The past is a foreign country: A history of the Church of England in the diocese of Brisbane, 1950-1970

Holland, Jonathan Charles (2007). The past is a foreign country: A history of the Church of England in the diocese of Brisbane, 1950-1970 PhD Thesis, School of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Classics, University of Queensland.

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Author Holland, Jonathan Charles
Thesis Title The past is a foreign country: A history of the Church of England in the diocese of Brisbane, 1950-1970
School, Centre or Institute School of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Classics
Institution University of Queensland
Publication date 2007
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Open Access Status File (Publisher version)
Supervisor Prof Clive Moore
Dr Marion Diamond
Total pages 475
Collection year 2007
Language eng
Subjects 2103 Historical Studies
2202 History and Philosophy of Specific Fields
Formatted abstract
This thesis charts the history of the Church of England in the Diocese of Brisbane from 1950 to 1970.

The history of the Diocese from its beginnings in the mid-nineteenth century could be read as the attempt to address the challenge of three abiding issues: a lack of ordained clergy, of financial resources and of active members. But suddenly, for about a decade from the early 1950s, these shortfalls were transcended. Churches recorded growing participation and parents sent their children to Sunday Schools in record numbers. More young men than ever before attended the theological college – St Francis’ College at Milton – and a money raising scheme, called the Wells Way, allowed parishes to tap post-World War II prosperity. Perhaps for the first time in Diocesan history, parishes could plan for the future with some confidence that the financial and human resources were in place for those plans to come to fruition.

The first part of this thesis attempts to explain why this decade of growth occurred. Several answers are given. The Diocese established parishes in the emerging suburbs, which provided social activities for families, and especially for that new class of young people called ‘teenagers’. The churches were also seen as upholders of moral standards and one of the bulwarks against atheistic communism. Finally, the Diocese of Brisbane was seen to carry something of the ethos of the Church of England in England at a time of pride in the British heritage, which burst out when the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II toured Australia in 1954 to tumultuous acclaim.

The second part of this thesis charts the numerical decline which set in from the early 1960s. Coincidentally, this decline began when a new archbishop – Philip Strong – was installed in March 1963 as Archbishop of Brisbane. Strong came to Brisbane with a powerful reputation as a longstanding, missionary bishop in Papua New Guinea, whose steadfastness in World War II, during the Japanese invasion, evoked much respect and pride.

After examining a number of theories for why numerical decline should suddenly set in, this thesis argues that rapid change – social, cultural, economic and technological – is the principal reason for the decline. Sundays were no longer sacrosanct to the churches alone. A more liberal spirit to moral issues challenged the traditional Christian moral code. Immigration patterns changed. New media, especially television, had a profound effect on the churches, more so than has perhaps been realised. Attitudes to authority figures and authoritative institutions changed in the wake of the Vietnam War, and the inchoate feminist movement challenged traditional church teachings on the role of women in religious institutions. 

The speed and scale of change wrong-footed the Diocese (and other churches), and it was unable to read or satisfactorily address social changes. What changes should the church accommodate? What ones should the church resist? The answer to these questions introduced a new divide in the Diocese (as elsewhere) between conservatives and liberals. The capacity of the Diocese to respond to social change was further inhibited by other factors. There was a loss of confidence in traditional teachings, especially after the publication of John Robinson’s book, Honest to God, in 1963. As well, Diocesan leadership tensions meant that time and energy was directed internally. The Diocese had a powerful registrar, Roland St John and he and other outspoken leaders did not always see eye to eye with the archbishop. Strong, who had spent the previous 26 years in Papua New Guinea, exercising unchallenged authority, found it hard to adjust to these more robust and challenging voices, some of whom were much more liberal than his own conservatism allowed. Finally, Anglo-Catholicism – the Diocesan theological engine room, which had created the passion and direction for Diocesan ministry over so many years – was seriously wounded by social and cultural change and gradually lost its force to inspire and motivate.

The thesis finishes by drawing some conclusions from this history and outlining the legacy of these years.
Keyword Anglican Church of Australia. Diocese of Brisbane -- History
Church of England
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Document type: Thesis
Collections: Queensland Past Online (QPO)
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Created: Fri, 21 Nov 2008, 15:26:46 EST