July 2005 Why Southern Cross is a load of propaganda

We’re defensive about failure and this newspaper isn’t helping

“Lake Woebegon. Where all the children are above average.”

That’s the sign-off to US raconteur Garrison Keilor’s monologues about fictional small town life. It also fits the way we think in the un-fictional small town called Sydney Diocese.

“Southern Cross is just a load of propaganda” – the words came hurtling across my dinner table a few weeks ago. From a theological college lecturer, no less. I gave a feeble answer – much like this column – but I knew instantly they had a point.

All the children are above average in Southern Cross: the church plants never fail, evangelism always works, people in profiles never stuff up, and the Mission rolls on.

But we all know that isn’t true. It is time we had more failure in SC.

More stories of failure. More on how not to do things.

Some of this problem IS Southern Cross’s fault. Tougher questions – “What’s been your biggest mistake so far Archbishop?” – could be asked with more warts painted on the portrait.

But some of it goes to a curious defensiveness we Sydney Anglicans have.

An example is the reaction to the ‘Uluru’ survey that has been doing the rounds in some regions of Sydney. That’s based on the curious graph which looks like Uluru that has appeared a few times in this paper.

The survey divides churches into growing, plateauing and declining groups based on attendances and finances.

It is not a tough test. To be a growing church you need a 15 per cent increase in people and dollars over five years.

However, the results are a rude shock to some, and simply rude to others.

And boy did Southern Cross get a fierce reaction when it reported that certain parishes were in the not-so-good categories in the first two regional surveys.

So when a third round of Uluru came out this paper wimped out and only reported the parishes that did well. All the children were above average that month.

Nobody was well served by that. Not even those whose blushes were spared. Mission involves moving out of our comfort zones. So a newspaper that serves the Diocesan Mission will give us pew-sitters a true picture about what is going on.

It is unedifying to read only success stories. It not only discourages those of us who stuff up (like me) it also induces complacency in the rest. And finally it breeds cynicism.

A little brutal honesty would do more than spark up Southern Cross. It would make us more effective in mission as we deal with reality not fantasy. 
Let’s learn to celebrate our mistakes then learn from them. Then let’s go out and make some new mistakes.

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