Decade of faith for Bendigo Bishop

APATHY, not atheism, is a cause of concern for the Anglican Church according to Bishop Andrew Curnow. 

Reflecting on his decade as the head of the Bendigo Diocese, Bishop Curnow said people were less inclined to attend church in prosperous times.  

“It’s not sharply declining as it did particularly during the 1990s and early 2000s, but I would say that church attendances have plateaued,” he said. 

“The big task ahead of us is to see if we can increase that. I think that’s going to be a huge challenge in contemporary Australia.”

Bishop Curnow said people still held faith despite a waning drive to attend church. 

“Over 60 per cent of the population stills say they believe in God, but a great many people say that aren’t particularly interested in going to church,” he said. 

“And they’ll say things like, ‘I don’t need to go to church to have a belief or a faith in God and be a good person’. I understand that. 

“And I think therefore we’ve got quite a task ahead of us in trying to grow our churches.”

Bishop Curnow, 63, was born in Bendigo, left at age 17, and came back at 35. 

He has practised in a number of areas around Melbourne, and in New York and Virginia in the US. 

He was appointed to the local position in 2003 and his 10 year anniversary will be reached tomorrow. 

“I’ve really enjoyed my 10 years despite some of the challenges that we’ve faced,” Bishop Curnow said. 

“And I look forward to leading the diocese for the foreseeable future and in getting the cathedral reopened and getting the new church at Kangaroo Flat opened.”

Bishop Curnow said Christianity would need to earn back the trust of the community after a string of child abuses claims, charges and convictions. 

“I think the Anglican Church since 2003 has had very good procedures in place in Victoria as to how complaints are handled,” he said. “And as far as I can ascertain, there hasn’t been any major controversy in the church about the way we’re doing it,” he said. 

“And I think the big difference with us and perhaps some of the other churches is they are handled completely independent of us. I as a bishop have no say (over abuse investigations). 

“I’m kept at arm’s length. 

“I get an official notification that a complaint has been received and is being investigated and then all I hear at the end is whether it’s been resolved or not. 

“I don’t personally get involved, whereas from what we read in the press, in some churches denominational leaders seem to be fairly actively involved. 

“That’s not the case with us.” 

While child abuse may have “rocked” the general public, the rising atheism has had less impact, according to Bishop Curnow. 

“I don’t think atheism’s as big an issue in Australia as it’s made out to be,” he said. 

“I think it’s received a lot of media coverage and certainly the writing of some key books has promoted atheism, such as Richard Dawkins’ books. 

“But I just don’t think atheism in Australia is as big an issue as what we are led to believe. 

“Overall we live a fairly comfortable life. And the only times that church-going in Australia has risen dramatically is after both world wars because I think they sort of rattled people and bought people back into the churches. 

“But when you’re living fairly comfortably, people get into a way of living where they don’t see the need to participate actively in church. 

“So I think the biggest issue we face today is not atheism, but it’s really more of complacency about faith.”

Bishop Curnow lists the church’s work following the Black Saturday fires in 2009 as highlights of his time in Bendigo, as well as its involvement in St Luke’s. 

He said he was unsure when he would retire, but said church rules required bishops to leave by age 70. 

“I see 10 years here as a significant milestone,” he said. “But it’s not as though one’s going to stop and mark it in any particular way. 

“There’s still plenty to do and each year brings its challenges and opportunities and so you just put your head down and keep focused and keep up with the task at hand.”

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