Phenomenal Sydney: Anglicans in a Time of Change, 1945-2013 by Marcia Cameron. Wipf and Stock, 2016. Review by Graham Cole.
“Phenomenal Sydney” is not about this Australian city per se. The book is about the Anglican Diocese of Sydney which sprawls well beyond the city limits. What makes such a diocese of interest? In short, whereas so much of Anglicanism in the West is in decline, here is a diocese with a robust evangelicalism, with a high view of Scriptural authority, with a deep appreciation of its Reformation heritage and with a growing influence both within Australia and well beyond it.
Although the sub-title suggests her account begins in 1943, there is a very useful early chapter that sets the scene by covering 1788-1945. By the end of the book the period from the First Fleet to the end of Archbishop Jensen’s time has been canvassed in an adroit and eminently readable way. Cameron brings the trained historian’s sensibility to bear on bringing out the many distinctive aspects of Sydney Anglicanism: the accent on scholarship, the emphasis on evangelism, the focus on expository preaching informed by biblical theology, faithful leaders (e.g. Bishop Barker in the 19th Century, Archbishops Mowll, Loane, Robinson and Goodhew in the 20th Century, and Peter Jensen in the 21st Century, and the often controversial Dean Philip Jensen among others), alive institutions (Moore Theological College, and Anglicare, which was formerly the Home Mission Society), committed laity, and – thanks to Donald Robinson and Broughton Knox – a doctrine of the church that appears to be a kind of congregationalist Anglicanism. In this ecclesiology the local church is the congregation rather than the diocese gathered around its bishop. If one thinks of Anglicanism as a liturgical church then it is a little like Broadway. In much of the Anglican world, Broadway prevails as far as dress-up is concerned. In Sydney, although there have been and are exceptions, overwhelming today it is Off Broadway.
One of the strengths of the book is that it relates the Sydney story deftly to the wider one of Australian Anglicanism. There is a shadow side to the story that Cameron also addresses. Stories of combativeness, censoriousness, suspicion of dissenting opinions, and alienation both within and without the diocese are also to be found in the book. An archbishop’s alleged immorality is not glossed over, nor the hurts experienced during debates on the ordination of women, nor the REPA movement, nor is the loss of $160,000,000 during the Great Financial Crisis of recent years.
It has been said that without individuals nothing happens but without institutions nothing is preserved. Sydney Diocese has been blessed with extraordinary individuals and robust institutions in the over two centuries of its existence. Having lived in Sydney through some of the period Cameron covers I have some cavils. None so significant however, to prevent my highly commending this fascinating account.