Reformer. Activist. “The Red Bishop” and “A Most Meddlesome Priest”. These are just some of the ways that Bishop Ernest Burgmann came to be known in Australia. Passionate and outspoken about social justice and civil rights, his activism strove to awaken Australia from its conservative complacency. In the words of Peter Hempenstall, who published a book on Burgmann in 1993,
his actions had a profound and far-reaching impact on Australians well beyond the boundaries of his diocese. Burgmann’s words and actions hold a promise of extraordinary relevance to Australian society today.
On Wednesday 17 May, St Mark’s National Theological Centre, together with the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture and the Anglican Historical Society, celebrated Bishop Ernest Burgmann’s life and legacy. The evening started off with an Evening Prayer accompanied by the Burgmann Anglican School Choir, followed by refreshments and a special exhibition on the life and works of Bishop Burgmann. At 7:30pm, Rt Rev’d Professor Stephen Pickard presented a lecture titled, “That Meddlesome God: A Christian Future for the Church”.
You can now listen to the lecture by Rt Rev’d Professor Stephen Pickard, with the response by Dr Andrew Cameron on our podcast station below.
The Right Reverend Ernest Burgmann was the fifth Bishop of the Diocese of Canberra & Goulburn, serving from 1934 until 1960. Priested in 1912, he became warden of St John’s Theological College, Armidale in 1918 which was later transferred to Morpeth.
‘Burgie’ came to this Diocese with a reputation as a social activist and reformer, and was regarded as holding left-wing political sympathies, which sometimes ran contrary to the more traditional ethic of the Anglican church. He was obliged to spend most of his time in rehabilitating the Diocese from the effects of the Depression. Yet, he refused to forego the role of social and church critic, maintaining his interest in working-class struggles and rural issues. His monthly letters to the diocesan paper, Southern Churchman, demonstrated his ability to hold together theology, philosophy, psychology, and political and economic ideas and apply them in the Australian context.
In 1948 the ‘Red Bishop’ was appointed as an adviser to Australia’s representative at the UN General Assembly, Dr H. V. Evatt. His political links with communist affiliated organisations, such as his presidency of the Australia-Soviet Friendship League, were questioned in parliament, where he was once referred to as “a most meddlesome priest”. He remained committed to social justice and the church’s role as advocate, and was active in the campaign against Robert Menzies‘ attempt in 1951 to ban the Communist Party of Australia.
In 1957 he established St Mark’s National Anglican Memorial Library, which grew into today’s St Mark’s National Theological Centre, to encourage advanced theological research that would lead to the development of a distinctive Australian theology. After his retirement he continued for three years as Warden of St Mark’s Library.
Stephen Pickard is Executive Director of the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture; Director of the Strategic Research Centre in Public and Contextual Theology and Professor of Theology, Charles Sturt University, Canberra, Australia. He is also an Assistant Bishop in the Anglican Diocese of Canberra & Goulburn. He grew up in the Hunter Valley in the Diocese of Newcastle and worked at BHP for a number of years before training for ordination in the Anglican Church.He has served in a range of ministerial and academic appointments over 37 years in Australia and the United Kingdom. Stephen was Head of School of Theology, CSU for 9 years. He is deputy chair of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order (IASCUFO) and chair of the Ministry and Mission Commission of the Anglican Church of Australia. In 2011 he was installed as a Six Preacher Canterbury Cathedral. His teaching and writing is in the area of ecclesiology, ministry and mission and includes Liberating Evangelism (Trinity Press International 1998); Theological Foundations for Collaborative Ministry (Ashgate 2009); In-Between God: Theology, Community and Discipleship (AFT 2011); Seeking the Church: An Introduction to Ecclesiology (SCM, 2012).