Settler stories: the making of an unsafe Australia and Anglican Church

The stories of European settlement, from convicts and soldiers arriving on the first fleets from England to explorers, pioneering settlers, and roaming swagmen, commonly invoke legendary tales of bush ingenuity'. In the rugged outback of bush and desert, Australians pride themselves for being canny and creative. A common bush trope teaches that ‘there is nothing a farmer can’t fix with a bit of fencing wire’. The people of the land we now call Australia are marked with a strong streak of self-sufficiency: stockmen,

Pastoral supervision, Australian context 9 swagmen, and rhe superwomen of the outback. This self-sufficiency is also found in Anglican stories of pioneering priests, bush brothers, and remote missions. A number of stories involve the former bishop of Canberra and Goulburn, Ernest Burgmann, from the rural area of the Manning Valley. Pickard notes:

There is a photo of the young Burgmann felling trees. He was an educationalist, institutional builder and prophetic ... the Prime Minister of the day referred to him in Parliament as ‘that meddlesome priest’.7

Settlers stories, however, are neither as romantic nor as innocent as many Australians think. The vast interior parts of the continent remain rural and remote country that leaves a more sinister legacy: out of sight, out of mind. As I write this towards the end of 2019, Australia is only beginning to break its silence on the atrocities committed during settlement: Aboriginal dispossession and the frontier wars (including hundreds of documented massacres of Aboriginal men, women, and children).8 The violence of powerful men perpetrated on vulnerable children, followed by silence and cover-up, is a deep stain in the Australian soul, almost as old as settlement itself. Again, there are Anglican atrocities that must be faced. Too many Aboriginal missions were complicit with government policies of separating families (the Stolen Generations) and assimilation.9 We must not delude ourselves with reassurances that these were isolated incidents. Systemic abuse has been an integral—if invisible—thread woven through Australian and Anglican occupation.

Larrikin stories: the merrymaking of unsafe practices in Australia

A related archetype in Australian mythology is the larrikin (a person with apparent disregard for convention; a maverick). Australian larrikins, while sometimes associated with boisterous (or even bad) behaviour, have an obvious and outward disdain for authority. This includes authority figures (employers, police, government officials, etc.) and extends to the authority of traditions and received wisdom. The larrikin spirit, embodied by the former Prime Minister Robert J. Hawke, prizes pragmatism over policy or procedure. When Australia won back the America’s Cup yacht race after more than a century of losses, the entire nation began its celebration over breakfast. Hawke announced on live television, ‘I tell you what, any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum’.10 Australian Anglicans, particularly the more conservative one such as the Sydney Diocese, have long preferred ‘what works’ in mission and church practice over and against Anglican custom. It is quite easy to imagine Hawke’s ghost speaking through successive generations of Anglicans that celebrate growing churches: ‘I tell you what, any bishop who sacks someone for not wearing their robes (or notusing an authorised liturgy or church-planting in a neighbouring diocese) is a bum’. In 2019, those occupying the progressive wing of the national church have similarly demonstrated their disregard for national policies and procedures when it suits them. The larrikin spirit, it seems, transcends eccle-sial and theological boundaries.

These stories underpin a belief that, here in Australia, we are not naughty, stupid, or weak. We have convinced ourselves that we have made a country and church of likeable larrikins, cunning and clever, who proudly assert our autonomy. The Royal Commission has put an end to such wildly romantic, national—and ecclesial—delusions.

Royal Commission stories: the unmasking of the unsafe church

The horrendous accounts of child sexual abuse within the church, heard as victims’ testimony during the Royal Commission, unmasked the unsafe church. While significant changes had already been made to current practices of child safety—the worst cases were mostly historic—many Anglicans were horrified to discover the errors of past inaction and the extent of priestly cover-up. I do not need to rehearse those shameful details here.11 In the previous sections, I offered two storylines that shaped the Australian church: settler stories that silenced systemic violence and abuse and larrikin stories that disregard authority and received wisdom. These sins were mostly celebrated and rarely confessed. The church was wilfully insulated from what was happening in its midst: out of sight and out of mind. The church was too slow in taking responsibility—both in care and compensation for the victims and in reforming its policies and procedure—to make churches safe. Enough Australian Anglicans, it appears, prefer to give larrikin clergy sufficient leeway. An ignorant church is an unsafe church, what Martyn Percy has termed ‘institutional narcolepsy’.12 An irresponsible church is an unsafe church, what Percy provocatively describes as ‘the best Petri dishes for developing and growing cultures of abuse’.15 Additional factors must be named.

For decades those working in the clinical professions had been studying the factors that precipitate crises in ministry.14 Some factors include longstanding ministry pressures such as expectations of the role (particularly the lack of clarity of the minister’s role); changes due to contemporary society; and faith-related crises such as spiritual burnout, a breakdown in spiritual discipline, spiritual neglect, poor development of spiritual practices, a personal crisis of faith, and even a loss of faith. Three factors, however, deserving attention were routinely neglected. Firstly, the misuse of power demonstrated by more reports of abuse and bullying.1' Ministers experiencing interpersonal difficulties were not adequately supported nor supervised, often resulting in misconduct, sexual impropriety, abuse, and bullying by clergy. Second, a widespread lack of self-awareness in clergy produced a lack of confidence in some, a lack of self-care in others, contributing to the rise in mental health issues among clergy.16 Insufficient and ineffective strategies existed for managing stress, overwork, burnout, and regular exposure to

Pastoral supervision, Australian context 11 the burdens of others. Third, calls for professional development and support through mentoring, pastoral supervision, and coaching were ignored.17 There was a lack of caring support from others, lack of structured mentoring, including spiritual mentoring, and mentoring in initial placements as well as a lack of appropriate supervision. The church had become unsafe not only for the vulnerable but for many clergy and church workers. The sense of isolation and insecurity experienced by many clergy and church workers is another facet of what it means to be out of sight and out of mind, even in the midst of a large city or multi-staff ministry team. What, then, is the way out of the miasma?18 The recommendations of the Royal Commission, summarised in the next section, were based on an emerging recognition of the role for pastoral supervision.19

 
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