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From the Editor’s Desk

Following the curve

In the 1986 movie The Mosquito Coast Harrison Ford plays an eccentric who migrates to the rain forests of Central America in order to create a perfect society - beginning with his own family. In the course of this Quixotic task he grows progressively both mad, of course, and mortally ill and as he lays dying he explains to his wife that he only wanted to bring straight lines (perfection, clarity, order) into a world that has too many curved ones (compromise, doubts, complexity). Unlike Ford’s character, I like curved lines: they force me to bend and adapt; they reveal to me the unexpected; they prevent me from growing too complacent about anything – least of all myself.

This was the topic of a lunchtime address I gave last week at All Saints Anglican Cathedral in Bathurst. The luncheon talk series is an initiative of the Dean, the Very Reverend Andrew Sempell, and has been running now for a couple of years. Other initiatives Andrew has introduced – holding plays such as Murder in the Cathedral in the cathedral itself; keeping the place open as much as possible to as many people as possible – are designed to integrate sacred space back into the secular city. I’m not saying this approach is entirely novel but it is, sadly, unusual still in many parts of the country and in many denominations. It also reflects a particular notion of what church is or must become that tends to buck what is happening elsewhere.

In a place like Bathurst a church must be less selective about who it includes and who it excludes: the tendency, so common among Anglicans in Sydney, for instance, to foster exclusive fellowships defined by interests, age, ethnicity and ecclesiological preferences, simply doesn’t work because there aren’t enough people in Bathurst to divide up in this way. Consequently the temptation for the church to become a club (or series of clubs) is less and the congregation remains – or aims to become - more of a community in which its members simply have to get on with each other, warts and all.

I’d been invited to talk about my book The Chosen Ones: The politics of salvation in the Anglican Church but I broadened it into a reflection on this difference between communities and clubs. I argued that there is a trend these days for people to become insular and closed-minded and that this was evident not just in churches but also – and more frighteningly - in society generally, (witness the Federal Government’s approach to asylum seekers, its ‘I’m all right Jack’ approach to industrial relations, its approach to issues of law enforcement and security). We seem to be embracing straight lines over curved ones more and more and with these straight lines to be building fences around ourselves that divide us from others.

I spoke about Online Catholics and its modest attempt to break down this insularity and close-mindedness by inviting contributions from de-institionalised Catholics, from lapsed Catholics, from people from other denominations and other faiths either writing about their experience of God and grace or else offering their reflections on us, our church and community. I admitted that this was not always easy to manage – many ‘outsiders’ are suspicious of such invitations or too busy frying their own fish to worry about our ‘catch’ – and that the results were not always welcomed or encouraged (as some private correspondence to me these part months has made clear).

Still, I see Online Catholics as something of an open space in the way All Saints Cathedral, Bathurst, is an open space. And I believe that by being as open as possible – to ideas, to contributors, to compromise, doubt and complexity - Online Catholics has an important role to play in fostering a deeper insight into what makes us distinctive as Catholics and a deeper understanding of what unites us all in our social, intellectual and spiritual journeys.

Our efforts may be small but the need for them is greater than ever.

Chris McGillion




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