Reflections on attending the 2022 ASA Virtual Conference
The 2022 Anglican Schools Australia Conference was once again held virtually but this year delegates had the benefit of being able to gather together in hubs to share in the online experience.
The conference was held only a few months after the release of the first round of data from the 2021 census. This data, when it came to Australia’s religious beliefs, made for pretty sobering reading for the Anglican Church. A fact referenced by Archbishop Kay Goldsworthy in her sermon at the conference service and in her subsequent keynote address.
From the 2016 census to the 2021 census the Anglican Church had the largest numerical decline of any religious denomination – declining from 3.1 million adherent in 2016 to 2.5 million in 2021. According to my spur of the moment back of the envelope calculation that meant that on average 328 people left the Anglican Church every day over the past five years. Adherents of the Anglican Church fell below 10% of the population for the first time since census data had been collected.
On the one hand these statistics are not a surprise, a number of commentators making the point that the official statistics are catching up with the lived reality of the church facing the decline of nominal Anglicanism. On the other hand, it is hard not to look at these statistics and feel a bit depressed when you think about the future of the Anglican Church.
This statistical backdrop highlights what makes attending the ASA Conference such a blessing. While the Anglican Church is facing significant challenges, Anglican Schools offer a beacon of hope for the future. The numbers in the pews may be declining but the numbers in our classrooms are on the rise. While the census revealed that the average Anglican is 56 years old, as a school chaplain, the average age of the students that I work with is 13 years old.
There was much to take away from the various conference presentations but one of the things that I really valued was the opportunity to hear stories from former students who were making a real difference in the world around issues of compassion and justice. They were quick to name the fact that their journey of service began thanks to experiences they had shared in their time as a student in an Anglican School.
A challenge for those of us involved in Anglican education is to make our students more aware of the richness of the resources offered by our Anglican tradition and heritage. Catholic schools seem to do a much better job at present at ensuring that its former students are much more aware of the church they are staying away from.
The ASA is to be commended for its renewed focus on deepening our sense of Anglican identity and demonstrating its relevance for the current generation of students in Anglican Schools. Not an easy task, but clearly a very worthwhile one.
There is the perception amongst some in the wider community that the good things that are happening in our schools are happening in spite of the fact that we are connected to the wider Anglican church. The ASA conference reminds us that the good that is happening in our schools is precisely because we are Anglican schools.
I was part of the Melbourne hub for the conference that took place at Bishopscourt. Our Archbishop, Philip Freier, and Mrs Joy Freier generously opened their home and we gathered to watch the conference as chaplains, heads and clergy. There was a lovely hopeful atmosphere in the room as we reflected on the critical role that we play in the future of Anglican schools and the future of the Anglican church.