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Selling off the palace

by on October 12, 2012

We hear with relief that Synod has approved in principle the sale of Bishopscourt, that symbol of all that is worst about our diocese.

It’s importance is largely symbolic, of course – the money raised will not get us out of our GFC hole – but symbols are important for communicating.

What Bishopscourt has always communicated is our diocese’s connection with the seats of power and privilege, our natural leaning towards the wealthy and influential.

Jesus, the man who had nowhere to lay his head, joked of his friend John the Baptist:

What did you got out to see? A man dressed in expensive clothes? No, people with expensive clothes live in palaces!

But somewhere along the way the joke turned into reality, and our leaders started living in palaces.

I should emphasise that this is no reflection on Peter Jensen. He and Christine live in a flat in a small corner of Bishopscourt. And he has been encouraging the sale of the building for years now. Peter is the good guy in this story.

But as long as we house our bishop in the palace, we say something powerful to Sydney. We say that the Church is an institution , an institution of power and wealth, and that our bishop is a lord – a lord ‘spiritual’, with status on a footing with the rich and the great of the world. When need be, he has a palace he can pull out! We are not just the community of Jesus – we are an Establishment Church.

Because that’s what Bishopscourt is for – it’s for entertaining Establishment people. People too important to come to a less prestigious venue. There is no other reason to maintain a gothic palace in the diocese.

And of course it’s this image of the Church that people find so off-putting, that makes it so hard for people to have any respect for God’s people today. There’s a bit of hyprocrisy in any organisation, but it’s hard for people to swallow when we actually build a monument to it.

It’s not easy to assess what is behind the change of attitude towards Bishopscourt, why we are now ready to sell where in the past we refused to. There’s the money of course: we’re broke. But I think it’s more than that. Maybe there’s also the feeling that we don’t want to be that sort of church any more. Maybe our politics have also changed? It’s hard to know for sure.

But whatever the motives, we must welcome the move. It’s one step in the right direction, one egregious offence in the life of the diocese removed, if not repented of. Let’s give thanks to God that we’ve arrived at this point.

Most wrong-headed comment of the week, heard in the webosphere: ‘We’ll never get it back.’

Let’s pray God that we never get it back, and that we move on decisively from the ‘palace’ phase in our church life, towards something that reflects Jesus a little more closely.

Because the building is primarily a symbol. Imagine if we kept heading in this direction, and ‘sold off’ everything about our organisation that suggested a preference for the rich over the poor? Imagine if we became known in this city as ‘those guys who stand with the weak and needy.’ This is my dream, friends – I confess it.

Suggestion for how to undo the collective damage to our reputation this building has caused: let’s give all the money from the sale to the poor.


It’s a suggestion I think is inspired by the gospel. But if you want a proof text, how about, ‘Sell your possessions and give to the poor’ (Luke 13:33)?

From → General

  1. Jon B permalink

    I wonder how it might be reported in SMH if all that money was given to the poor. Could be a welcome change from some of the headlines recently.

  2. Chris Webb permalink

    Good news and well said Jonathan…thanks for helping us think about these things in a Jesus honouring way.

  3. Or use it to set up ministries to feed and clothe the poor, restore faith in our communities of the Church and its compassion to the poor and afflicted.

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