The mainline churches in Australia are not flourishing. Congregations and their influence in the community are on the decline. Enemies of the church rejoice and prophesy its early demise. Friends make excuses and wait in hope.

How bad is it? Recently a daily paper in Melbourne ran a series under the general heading, “Christianity in Australia.” The paper printed articles by representatives of the Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Uniting Churches.

Each representative examined the situation in his own church and gave his view on what should be done. The newspaper, in introducing the series, did not disguise how it saw the situation. It referred to a “mass swing of the sixties and seventies away from God and church,” which, it said, “shows little sign of slowing.” “Surveys show that fewer people believe in God and that regular church attendance is confined to perhaps 20 per cent of the population. It spoke of “the drought in religious vocations which has forced most denominations to prune service and teaching programmes.”

The churchmen agreed that the situation is bad. The Anglican, John Gaden, saw his church as “bumbling along on alien soil.” He spoke of its close links with Britain and saw the role of its clergy as “chaplains to the status quo.” He spoke of the production of an Australian Prayer Book as a significant event, though he found it questionable whether the Anglican church in this country “has any national identity.” Looking to the future he saw a need for Anglicans to “reach out” to people outside the churches. He looked for “a new ecumenism,” concerned not so much with merging structures as with having Christians ...

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