On a recent visit to the Anglican Church of Canada’s national office in Toronto, the archdeacon of the diocese of North Queensland, Chris Wright, sat down with the Anglican Journal to talk about the similarities between mission in the Canadian and Australian contexts.
One of the clearest points of contact was the changing nature of mission. “The Anglican Church of Canada is very much like the mainstream diocese of the Anglican Church of Australia,” said Wright. “There’s many grey-headed people in the congregations, but there seem to be shoots of new life.”
Changes in terms of demography and place in society provide an important opportunity, said Wright. “I think that in the next 20 years the church is going to be so different from what we have now, we perhaps won’t recognize it. We will still have bishops and we will still have clergy, but we will do things in different ways and we will be a more community-based body of Christ.”
The Anglican Church of Australia has begun exploring what Wright called “local shared ministry,” a model in which parishioners share leadership responsibilities among themselves and are less reliant on a single full-time priest. “The clergy often have jobs,” he noted, “so they are non-stipendiary-you have a lay leader in the parish and someone looking after pastoral care and visitation, and nursing homes and Bible studies and outreach programs and Sunday school and school ministry, and most of those people are lay people.”
Although he was candid about the amount of work that local shared ministry involves, Wright was optimistic about its long-term possibilities. “We’ve had one parish doing that for about 20 years, and [the parish is] strong,” he said. “They lost their priest, and there was no chance of them getting another priest at that stage; two people offered themselves for ordination and went through the ordination process. One is a lawyer and one is a university lecturer.”
Wright was also careful to point out that this kind of ministry is not universally applicable. “You’ve got to have the right mix to do it. You can’t just throw people in and say, ‘You do this, you do that’-you’ve got to work on what spiritual gifts people have before you start off.”
But despite the challenges, Wright spoke with a quiet pride about the work these pioneering parishes are doing. “They break the mould of what was, where ‘father knows best.’ It’s a more co-operative venture.”