglicanism right now is around the issue of homosexuality (including the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of practicing homosexuals). As an increasing number of non-evangelical dioceses head down this path, shipwrecking both their faith and the unity of the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Sydney will be called on to provide a unique level of international leadership during this challenging time.

This may become a very real, personal issue for evangelical Anglicans in Australia, New Zealand and beyond. As the issue of homosexuality continues to divide, don’t be surprised if evangelical churches in non-evangelical dioceses are forced to seek an enormous amount of informal support – and (to speculate for a moment) perhaps even formal oversight – from the Archbishop of Sydney.

Without proposing exactly how this should inform the decision, it will be tempting for Synod to overlook this reality. But just as the US President must not forget about the 6.7 billion people who aren’t American, so the Election Synod – and the man they elect – should not forget about the millions of evangelical Anglicans who don’t go to church in Sydney. It’s a time of unique challenges, and unique opportunities.

Fourth, I believe the battles within Anglicanism are going to have an impact on Christians everywhere, and on our witness to the world.

While (some) Christians are interested in denominations, non-Christians aren’t. As the media reports on these matters, the very people we live with day-by-day, and the very people we are trying to reach for Jesus, will just hear things like, ‘Christians squabble with each other’ or ‘Christians remain out of step with their community’. In this climate, the leadership given by the new Archbishop of Sydney – the way he supports evangelical believers, the way he interacts with those who deny the Bible’s teaching, the way he speaks publicly – will flow through to the way that even non-Anglican Christians interact with their neighbours.

Put it all together, and any evangelical Christian in Australia or New Zealand really should take a prayerful interest in next week’s Synod. Many things are more  important, but this still matters. Even if you’re not Anglican – even if it all seems far away and irrelevant – the future of Anglicanism will have some impact on the environment in which we seek to live, to love our neighbours, and to faithfully serve the Lord.

Pray for the best possible process and the best possible outcome – including prayers that Sydney will remember the impact of their decision on non-Sydney non-Anglicans.

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