Anglicans on mission to expand

The Anglican Diocese of Sydney is to embark on a recruitment drive for a new generation of church leaders to meet its ambitious plans to convert at least 10 per cent of Sydney's population within a decade.

Sydney Archbishop Peter Jensen wants each of Sydney diocese's five regions to send 50 students for training as clergy every year, more than doubling the existing student intake.

To cater for the projected increase in churchgoers, its synod voted last night for a ministry restructure to expand the junior clergy role of deacon.

A deacon can preach, baptise, marry and bury in the Sydney diocese but not preside over Holy Communion or run a parish. Except for women, who are limited to being deacons, the position is considered a stepping stone to becoming a rector.

While there were lingering worries from some in the church that the restructure might encourage elitism among senior clergy, the Bishop of North Sydney, Dr Glenn Davies, said it would mean becoming a deacon would "become a goal in itself".

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He said it would also create an alternative career path for lay church workers interested in working as school and prison chaplains, youth workers or parish evangelists.

The Archbishop will devise new selection standards for deacons early next year, and set out different requirements for becoming a rector.

The latest move comes as Dr Jensen revealed that up to 70 new congregations, fellowships or churches had been forged during the first 18 months of the diocese's mission of conversion to Bible-based churches.

Some of the new congregations have been started among families of students at new low-fee schools, meeting in school halls rather than attending church services.

At Barker College in Hornsby the diocese boasts almost one third of students are in Christian groups and says its aim is to take this group to 50 per cent.

The National Church Life Survey showed an increase in attendance to churches in the Sydney diocese of 9 per cent between 1996 and 2001, compared with a nationwide decline of 2 per cent for the same period.

"The relative absence of people under 40 is alarming," Dr Jensen told the synod in his opening address.

"I stick to my belief that the national church has a short lifespan if action is not taken urgently."

Dr Jensen said he was also frightened for "Anglo-centric churches set in the midst of vast ethnic populations with no taskforce, no cry to help, no plans to reach their new neighbours. They are set to fade genteelly away".

The principal of the diocese's main theological college, Dr John Woodhouse, said student enrolments were now at record levels. There were 300 full-time undergraduate students studying at Moore Theological College, of whom 30 per cent planned to be ordained as clergymen in the diocese.

Dr Woodhouse said the college was likely to double in size to 600 within 10 years and could even accommodate up to 1000 students - but not without a major redevelopment of its Newtown campus.

The college council had decided 12 months ago that "we will accept as many suitable students as God might send us".