The first congregation of Australia’s breakaway Anglican Church was about to meet in a suburban RSL, and the man who would conduct the service was concerned.
Ten minutes before Reverend Peter Palmer was due to start, there were less than a dozen people at the Beenleigh RSL and golf club in south east Queensland.
“Then all of a sudden all these people came in… and we started worshiping God together, in a whole new style of Anglican worship,” Palmer said at a conference on Monday.
Much was at stake: Palmer had previously notified Beenleigh as pastor of St. George’s Anglican Church and told an “envoy” from the Archbishop of Brisbane that he was leaving to join Gafcon, a breakaway group. dividing the Anglican Church around the world.
Gafcon, the Global Anglican Future Conference, says it is fighting back against a “revisionist” interpretation of the Bible by the Anglican Church leadership that has enabled women’s ordination, the blessing of same-sex marriage and a more relaxed view of divorce.
Palmer said when asked by the envoy why he left to join Gafcon, he replied, “I cannot accept same-sex blessings, I will not allow that to happen, and I must stand up to this”.
Rather than sit out his usual three-month leave of absence, Palmer said he was told his service would be his last at the Anglican church the following Sunday.
He said he had negotiated to get an extra week of service — to allow his parishioners to “mourn” — since he had been in the church for more than six years.
Palmer told his parishioners that he was leaving to join a diocese that explicitly prohibits same-sex marriage.
“A lot of them were shocked…and they basically asked me ‘What are we doing?’
“So I thought about it, and I prayed about it, and I decided there was only one way to do it, and that was to stand up to it and call it out for what it is: God says it is a sin. ”
Palmer’s service last weekend was the first to be held by the Diocese of the Southern Cross, Gafcon’s only Australian affiliate.
The diocese was officially launched this week at a Gafcon conference in Canberra by its new bishop, Glenn Davies, the former Archbishop of Sydney’s Anglican Church.
“This is a sad day in many ways,” he told The Guardian.
“If the leadership converted and returned to the teachings of the Bible, we would not need the Southern Cross Diocese. I would shut it down and come back.”
It is the latest extension of a movement that is dividing the Church around the world, with similar dioceses in North America, South America, Africa and Europe.
“I don’t buy people, I don’t lure people, I don’t recruit — I provide a safe haven and they can come to me,” Davies said.
The Anglican Church was the main denomination in Australia throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. But according to the latest census, Anglican affiliation has fallen more than any other religion in the past five years, from 3.1 million to 2.5 million people – a decrease of almost one in five, from 13.3% to 9. .8% of the population.
Brian Douglas, an Anglican priest and adjunct research professor at the Australian Center for Christianity and Culture in Canberra, said he expected the split in the church to widen.
“There are actually two Anglican churches in North America now, and I suspect that will happen here,” he said.
Those divisions in the US had led to legal disputes over whether parishes that had seceded from the Anglican Church could still hold services in their local churches, but Douglas said similar problems could be avoided in Australia as the Anglican Church would owned property. in trust, meaning no one was owned by parishes.
As the dust settles, Palmer prepares for his next shift.
“I don’t think it will [just] be with me for long,” he said.