Sustaining a national presence and strengthening the church’s contribution to rural communities are among the most important challenges facing the Anglican Church of Australia, believes the new leader, Archbishop Philip Freier.
Pictured: Archbishop Freier (left) and Sydney Archbishop Glenn Davies
As Primate, Dr Freier is the spiritual leader of the Anglican Church of Australia, its spokesman to politicians and the wider community, but the role is more a first among equals than one with constitutional authority. He cannot instruct other bishops as, say, the Pope can.
“I look forward to the opportunity of working with the church around the country. The church across its parishes, schools and service agencies makes a powerful contribution to Australian society,” Dr Freier said.
Dr Freier was elected by a special synod of laity, clergy and bishops from around the country, and takes over after the Church’s three-yearly parliament ends in Adelaide this week. Brisbane Archbishop Phillip Aspinall is stepping down after nine years.
Dr Freier, 59, has been Archbishop of Melbourne since December 2006. He was elected at a time of some division in the Diocese, with one election synod failing to choose a candidate before his name was put up second time round. Since then, theological and churchmanship tensions have eased enormously in Melbourne, attributed in part to Dr Freier’s calm nature, even-handedness, willingness to listen, and desire to engage as widely as possible. He set out to encourage Anglicans. He is also regarded as an able administrator who has worked to stabilise the diocesan balance sheet.
Raised in a working class suburb in Brisbane, where his father worked for Queensland Railways, Dr Freier attended Virginia primary school and Hendra high school. He did a science degree, gained education qualifications and asked to be posted to indigenous communities. In Far North Queensland he was profoundly influenced by Aboriginal Christians and underwent what he calls a conversion of identity to become a strong Christian within the Anglican tradition.
Elected bishop of the Northern Territory in 1999, Dr Freier led many services in indigenous languages.
Coming from one of the smallest dioceses with 15 parishes, to one of the biggest, with more than 200 parishes and more than 400 clergy, Dr Freier spent a lot of time in his first few years travelling the diocese and conversing with Christians and non-Christians. He has led a series of high-profile breakfast conversations in Federation Square, discussing important social issues with some of the foremost experts of the day.
We pray for him as he prepares to lead the National Church.