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Finding the kingdom in the troubled Anglican Diocese of Bathurst

In reading this post, please keep its age in mind.

Help me out Bishop Ian, I’m struggling to understand your stance. Your Diocese borrowed a heap of money from another institution (and I mean a heap), and the plans didn’t work out as the Diocese hoped. Then the institution, to minimise its losses, didn’t want to wait to see if you can repay the amount outstanding, and now you are fighting a very expensive legal battle with parishioners’ money[i].  (Yes, I switched from ‘the Diocese’ to ‘you’, and I use the latter from now on, because consistent with church law and tradition, the Diocese is under your care and authority, and you have been the only person speaking for the Diocese.)

A few months ago, in commissioning a new man in charge of Cowra Parish, you told us that your mission was your Church’s Five Marks of Mission[ii]. For those not familiar with them, here they are:

To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom

To teach, baptise and nurture new believers

To respond to human need by loving service

To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation

To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth [www.anglicancommunion.org].

Not quite enough prominence for the first Mark of Mission for me, but a collection that has stood the test of time. But I struggle to understand how this mission, this work to give people a foretaste of Heaven, is not damaged by spending millions of dollars and weeks and weeks of human effort on a very public fight against a creditor that trusted you and to whom you acknowledge you owe money.

Yes, I know this earthly battle you have taken on is complicated, and I may only understand dimly, so that’s why I need your help.

I got your understanding of the situation from your conversation with blogger the Reverend David Ould on 2 June 2014:

…imagine a situation. Your son (I don’t know if you have one) is 18…years old. You loan him money to buy a car with the agreement that he will repay it three years after he starts his first full-time job[iii]. But long before the date you agreed, you demand the full repayment from him immediately. How might your son feel? Who has broken the agreement? …These and many other questions are worth pondering. + Ian.

Leaving aside the Biblical wisdom of lending in this situation, if the agreement didn’t include what to do if the borrower’s capacity to repay deteriorated severely, then that agreement would have been short-sighted.

When (blogger) David suggested that the security of the principal of your loan being threatened was exactly what happened with the bank, you implied that the bank didn’t consult and were not open to negotiating a new plan:

Dear David. If you, as a father, thought that your son could not repay the loan; might it not be better to sit down with him and persist in working towards an agreement rather than making a non-negotiable demand? It might actually be to the father’s benefit to do this! +Ian

Well, I’d suggest that, given that the bank had an agreement, they were entitled to act in accordance with that agreement. If they didn’t consult and didn’t negotiate when obliged to – not my experience by the way – then your beef is justified.

But didn’t you tell a reporter in October 2013 that there had been “intense discussion and activity” with the bank since the sale of the two schools, and that this would continue?

Discussions or no discussions though, it appears that the two parties were, in your view, from two different kingdoms, one heavenly, one earthly, with the former being the one that should hold sway:

The gods of this world (of which money is one) always demand their “pound of flesh” but Jesus Christ is Lord and he is risen and ascended.

But the reality is that, applying the teachings of Jesus, the Diocese, including its bodies and institutions, are as much part of ‘the world’ as the bank, the bank you approached because you needed a very large measure of one of the ‘gods of this world’.

Not only this, but aren’t you yourself periodically called upon to demand your ‘pound of flesh, just as you accuse the Commonwealth Bank of doing? For the actual Diocesan institution that has been put into receivership is itself a bank. A bank the board of which you (or your nominee) chair. Sure, it’s a shadow bank – an institution only operating outside the legislation that applies to the Commonwealth Bank courtesy of an historical exemption – but an institution that takes money in and lends money out nonetheless.

I appreciate, though, that you are on record as saying

I have always maintained that we will do what we are legally asked to do, and that we would use our best endeavours to repay what we borrowed and this is the nub of the issue.

So you are happy to pay the money back, if that’s what the law requires. (What about morality though? Didn’t Jesus take us to a new understanding of the law, leading us to go beyond it in order to follow Him?)   But you want to pay in your timing? Which means that, because the bank wants it all yesterday, you are fighting them.

This might – I say might – be OK if it weren’t that it’s expensive – very expensive – in both time and money. Apart from using some of the money, for the fight, that parishioners have already given the Diocese, you also need another $1 million from them:

We seek to raise money from the parishes in order to defend the action taken against us.

Actually it’s closer to a demand than a request:

Each parish has been allocated an amount of money to raise on a pro rata basis and it will be their decision as to how they raise that amount of money.

Which is a bit of a worry, because there’s an argument that this need for funds is, if not in law, then at least in spirit, a ‘deficiency in funds’ of the Anglican Development Fund. And such any levy requires an ordinance:

The Fund shall be guaranteed by the Anglican Diocese of Bathurst to the extent that should there by (sic) and deficiency in funds, Bishop-in-Council shall promote an ordinance to levy the necessary funds from the parishes [iv].

(I wonder whether the parishioners, before the failure, knew that they were effectively guaranteeing the bank?)

But this is not the full extent of the extra money required from parishioners: On top of the levy you have said that it is ‘an absolute necessity’ that the amount parishes give to run the Diocese should double.

But what few, if any, parishioners will know is that for the first 12 months of their appointment, the Receivers and Managers have made payments to themselves and lawyers totalling $2.26 million[v]. That’s another $2.26 million that can’t be used to ‘respond to human need for loving service’, or any of the other four Marks of Mission.

Clearly you must think that you have right on your side. Or at least what’s right in the eyes of the earthly kingdom. So what is your objection, the objection on which the fight is based?

Sorry, but from reading what you have said in the media, I’m not clear about it: is it because you think the banks’ action (that’s the Commonwealth Bank, not yours) is illegal, or because you think that your mission, without the bricks and mortar of the Diocese would be decimated?

On the one hand you think that the sale of churches and rectories would be illegal:

We’re preparing a defence, yes, because the issue is are we at liberty to change the purpose of trust assets in order to pay an unrelated party?

If trust assets were out-of-bounds as security, was the bank clear about that when they lent you the money? What did you think you were offering as security for the borrowings?

It seems that you are not completely against using the assets though. In your letter in David Ould’s post (see above), you say that

“…the Judge made orders in the affirmative that the APT was justified in defending the proceedings of the CBA and the ADF Receivers and Managers, and could use Trust assets to pay legal costs.

On the other hand, and this is your more frequent objection, you say that a sell-off “would seriously undermine the church’s ministry”:

The churches are not there to serve themselves, but their communities…To take that away will impoverish the area enormously.

The ministry of the church is valued by the wider community and is especially important at times of bereavements, baptisms, marriage, in sickness and in nurturing and supporting people through welfare, community and educational activities. Not only are these services valued, but the church is part of the glue that holds our scattered communities together.

The loss of houses for the clergy seems to be particularly objectionable:

If we had to sell rectories, we would cease to be able to house a clergyperson in the area. And an important thing about a rectory is that it is a public building. All sorts of people come to that place in different circumstances of life, and there they’re met with warmth and a welcome, and they’re met with opportunity for help and sustenance.

Others have said that the buildings are not as essential to your mission as you say, and I add my small voice to that view.

Sometimes you brought the two objections together:

We will be left with nothing. We do not believe they have the right to order us. I think we have many good avenues of defence. It is our duty to defend those properties and gifts given to us in trust for the benefit of the community.

Whatever the objection, the lack of any reported outcry – or even a whimper – against the levy on parishes, suggests that your parishioners are on-side with you staying in court. (Mind you, do they know the full story?)  Me, though, I am having trouble reconciling your stance with our mission as Christians. I see two worldly institutions, both dealing in one of the ‘gods of this world’, fighting in the courts, using money that could be used better elsewhere. All I can do is to pray that, whatever the judge says, the institution that brings greatest glory to our Father in heaven is the winner.


P.S.  Business by The Book exists to provide accounting, audit and governance services, for no fee if necessary, to not-for-profits who are themselves serving those who are the cultural equivalents of the Bible’s fatherless, widows and aliens.



[i] See the timeline at the end of this article.

[ii] The April 2014 edition, here.

[iii] A normal transaction for ‘the world’, but not so acceptable according to Jesus’ teachings?

[iv] Paragraph 32, Anglican Development Fund Diocese of Bathurst Ordinance 1998-2010.

[v] See the Form 524s, available under Documents in the Fund’s record on www.asic.gov.au.