The diocese is made up of roughly 270 parishes. Representatives from these parishes are the people who make up Synod, the governing body of the diocese. Synod operates like a kind of parliament. It is this group of people who could give bishops more power and control over ministers, but so far, they haven’t. In fact, the idea of a powerful bishop in our diocese is oxymoronic.
In terms of its teaching, what I’ve experienced at Anglican churches in Sydney is teaching centred on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, not control. From what I’ve read about Jesus, he isn’t really into control. What he is into is sacrifice and restoration, healing and the total transformation of lives, hearts, minds, relationships and attitudes towards God and others. His is the model of leadership most often promoted in this diocese, a humble, serving one.
Most ministers and rectors I know are kind people who care deeply about others. They cook meals for people, visit the sick and dying and new babies, start neighbourhood playgroups, baptise people, marry people, bury people, pray with and for people, help women leave abusive relationships, read the Bible with people who would like to do so, and they organise and lead and speak at Sunday services week after week after week.
There may be some who overreach their power within the diocese and exert an inappropriate level of control, but Rev Dave Smith’s bishop isn’t one of them. His bishop is a good man who, from what I can observe, loves Jesus, loves his family and takes his many responsibilities seriously and humbly.
A bishop serves parishes and ministers in many ways, including listening to parishioners if or when ministers overstep their position. The work of a bishop in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney appears to me to be one of curtailing and preventing any misuse of power where possible, not extending or promoting it.
Again, I am not writing about Dave Smith or his departure. However, bishops do need, on occasion, to intervene to ensure the welfare of a parish. Sometimes a minister’s actions may hurt people, which even if unintended, can leave behind a trail of toxic relational waste. In such cases you want a bishop who can, if possible, prevent such an individual from holding a leadership position. You want a good bishop, like my bishop, like Dave Smith’s bishop, to have a bit more power, not less.
Laurel Moffatt is a Sydney Anglican.