When Glenn Davies called me on Wednesday morning this week, he was two days away from retiring as Archbishop of the Sydney Anglican Diocese (region), one of Australia’s most prominent conservative evangelical church networks.
After he closes the office door tomorrow night and is then celebrated at a booked-out farewell service, Davies modestly hoped to leave a legacy of standing strong for God’s word, no matter what.
As he took time to talk with Eternity over his mid-morning coffee, Davies described his final week in the top job as being like two weeks in one.
“I do all my normal work – and [also] go to a multitude of farewells and eating,” explained Davies in his polished yet affable way. “Then, a lot of people ask ‘Can you just do this before you leave?’”
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“My wife asked me if I’d be home for dinner tonight. I haven’t been home for dinner all week.”
Having been a minister at suburban churches in Willoughby and Miranda, a lecturer in Old Testament at Moore Theological College, and bishop of North Sydney, Davies was elected in 2013 as Sydney Anglican Archbishop. As an almost 63-year-old at the time, he added that he was the oldest bloke ever elected to the role, one for which he was a “reluctant nominee”.
“I actually enjoyed the position and I did not think that would be the case,” admitted Davies. “I thought this is a matter of duty and the Synod wants me to do it, therefore I have no grounds to deny that opportunity. And yet I’ve actually enjoyed the job.”
The highs of office
During his tenure – which was extended by six months, thanks to a certain pandemic – Davies was a high-profile ‘No’ voice in the Same-Sex Marriage debate and more recently has raised the possibility of ethical concerns about COVID vaccines.
But those are some of the more public examples of Davies’ leadership. Being Archbishop has involved him being a community leader in discussions with prime ministers, state ministers and governors – “I’ve been able to take the opportunities I have had. I mean, reading the Bible with a Governor is not something every clergyman gets to do” – right through to having personal, pastoral conversations with survivors of sexual abuse.
“Because of child abuse problems in the past that churches have to grapple with, I have met with survivors of abuse,” said Davies. “It’s very draining and is shameful to look at the church’s past, but to see survivors come and meet with me at the end of a process of reparation and counselling and pastoral care packages – which we have – to see people come to closure on that has been very energising. The feedback I’ve got on that from various people has demonstrated that.”
Davies mentioned such intense conversations as hugely significant, while also reflecting fondly upon all sorts of other Archbishop activities. He’s had the “great joy” of ordaining people for ministry as well as helping to establish a diocese-wide fund to buy land for new church buildings, in the rapidly expanding south-western suburbs of Sydney. Such future focus also extended to overseeing changes to regional ministry boundaries – to better match growing population areas – and being “instrumental” in the “exciting” amalgamation of Anglicare Sydney and Anglican Retirement Villages, into Anglican Community Services.
Grateful for support
As Davies looked back at the past eight years, he returned several times to how being Archbishop has been “the opportunity for me to be a servant of Christ in the public space”. A Christian leader visible in his own church community, yet also known beyond his own patch and into wider society. Agree or disagree with Davies’ public statements but not everyone at the top of a Christian denomination or movement is as recognised.
“Look, it’s a challenge,” said Davies about public profile. “You’ve got to prepare yourself and pray about it. I’ve got a wonderful supporting group across the diocese of people who pray for me – some every day, many every week – and that has buoyed me and my wife. And without my wife, I couldn’t have done the things I have been able to do.”
Davies’ wife of more than 40 years, Dianne, is another repeated refrain during our surprisingly relaxed conversation during his final Archbishop week.“It’s very easy to sing my wife’s praises. She is a great and godly woman. She supports me, challenges me, chastises me when she needs to – and I’m very grateful for that. She’s my accountability partner.”
“I’m very proud of her.”
Archbishop action has been the tune of Sydney Anglicans this week. Along with Davies departure, the four nominees for his role were announced (Before Davies successor is elected at a special Synod (church council) meeting on May 3, Bishop of Wollongong Peter Hayward will be Sydney Anglican administrator – “He has all the power of the archbishop; just lacks the title and tenure … Administrator makes it sound like we are in receivership,” joked Davies).
Also this week, a new biography was launched about Harry Goodhew, Sydney Anglican Archbishop in the 1990s. One word used to describe Goodhew was “radical”. I asked Davies how he thinks people would describe him. “Oh, I don’t know. ‘Boring’ or ‘average’ – they’re the kinds of words I normally get,” Davies drily responded. “It’s probably better for other people to find a descriptor of me.
“I’m exactly the same Glenn Davies that people knew when I was in parish or a lecturer at Moore College. [But] when I became a bishop, people started to treat me differently, especially as an archbishop.
“My course of life has basically been [that] I’m here to serve God” is how Davies proceeded to sum up himself.
“What is the right thing to do in a situation? When I prayerfully work out what the right thing is to do, I pursue that as graciously as possible. Some times that might need to be assertive and some time that can be just bringing people with you.
“In the end, I serve the risen King so that is my first responsibility. That’s stood me in good stead when, you know, I’ve sometimes taken unpopular stances.”
“I’m not perfect and all you can do is do the best you can in recognising how to serve God.”
Same-sex marriage and future fears
One stance Archbishop Davies prominently took that was unpopular with some, was his opposition to same-sex marriage (Sydney Anglican Diocese donated $1 million to the ‘No’ campaign). Davies even attracted controversy after the 2017 Postal Survey when, during his final Synod address in 2019, he declared that people who “wish to change the doctrine of our Church, they should start a new church or join a church more aligned to their views”. These “please leave us” comments were later clarified by Davies as referring to bishops and not at “members of our congregations, especially those who identify as gay, whether single or married”.
Davies also said in that final Synod speech he feared for “the stability of the Anglican Church of Australia”, as different dioceses across the country disagree on the blessings of same-sex marriage. He still holds those fears and hoped that the Church’s General Synod next year will “make the right decisions …. and we’re not going to entertain the sexual mores and morals that society has so quickly adopted”.
“I don’t think the bishops in our Church are leading as well as they should,” Davies told Eternity. “They are not holding forth the fundamental declarations of our Church and the importance and authority of the Scriptures to win people to Christ – but also to inform Christian discipleship in a way which is in a pattern of Jesus.”
“The same-sex [debate] has broken the Church in other parts of the world and unless people wake up to themselves, it will break our Church. We therefore need to be conciliatory as possible, and keep the conversation going of course, but stand firm in the faith once for all delivered to the saints,”
“If we don’t do that, we might as well give up the game. There are some wishy washy bishops, unfortunately, who will not stand firm and are swayed by the contours of the culture in which they live. Rather than recognising the Scriptures provide us with a compass and a guide for every area of life.”
The challenge ahead
When asked about challenges he believed that Christians in Australia face, more broadly, Davies was quick to respond: “In many ways, we have lost our credibility in our society. And the forces of unbelief are rising. They are rising not just in the form of agnosticism but militant anti-Christian forces. I think [they are] overturning the moral compass that the Bible gives to us and … we have to be more assertive about bringing the claims of Christ into Australian society.”
In the face of such perceived marginalisation, Davies said he had attempted to model what it can look like to publicly share your Christian faith and beliefs, to help create a “safe space for Christians to do [the same]”.
Just this week, at one of the farewell events for Davies, a woman told him she was inspired in her own conversation with others because she had watched Davies in action. “When I was on [ABC TV’s] Q&A a number of years ago during the same-sex marriage debate, people took heart from my public defence of marriage. They thought it was articulated well and they felt they could do that in their ‘marketplace’ – at the water cooler, or wherever it might be. To do that in a way that they had courage to do it, because the leader was doing it.”
“When I hear that kind of feedback, it gives me great joy.”
Before Davies returned to the ongoing tally of last-minute things he was being asked to do as Archbishop, I get to ask him the obvious question: what’s next? “I’m going to take three months off and do nothing,” chuckled Davies. He wants to recharge and relax and read, go to the movies, and spend more time with Dianne “who has expressed a bit of a deficit of her husband, from time to time, with the pressures of this job”. Then, Davies will “look to see what opportunities the Lord has for me” as he continues to serve on various boards and international Christian organisations. He’s had some offers to write and, as you might imagine, he is “open to the Lord’s directions on this”.