Sydney's 'most radical' archbishop – new book tells all

Humble. Servant-hearted. Determined. Radical.

These are just some of the words used by Anglican leaders to describe Harry Goodhew – “the man chosen to lead the Diocese of Sydney in its most turbulent decade”.

So begins a new biography by award-winning author and historian Stuart Piggin, titled Harry Goodhew: Archbishop, Dynamic Godly Radical, Anglican, which was launched today in Sydney’s St Andrew’s Cathedral.

The book – published by Morning Star – details the significant impact of this unassuming, working-class, cricket-loving minister. It follows his ministry in the Anglican church from parishes in Sydney, to outback South Australia with Bush Church Aid and the Brisbane diocese, to his progression as bishop of Wollongong diocese in NSW, and culminates in his years as archbishop of Sydney.

Piggin – who (along with Robert D. Linder) wrote the 2019 Australian Christian Book of the Year – admits to an unavoidable bias in writing his latest book. Piggin himself helped campaign to have Goodhew elected as archbishop of Sydney in 1993.

“Harry’s time as archbishop was difficult. If I were to write his biography, I could not, with integrity, ignore the conflicts.” – Stuart Piggin

The book begins with a blow-by-blow account of the”pyrotechnics” surrounding this controversial election at a time of division within the Sydney Anglican diocese. It was also a time of division for the Anglican church on a national and global scale, as it dealt with early conversations about gay priests, the ongoing debate about the ordination of women and the controversial topic of lay presidency.

In the midst of this, Piggin outlines Goodhew’s non-combative, yet determined approach to bringing change in the diocese throughout his eight years as archbishop (from 1993 to 2001).

“Harry brought to the role of archbishop an incomparable record for building thriving parishes. His determination as archbishop to focus diocesan resources and passion on ministry in the parishes meant that church growth insights were imported from all over the world, marking him out as a radical in a diocese deeply suspicious of outside influences,” writes Piggin.

“Harry was the most radical of Sydney’s archbishops in four other respects: he worked consistently to dissolve the ‘hard culture’ of Sydney Anglicanism; he unfailingly practised servant, rather than authoritarian, leadership; he sought to restructure the administration of the diocese to make it more efficient; and, in a highly clericalised diocese, he maintained that the laity were ‘those who mattered most.’ For all these reasons, he met with staunch political resistance.”

At the book launch, Piggin admitted that wading back into diocesan conflicts was one of the hardest parts of writing this biography.

“It was in 2004, three years after Harry’s episcopal ended, that Bishop John Wilson, co-founder of Acorn Press, suggested to me that I should write his biography,” he said.

“I remember the momentary hesitation. Harry’s time as archbishop was difficult. If I were to write his biography, I could not, with integrity, ignore the conflicts.”

He added: “So conflicts are covered in the book, in a matter, I hope, which is neither untrue, nor unfair, nor unkind. For his part, Harry never spoke ill of his critics. He believed that their vehemence was actually a measure of their zeal for the diocese.”

“This humble man, [was] so determined – an extraordinary combination.” – Stuart Piggin

Piggin added that it was “even more challenging” to describe Harry’s “goodness” without making him sound unbelievable.

Speaking at the launch, he urged readers not to assume his closeness to Goodhew had clouded his judgement about the former archbishop’s godly character and his many achievements.

“We have in Harry a man who once he decided [to follow] Christ, has read his Bible every day and said his prayers and shared his faith every day. And sought to obey his Lord in all things. So God has made his obedient heart capacious and gifted him in a panoply of abilities,” said Piggin.

He then listed some of these abilities, describing Goodhew as “an incredibly good communicator” and “very able manager”.

“He was always more interested in other people’s aspirations then in his own,” Piggin continued.

“And he and [his wife] Pam were given this strength to labour on with this incredible workload, which has never let up. I just couldn’t understand how they did it. Sometimes 11 meetings in one day and the pressure was incredible. The capacity to envision new ministries and new ways of doing ministry – incredibly open to every new endeavour or propagating the gospel. Harry was  incredibly open-minded.

“And yet this humble man, [was] so determined – an extraordinary combination.”

Piggin quipped that when writing the book he had even tried to draw out some of Goodhew’s negative characteristics from his children. However, the only weaknesses they were able to supply were his fondness for chocolate and that he is “happy to talk for hours to nutters”. So Piggin could only dig out one negative example for the book – the time when Goodhew unknowingly washed his shirt in a bidet during a conference in Switzerland, which was taken as “evidence of Harry’s great humility”.

Piggin noted the “deluge of accolades” he has received about Goodhew since authoring this biography, comparing this to the “hundreds of letters of delight and love, which Harry received when he was consecrated as a Bishop [of Wollongong] in 1982”. Piggin waded through these letters, along with Goodhew’s own diaries and sermon notes in writing the book.

‘Harry Goodhew: Godly Radical, Dynamic Anglican’ by Stuart Piggin

In responding at the launch, Goodhew was characteristically humble, thanking first “three women who, very early in my life, had a marked influence”: two Sunday school teachers and a Bible class leader.

He also gave a shout-out to children’s evangelist Wallace Guilford who visited Goodhew’s school when he was a young boy and told the story of the Good Samaritan.

“I remember he gave out decision cards and I took that home and prayed the prayer in it. I never saw him again until I was here in Sydney and I met him on the railway station … I had the opportunity of telling him that the Lord had used him in that way in my life.”

Goodhew then went on to acknowledge many others “who shaped my life”, including, especially his wife Pam.

While many (including Piggin himself) had noted the danger of writing a biography while the subject is still alive, Goodhew allayed any fears by praising Piggin for the “generous way” in which he depicted his life story.

After unravelling the mystery behind the cover of the book (which was a photo shoot for the Illawarra Mercury), Goodhew concluded by saying, “I’m grateful to God for the salvation that he has extended to me and for the opportunities for service that he’s provided for me. I’m immensely grateful.”

Directing the glory to God, Goodhew encouraged readers of the biography to “admire the singer, not the song”.

The book launch concluded with a prayer by current Sydney Anglican archbishop, the Most Revd Dr Glenn Davies, who said: “We admire both the singer and the song, and we thank God for both … My prayer is that this book will be read widely, not only in Australia but across the world.”

A second book launch will be held on April 1 at Figtree Anglican Church (the Goodhew’s home church).

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Harry Goodhew: Godly Radical, Dynamic Anglican

Stuart Piggin

Available from Koorong

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