Why they picked Kanishka Raffel as new Sydney Anglican Archbishop

A London-born former Buddhist of Sri Lankan heritage, Kanishka Raffel is the new Sydney Anglican Archbishop.

The Dean of St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney’s CBD, Raffel was the overwhelming favourite backed by both church leaders and members at the Sydney Anglican Synod (church parliament) this week.

The final vote tonight to pick the Archbishop was unanimous in the Houses of laity (local church representatives) and clergy (ministers).

Raffel is the first person from a non-European background to hold the position.

“I’m humbled and somewhat daunted by the responsibility given me by the Synod,” Archbishop-elect Raffel said. “We believe that the Lord works through his people — both in making this decision and in enabling the Archbishop to fulfil his role.

“Like every Christian, I gladly trust in Jesus.”

At tonight’s masked meeting due to new COVID restrictions in Sydney, chairperson Bishop Peter Lin announced the result – and the meeting applauded Bishop Michael Stead, the other candidate who had not made it to the final list.

Principal of Moore Theological College Mark Thompson led in prayer for Stead. Thompson had given a key speech on Tuesday night, that managed to graciously praise both nominees Stead and Raffel, while indicating a preference for the latter.

As one Synod insider told Eternity, after listening to all the speeches this week, the choice for archbishop came down to choosing between a gifted process man  – and a charismatic leader.

The final vote invited Raffel to be Archbishop, and the masked crowd rose and cheered for several minutes – as the newly elected leader entered. Kanishka and his wife Cailey were prayed for by a succession of old friends, as well as fellow Cathedral staff and all the Sydney Bishops. That means, of course, that all the candidates for the archibishop position joined Raffel on stage.

Raffel said he wanted to read scripture and chose 1 Corinthian 3:5 – ‘What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task.’  He praised his fellow nominees – “I hold them all in the highest regard and so should we all” – and acknowledged the Synod members: “You have been prayerful for days; Please don’t stop.”

“We sought the Lord and he uses his people in prayful discernment.”

“Thirty years ago, the Lord brought me to the foot of his cross,” Raffel told the meeting, pointing to his conversion as a university student. “He washed me from sin and brought me into his service and filled me with his Spirit.”

Before the Synod, Raffel had been widely tipped throughout the Sydney Anglican network as most likely to become Archbishop. The election has been closely watched beyond the borders of Sydney and around the world, as the leader of Sydney Anglican is expected to be a leader in the worldwide GAFCON movement.

Sydney Anglican diocese and its past leaders also have been prominent for positions on marriage, sexuality and biblical authority, often weighing into public debates.

Pointers to why Raffel was appointed to head up Sydney Anglican diocese can be found at ‘Introducing KR’, a campaign site created to promote his nomination.

Raffel has been “compelled by the gospel”, since embracing the good news of Jesus as a university student.

“Raised a Buddhist, a friend gave Kanishka a copy of two gospels when he was at university,” the site outlines. “At the age of 21, Kanishka was convicted by the inescapable words of Jesus in John’s Gospel: ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day’. (John 6:44).”

“This personal experience has not only meant that Kanishka is passionate about spreading the Good News but it also means that he happily rests on the unchanging truth that God brings people to himself through his Son.”

Other listed qualities of Raffel include his being a “gifted preacher and communicator”, as well as a team builder and church leader. “From the pulpit and in person, he speaks with both warmth and clarity about Jesus Christ. He invites unbelievers to consider Christ with gentleness and grace, and believers to a deeper discipleship. His Bible teaching is widely sought-after around the globe,” according to Introducing KR.

“He is a leader who sees the great benefit of surrounding himself with very good people, lay and clergy alike, and equipping them for works of service alongside him.”

“Kanishka Raffel is the real deal.” – Rory Shiner

Endorsed on the site by Moore Theological College Principal Mark Thompson, Bishop of Tasmania Richard Condie, University of Western Australian Emeritus Professor Ann Tarca and others, Raffel’s service outside of Sydney is also noted.

Having ministered at church in Perth and the Canberra-Goulburn area, Raffel is a board member of GAFCON and the Gospel Coalition Australia, and a  trustee of the Anglican Relief and Development Fund Australia.

The glowing support of Rory Shiner (from Perth’s Providence Church) sums up the commendations of Raffel and what Sydney Anglican members will hope he carries into the top job: “There are few people I know whom I trust more, respect more, or whose relationship with God I’d more like to imitate than Kanishka. He is the real deal.”