May 2006

Andrew Neaum

I find the diocesan paper, “The Advocate”, an almost intolerable bore, addicted as I am to sharper, critical and more pungent journalism. I can bring myself to give it only a disdainful skim before I move on to saltier and less condescending and self-congratulatory reading. Because of this, I have decided that every now and then I shall provide a critique of it in our pew sheet.


This could be useful in a number of ways. For a start it will force me to read the paper more thoroughly, and so perhaps uncover nuggets of worth that otherwise I might have missed. It will enable me to provide a context for some of its articles, which could put pew sheet readers more into the diocesan picture, and sometimes even ease their conscience by giving them good reason to ignore a particular article. There is even a remote possibility of my critique improving the editorial committee’s performance, because I might well be prevailed upon to email it to each of them. One or two might have the broadness of mind actually to read it and take it to heart. Above all else though, writing a critique be will be enjoyable and disdain transmuted to enjoyment is a very good thing.

Hagiographic puff, fluff and flam.

First some general remarks. My main objection to the Advocate is that it is not journalism at all. It is public relations spin. It appears to exist to promote the diocese less by telling the truth than ignoring it, and spinning almost exclusively happy little stories of success. Anything that is ill, failing, or appalling in the diocese is ignored. Problems and divisions, vital information as to the tensions that exist among the clergy and how they are being addressed or ignored are almost never reported or commented upon. There are no letters to the editor ever printed. I recall some years ago being asked to write a little introductory article on a new priest who was taking up an appointment in the diocese. I happened to mention that he was divorced, a useful and accurate piece of information for his prospective flock. It was censored from my article without any reference to me. I presumed this to be because it is deemed that priests are better not revealed sometimes to be divorced. “The Advocate” is such a jolly, happy, anodyne, condescending, hagiographic piece of puff, fluff and flam, it makes very dull reading for anyone with any juice in his veins!

The Editorial Board

The Editorial Board itself is one of the problems. Its longest standing members are the Bishop’s wife and an Archdeacon. Both, quite properly, upholders and defenders of the establishment. There is not much chance of an independent, objective or critical viewpoint there though. “Freedom of the press” we shout, but not, of course at home.

The Current Issue

So to the current issue. The lead story on the front page tells of the first church service, held on Easter Day, in a college classroom, of a new worshipping community at Baranduda. There are happy pictures of the event and two accounts of it, the first by the Rector of Wodonga and the second by the Principal of the Anglican College at Baranduda. It is wonderful news, sixty seven people, including the bishop present, an occasion well worth trumpeting. One would have welcomed a note of realism however. An acknowledgement of the fact that this first occasion was “seeded” by both the congregation of St John’s Wodonga and the school. I believe the next service at Baranduda comprised little more than half a dozen worshippers, which of course reveals the project to be a courageous one, involving the risk of failure and certainly the likelihood of a long haul to lasting success.


The second front page story is a report on the first day of Synod. Mercifully I had good reason not to be present, but the report indicates that it was a jolly, happy and positive event, as you would expect in “The Advocate”. Regrettably there is no attempt to comment upon, or explain, what lies behind Fr Matthew Healey’s proposition, which is merely mentioned. In fact it is all to do with whether or not to pass the “enabling canon” to allow the ordination of women to become normative rather than exceptional in the diocese. The big question being, do we want, need or desire an “auxiliary bishop” for conservatives, which, as things stand, will be a consequence of passing the canon? As usual, what is truly crucial to the future of the diocese is passed over and the general reader is left in the putative bliss of ignorance.

Thomas Fuller and John Pryor

Page two, as usual, contains an item from the bishop. This time it is made up of his Synod sermon (by request, we are informed). Like most sermons it is a worthy effort, but far too long, I didn’t make it to the end. Like the 17th century priest and historian Thomas Fuller who, when reading scripture, confesses to being unable to resist turning the page to see how much more is to come, my spirits too sank when I saw, over the page, how much followed. Most clergy, when under pressure, are prone to succumb to the too easy compliments passed about sermons to think they will double as articles. They rarely make scintillating reading. The only other article on the second page is by the Rev’d Dr D Paul Dalzell. He bangs his Catechumenate drum again, one of his great enthusiasms, and he is always worth reading.


Page three contains an informative piece of workmanlike journalism by Suzie Don Leonard. It realises the promise of its headline: “Anglicare Hume News” and so is worth a read. The only other article on that page is by the Registrar, Dr John Pryor and is an advertisement masquerading as an article. It invites us to fork out $4754.00 on a proposed 16 day tour of Israel to be led by him and the Bishop. Not for me thank you, and it should have been boxed with all the other advertisements.

Self praise not recommended.

The most difficult page to edit and collate in any diocesan paper is the parish pump material in the column “Around the Diocese”. Too few parishes ever send in any items of news, and those that are sent in are usually as dull as a Low Sunday sermon and boringly self-congratulatory. I refrain from criticising so difficult a page to compile, though it could do with an injection of editorial flair and panache to make it more digestible. However, elsewhere in the paper there are two articles from the parishes of two members of the editorial board that should have been reduced by three quarters and made items of the “Around the Diocese” column. The first tells us about Cobram parish’s Lenten Studies and how much they were enjoyed, the case in every parish in the diocese, one would have thought. Five hundred or so words that should have been fifty. Then there is a whole half-page devoted to a “Memorable Holy Week at Benalla” by the parish’s Rector. Too full of superlatives, we are given a precis of the visiting preacher’s sermons, told that the “full rites of the Church were celebrated” (I should think so too, they were in Shepparton), of packed churches (of course) and so on. All this is in a jolly and condescending Sunday-school teacher’s style. What should have been a single, economical paragraph has been inflated into eleven, a happy occasion into the Second Coming.


A surprise in this edition of “The Advocate” is a half page article by Peter Martin in response to a previous article on Intelligent Design by our learned Registrar. I disagree with pretty well every word in Peter’s article, but it is unusual to read a dissentient piece in the Advocate, and for that it is welcome.

The best at the back

Fr Ellis Jones is one of the most talented, quirky and intelligent of writers and thinkers in the Australian Anglican Church. That such a sophisticate should be reduced to writing primarily for the young, and under archly hideous titles like “Yungwunz” and “Yunklies” (even if his own inventions) is little short of a crime. He has told me in conversation that his more outlandish and inventive flights of fancy are sometimes censored, which does not surprise but disappoints me. He is an unconventional, learned thinker and writer, more for afficionados than the general masses. Even labouring under his present constrains, however, he is well worth reading.


A full page obituary on Bishop David Hand seems a little excessive, but it is as interesting a read as anything in this edition. He was a very great missionary and bishop. The Review, by Dr Colin Holden, of Muriel Porter’s Book “The New Puritans”, which graces the back page with Fr Ellis Jones’ article, is learned, thoughtful and well worth reading.


The back two pages of the Advocate are the most worthwhile then. The rest deserves but a skim. The most remarkable thing of all about this month’s edition, however, is that it is the first I have thoroughly read in five or six years.