In the gerontocracy that I inhabit, the Roman Catholic hierarchy, Archbishop Phillip would have no right to retire at the tender age of 63. However, he was a child prodigy when appointed to Brisbane, and after 21 years in the job he’s entitled to some consideration – not just because of long tenure, but because of the pressures those years have brought.
The shadow of abuse and its mishandling has loomed over all, to say nothing of tectonic cultural shifts in both society and the Church. Phillip has been bishop through a very turbulent time, which is why, I presume, he recommended to the Heads of Churches a book that bears the resounding title How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going. In that sense, Phillip has been an Abrahamic figure, keeping his eye and ear steadily on the God who alone knows where we’re going.
I say “steadily” because Phillip has shown himself a good driver in heavy traffic at a time when the traffic has been very heavy indeed. There’s a wonderful word in Italian confusionario, which refers to someone who, under pressure or in a crisis, can only flap around and panic. Well, Phillip Aspinall is absolutely not a confusionario: he has been calm, measured and balanced through it all, honest, insightful and good-humoured to boot. He’s a man who listens before he speaks, and that in a bishop tends to be unusual. He is in many ways quintessentially Anglican: no surprise there. But he has always shown himself open to all, certainly in relation to the other Churches. He’s been a leading figure among the Heads of Churches, always modest and respectful, but authoritative as well, not just because he’s been there longer than the rest of us, but because of his good sense, even his wisdom.
Phillip and Christa have been pilgrims in more ways than one. They’ve journeyed from Tasmania to Adelaide and on to Brisbane. But they’ve also been pilgrims of faith, and that has surely been the still point of their turning world. Now, however, the time has come to lay down the burden of office, even if the journey continues. Thank you, Phillip, not only for all you have brought to the Anglican Church in Brisbane and far beyond. Thank you for what you’ve brought to our other Churches and to society at large. At a time when the Churches’ voices have diminished, yours has been a voice of faith and reason that is heard and respected.
You remarked to me once that in a Roman Catholic vestry there’s a picture of the Pope; in an Orthodox vestry there’s a picture of the Patriarch; and, in an Anglican vestry there’s a full-length mirror. Amusing yes, but in your case not true. I like to think that in the vestries you have entered there has been not a full-length mirror, but an image of Jesus Christ instead. Thank you, Phillip and Christa, for many things, and every blessing to you both as the journey takes another turn. The grace of the Lord Jesus, the love of the Father and the peace of the Spirit be with you always. Amen.Jump to next article