Anglican Geographer

I love being an Anglican. It’s not because of the bishops, or the Thirty Nine Articles, or the prayer book, or the baptising of children. It’s definitely not because of the odd mish-mash culture of grumpy-loving-complaining-hopeful-closeminded-openhearted-conservative-creative Anglicans here in Sydney. It’s not even because of the Queen (although she herself does make an awesome leader of the church).

It’s because of the maps.

A small part of my job at Anglicare involves making maps for the Sydney Diocese. This is possible because the Sydney Diocese has actual boundaries that can be draw onto a map. Inside the diocesan boundaries you can carve it up a little bit more: into regions, into deaneries, and ultimately into parishes. Maps and lines, following rivers and chopping up national parks. It sounds a little anthropocentric. Maybe a little bit colonial. Come with me, push past those initial negative thoughts and see how awesome these lines really are.

PhotobucketAt work:
Turning the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics SA1 areas
into approximations of Anglican parishes in Sydney

There is an alternative to mapping with lines. Some denominations don’t have lines at all. Churches are planted in places with dense populations – strategic locations where the church will take root and grow to God’s glory. Now there’s nothing wrong with planting churches in dense areas! But if your denomination only used this approach when planting churches, and you mapped it, you wouldn’t end up with a neatly carved up map of lines. You’d have a map of clustered points where the churches are. If you wanted to recognise the local community around those churches, you’d put some buffer zones around the churches. You’d have a map of clustered points and rings. A map of swollen clustered doughnuts. And then lots of white empty space in the places far away from the doughnuts.

I love Anglicanism ultimately because I am a geographer. I mean, the theology has something to do with it too – if it was only this reason I may as well be a Catholic. They have dioceses and parishes too! But I digress, geography is definitely my favourite reason to belong to my church and to work within the Anglican system. THE WHOLE WORLD is accounted for. Even the Gobi Desert. Even Antarctica. It’s a recognition that Jesus is Lord of the whole world, and therefore all people and places everywhere come under his Lordship. There are people praying for every place in the world, responsible for bringing the gospel there, responsible for pastoring and equipping the saints. It doesn’t matter if you live in a city of ten million people or a village of fifty. Maybe you live in an Antarctic research centre for six months every year. It doesn’t matter where you live. Someone is responsible for telling you about Jesus. Someone is praying for God’s kingdom to come into every corner of the world.

I know it doesn’t quite work like that in reality. There are many Anglican leaders who fail to proclaim the gospel and pastor the saints properly. I know there are many Anglican leaders who don’t even believe that Jesus is alive! But the system itself speaks volumes about the values that Anglicans are at least supposed to have. Here are some that ring loud and clear for me:

1. That all people need to hear the gospel and be supported in their faith, regardless of where they live.
2. That all church plants and christian ministries are valuable and strategic, even if they are carried out in areas where few people live.
3. That place is important. Christian witness and fellowship is carried out in place; our parish boundaries therefore take into account and acknowledge the ecosystems, the landforms, all the places that intersect with our work, rest and play.

Doughnut maps, points with buffers – those work really well if you are strategising about where to build a shopping centre or a transport corridor. But when Christians plant churches we should be thinking way beyond the capitalist principles that usually drive our doughnut mapping.

PhotobucketThinking local:
Using a map of Ashfield at our congregation’s weekend away last year to visualise the community we are trying to bring the Gospel to.
The green houses are our homes; the blue houses represent local non-believers we know.

The entire world accounted for in parishes that are focused on making sure Jesus is proclaimed and loved by their local community, in their local environment? It’s such a beautiful vision! It kind of sucks that the two denominations that stick hardest to this strategy – Anglicans and Catholics – are also the two denominations most renowned for their high levels of nominalism, apathy and dysfunctionalism. I’m praying so hard for a global culture change so that Anglicans (and Catholics too!) actually catch the vision of our geography. How wonderful would it be if our parishes started living out the values embedded in our geography and stepped up their proclamation of the gospel; actually living as counter cultural Christian communities all around the world.

It would pretty much be awesome.

I guess it’s not just being a geographer that makes me excited to be an Anglican – maybe also a passionate hope that the Holy Spirit will change us to be the kind of global community that our geography says we should be.

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