By Mark Michael
The Very Rev. Kanishka Raffel, dean of Sydney’s St. Andrew’s Cathedral, was unanimously elected as the 12th Archbishop of Sydney by the diocese’s synod on May 6. Raffel, a London-born Sri Lankan and a Buddhist convert to Christianity, will be the first person of color to lead the vibrant conservative evangelical diocese, which has great power and influence in the GAFCON network.
“I’m humbled and somewhat daunted by the responsibility given me by the Synod,” Raffel said to Eternity News, a Sydney-based Christian news network. “We believe that the Lord works through his people — both in making this decision and in enabling the archbishop to fulfil his role. Like every Christian, I gladly trust in Jesus.”
Raffel, who has led Sydney’s cathedral since 2016, was widely considered to be the favorite among the four candidates for the post, even though he was the only non-bishop on the slate. The website launched to promote his candidacy, introducingkr.org, focused on his deep commitment to evangelism and traditional teaching, as well as his skills at growing churches.
It also included endorsements of Raffel from prominent leaders within Australian Anglican evangelicalism, including Bishop Richard Condie of Tasmania, the leader of GAFCON Australia; and the Rev. Dr. Mark Thompson, principal of Moore Theological College.
Prior to his ministry at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Raffel was rector of St. Matthew’s, Shenton Park, in Perth. There he oversaw a dramatic growth in the parish, and helped to plant five new congregations. He also attracted attention as a committed conservative in one of the Anglican Church of Australia’s most liberal dioceses. ”He was active as an evangelical leader in the Perth synod, where he often stood bravely for gospel truth,” noted introducingkr.org.
In wider Anglican and evangelical church life, Raffel is a significant figure, and currently serves on the General Synod’s Standing Committee, as a board member of GAFCON Australia, as a trustee of the Anglican Relief and Development Fund Australia, and as a board member of Australia’s branch of the Gospel Coalition. He recently led Sydney’s service of remembrance for the life of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, which was attended by Australia’s governor-general, prime minister, and premier.
Sydney, Australia’s largest city, is also its most ethnically diverse. Over 40% of its 2 million people, like the archbishop-elect, were born outside the country, and only a third of its inhabitants had both parents born in Australia.
Addressing the synod shortly after his election, Raffel said, “Globally, Anglican Christianity is ethnically diverse and our multiculturalism in Sydney mirrors that. I’m glad that our diocese reflects the changing ethnic make-up of our cities and values the participation of Australians of all backgrounds in our church life together. Our team of bishops is almost equal part Asian-background and Anglo. That is contemporary Australia.”
Raffel will likely play a significant role in the GAFCON network, which was led for many years by his one of his Sydney predecessors, Archbishop Peter Jensen. GAFCON’s initial formation emerged partly out of the strong links Sydney had cultivated over many generations with other evangelical Anglican dioceses, especially in Singapore and Malaysia. Jensen, who retired as archbishop in 2013, was the only other Archbishop of Sydney to be elected directly to the role, instead of serving first as a diocesan or suffragan bishop. Jensen had been principal of Moore College for sixteen years before his election.
Six months ago, Raffel joined GAFCON Australia’s board in a public statement that threatened to set up “alternative oversight” for Anglicans who wish to disaffiliate from the national church if its General Synod fails to overturn a ruling from its appellate tribunal that refused to forbid a liturgy for blessing same sex unions developed by the Diocese of Wangaratta. The synod meeting, which had been scheduled for later this month, has since been indefinitely postponed because of the pandemic.
The Diocese of Sydney has long exercised an outsized role within the Anglican Church of Australia. According to 2015 statistics compiled by David Goodhew, 615 of the church’s 2,366 “active clergy” serve in Sydney diocese, and it is unique among the church’s dioceses in seeing steady, if modest, growth in recent years. Known for vibrant youth and college-age ministry, the diocese stands out for the youth of its leadership, having over half of active clergy under forty and about 60% of clergy under the age of 30. “Apart from Sydney, the urban Australian dioceses have a serious problem of aging clergy,” Goodhew notes. “The significance of Sydney within the Australian church looks set to increase in future years due to demography alone.”