Faithful pay for Church’s sins - Comment Piece

They say you should never discuss religion and politics in polite conversation, but the proposed sale of more than 50 Anglican Churches in Tasmania has forced my hand with it surely to become a national issue.

It’s also why I have started a Save Our Churches webpage requesting people pledge their support to stop the Anglican Church from the mass selloff of community churches. The Save Our Churches webpage can be found at www.saveourchurches.com.au

The sale, to help fund the National Redress Scheme following the Child Abuse Royal Commission, would provide money to victims of horrific crimes. But the sale will short change the work, dedication and faith of generations of parishioners.

The passing-around of the collection plate on a Sunday was the first memory that sprang to mind when the Anglican Church made its announcement. Heads bowed, some would place banknotes, while others (like my family) could only afford a few coins. Others still would place sealed, white envelopes, their contents known only to the giver and God.

It’s amazing what young minds grasp on to from their early days of attending church with their parents. One of the things I learned was money can’t buy your way into Heaven. It can’t buy you friends. Money can’t build communities. It’s people who do that.

But it seems the Anglican Church’s decision to sell churches is all about money and not about the people who helped build them. Like the white, sealed envelopes passed into the collection plate, the decisions of the Church appear to be shrouded in secrecy.

The message it’s putting money before people even comes up in its own correspondence when it states: “we strive to be good corporate citizens”. Surely the Church’s first responsibility is to God and His people, not money.

There is no doubt that the trial being undertaken in Tasmania will spread to the Mainland. There is also no doubt that the Anglican Church has not consulted as far and wide as it should have regarding the sale of what are effectively churches owned by the people – the congregations – in hundreds of communities around Australia.

It is those people and their predecessors, the families both literal and spiritual, that are the ones who paid for the churches with their tithes and offerings at Sunday services.

They are the ones that volunteered their time and energy to keep the churches and their surrounds in good order.

They are the ones – through blood, sweat and tears – who have built the churches and communities.

They are the ones who have ancestors – some of them soldiers or community leaders – buried in the grounds of those churches.

They are the ones – over numerous generations – whom the church owes a debt of gratitude.

That is why I wrote to the Anglican Diocese of Tasmania requesting more details about the planned sales. That is why I’m backing the grassroots Save the Churches campaign.

That is why I have also sent a letter to the Tasmanian Branch of the RSL, as well as all RSL Clubs in Tasmania, outlining my concerns and those of numerous constituents about how any sell-off would impact on graves honouring our soldiers.

Sure, the churches are steeped in history and a lot of them are beautiful buildings in their own right. But they are far more than bricks and mortar and stained-glass windows. 

The Anglican Church owes it to the generations of worshippers who have celebrated marriages and births, and buried family and friends in the grounds to keep churches in community hands.

It has been encouraging the Right Reverend Dr Richard Condie replied to my letter giving more context.

It has also been encouraging that the Anglican Diocese of Tasmania and Bishop Condie have extended the consultation period with a cut-off date of 1 October.

But I’m not encouraged by the language used in their correspondence when the Church states that the extension was granted “to allow more time for community groups to consider their options … and the Diocesan Council will make its final decision about property sales in December”.

The tone would suggest the Church has already made up its mind.

The avalanche of media reports and community concerns highlights that the Anglican Church has not consulted effectively with its communities.

The way the Anglican Church has handled the sell-off reminds me of a verse from the Book of Proverbs: “To answer before listening – that is folly and shame.”

Its reminder that the Church (and many politicians) should take on board, especially as it stands astride the sacred and the secular.

Let’s hope and pray the Anglican Church chooses to listen before making any rash decisions.  It would be a disgrace if these communities are the ones that face the punishment due to others.

After all, it is the sins of a few within the Church’s ranks who have brought us to this point.

The Anglican Church needs to contribute towards the National Redress Scheme, but that price should not be paid by the faithful.