Sydney Anglicans have a Carl Lentz situation

A local echo of Hillsong’s Carl Lentz’s situation – a well-known minister losing their marriage and their job in a well-publicised way – has come to Inner West Sydney.

But this time it was the minister who set off the publicity. Dave Smith is the former minister at Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill. Known as Fighting Father Dave for his martial arts prowess, the Anglican minister gave an interview to The Guardian. The headline told his side of the story: “Sydney Anglican priest forced to resign because his marriage broke down.”

(UPDATE: For the avoidance of speculation – the parallel does not extend to exactly how the minister lost his job – Smith resigned see below and the reasons for the Smith marriage breakdown are not public and Eternity is not revealing what they are by reference to Lentz)

The story – and particularly the timing of it – has caused great upset in the parish (local church). The story came out on the weekend, the same time as the parish was having a special afternoon tea – actually, a series of afternoon teas due to COVID – to honour the ministry of Angela Smith, Dave’s wife. She is clearly a much loved figure in the church community.

It’s also been noted that the publication of The Guardian piece occurred in the lead up to the launch of Dave Smith’s book.

The lead paragraph of The Guardian‘s Kelly Burke’s reads: “One of Sydney’s most high-profile Anglican priests has been forced to resign from his church or face the sack because his wife walked out on him.”

This makes it sound like the Lentz situation where the Hillsong Church did recently sack their New York pastor. But Bishop Michael Stead – the regional Bishop of South Sydney – points out that while Dave Smith did not have tenure at Holy Trinity, he had a five-year license. (In the Anglican Church, ministers need a license from their bishop to be a minister.) Smith did not have to leave, he could have stayed until 2022.

As Stead told Eternity: “I persuaded him it was in the best interests of the congregation for him to resign.”

Smith is a talented pastor, and has shepherded many in the Dulwich Hill Congregation.

“Our policy is to protect the privacy of the family, especially the wives of male clergy, and to avoid the breakdown of relationships within the parish,” Stead says.

Eternity has been urged by a senior source within the parish to adopt the same policy and, although this writer has been aware of the situation for at least one year, we will not canvas the reasons for the marriage breakdown in this story. It is however clear that Angela Smith gets strong support from the members at Holy Trinity.

Although the parish and Dave Smith himself have a reputation of being on the leftward edge of the diocese, the people of Holy Trinity – Eternity has been told – believe the diocese has bent over backwards to be kind. The Sydney Anglican diocese provided free use of the rectory (minister’s house) for more than a year, and has ensured Dave Smith gets paid.

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