In the opening address of this year's Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON) Australasia, Bishop Richard Condie announced the creation of the Diocese of the Southern Cross. In Bishop Condie's words:
What lead to this rupture and what does it mean for the future of the Anglican Church in Australia?
Anglicans in Australia
Anglicans are the second largest Christian denomination in Australia, making up 9.8% of the population. They suffered the greatest decline in numbers of any Christian denomination between the 2016 and 2021 census, losing 604,900 members.
The Diocese of the Southern Cross is a new religious denomination that was first incorporated in September 2021, although it was not formally launched until this week. Its first bishop will be the former Anglican archbishop of Sydney, Glen Davies.
The new diocese describes itself as a parallel Anglican structure following key Anglican documents such as the 39 articles, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal. However, it is not part of the Australian Anglican Church nor will it be part of the Anglican Communion. In other words, it is not the 24th diocese of the Anglican Church of Australia.
Why has the Diocese of the Southern Cross been created?
The reasons behind the creation of the Diocese of the Southern Cross are complex. On its web page, GAFCON Australia states:
However, in his response to the announcement of the creation of the Diocese of the Southern Cross, the Primate of the Australian Anglican Church Archbishop Geoff Smith noted:
In 2020, the Anglican Church's Appellate Tribunal ruled that blessings of same-sex couples were permitted under church law. The Bishops of the church met in response to this ruling, and noted "with pain we recognise that there is not a common mind on these issues within the House of Bishops."
The 2022 General Synod did not pass any resolutions specifically affirming that marriage is between a man and a woman. However, a resolution on Exemptions Clauses for Religious Bodies included this statement that the Anglican Church:
However, the House of Bishops also voted against a specific motion "that sought to affirm that marriage is only between a man and a woman and the blessing of same sex marriages was not in accordance with the teaching of Christ."
What is the future of the Australian Anglican Church?
While much has already been said about the split in the press and elsewhere, the future is very much unknown. Parallel Anglican organisations have previously been set up in other parts of the world including New Zealand, the United States and Canada with varying degrees of success.
The Diocese of the Southern Cross is not even the first parallel Anglican denomination to be set up in Australia. For example, the Anglican Catholic Church was established in 1987 and describes itself as the "traditional Anglican Church in that we preserve the Historic Beliefs, Holy Tradition, Creeds, and Liturgies used by the Church in England prior to their latest reformation".
Australian Anglicans are used to a church that does things a bit differently. For example, while the Anglican Diocese of Sydney will only ordain women as deacons, the Diocese of Perth is headed by Archbishop Kay Goldsworthy, one of the first women to be ordained to the Anglican priesthood in Australia.
While things may be uncertain at the moment, the words of Archbishop Smith sum up the current position of the church well:
Author: Renae Barker - Senior Lecturer, The University of Western Australia