Leaving will be difficult: bishop

Tasmanian Anglican Bishop John Harrower has retired from the position.

Tasmanian Anglican Bishop John Harrower has retired from the position.

Tasmanian Anglican Bishop John Harrower has retired from the position.

Anglican Bishop John Harrower talks to ROSITA GALLASCH about his time in Tasmania.

EVEN before Anglican Bishop John Harrower took up his position as Tasmania’s 11th bishop, he had fond memories of the state.

Thirty-five years earlier as a year-12 high school prefect he met his wife-to-be Gayelene on a school camp at Queenstown.

After a petroleum engineering career and his early years with the Anglican church in Argentina, then Melbourne, he was accepted to take up the position as the Bishop in Tasmania.

Fifteen years later he leaves today and returns to Melbourne, in part to be closer to grand-kids.

‘‘It is a a bitter-sweet time as we leave Tasmania - we’ve got so many friends down here and the lifestyle, we will certainly miss it all,’’ Bishop Harrower said.

If the bishop is remembered for anything, it will quite possibly be for being outspoken – that is, outspoken in a way possibly not seen in Tasmania before for a person in his position.

His inaugural media conference in Tasmania in July 2000, saw him apologise to not only Aboriginal people for the wrongs the Anglican church had done but also to all those individuals who had been sexually abused by ‘‘absolutely evil men’’ in the priesthood.

Confronting sexual abuse in the church is one issue Bishop Harrower has never shied away from and lobbied heavily for a Royal Commission since 2002, something which former Prime Minister Julia Gillard eventually launched in 2012.

He now ensures every three years each person working with children and vulnerable individuals in the Anglican church in the state must undergo a safety clearance.

Bishop Harrower said he had a deep satisfaction for what he had been able to help achieve in this area and was grateful to all the victims who had spoken to him and told of their abuse.

‘‘I heard their betrayal, they educated me and helped me to better understand – it’s been a difficult road,’’ he said.

Another key issue and one the bishop began addressing soon after he arrived, was the declining number of young people attending church

He helped to devise and implement a 20-year youth strategy and with the sale of a number of non-key assets, the church re-invested the money into funding employment of youth leaders and programs in parish churches.

Declining numbers in the church is not only a Tasmanian issue but one which the Anglican denomination is seeing across the country, with a drop-off of the children of baby boomers attending.

This is also broadly linked to a decline in regional populations throughout the state.

This has seen the Anglican church train up and begin ordaining lay people in parishes so they can hold services.

Bishop Harrower has also instigated a building survey to look at the number of its buildings and how it can maintain them.

He said any closure of churches is one to be made by the parish.

One not to shy away from addressing the topical issues, Bishop Harrower said he did not have a problem with same-sex couples and was supportive of civil unions and claims for equal rights in areas like superannuation.

However he said it is the word ‘marriage’ which he believes should only be used between a man and a woman.

Bishop Harrower feels same-sex groups need to come up with their own word to describe a union between either two men or two women.

Addressing the issue of gambling, Bishop Harrower supported the Greens party push for the introduction of the $1 bet limit on pokie machines and was also the first person to address the state parliamentary committee inquiry into it in 2011.

‘‘I think there are lots of issues around this and sometimes the big parties are the ones addicted to the money that comes from it.’’

He said the increased demand on Anglicare and other charity organisations for help within the state, either caused by gambling, other addictions or job losses, had been significant in recent years and unfortunately, the church doesn’t always have the solution.

A key issue in the near future will be welcoming Syrian refugees to the state - something Bishop Harrower is delighted the federal and state governments have approved but that the country should probably take more the 12,000 expected to arrive.

He is in favour of re-opening the Pontville Detention Centre, which is currently on the market, to be used as a ‘clearing house’ to welcome fleeing Syrians before finding them more permanent housing.

‘‘I know that Tasmanians are very hospitable and will welcome those fleeing here and I know that it will be so much better to help the state grow and that will help bring back Tasmania generally,’’ Bishop Harrower said.

The new Anglican Bishop will be appointed in November, with the appointee expected to be in place in the first quarter of 2016.

Bishop Harrower officially stepped down from the role at a service at St David’s Cathedral on Saturday.

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