In his Charge to the twelfth General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia in Brisbane today, the Primate of Australia, Archbishop Peter Carnley AO, emphasised unity as the key to the Church fulfilling its historical mission.
In doing so, he contrasted constitutional developments in the Anglican Church of Australia with the achievement of the Australian Federation in 1901.
"The big difference is that the Church is not a mere federation of dioceses, but a federation of communions," he said. "This is the key to understanding the national Church. It is not essentially a political reality but a theological and spiritual reality.
"The Church's communion is to be understood in terms of participation in the divine life of the Holy Trinity."
"The orthodox doctrine of the Trinity is vital to our self-understanding," he said. "Christians understand the unity of God not in simple numerical terms but in the inter-relatedness in love of the three Persons of the Trinity: as one unity of being."
"In the same way, the many and diverse members of the Church are essentially one communion. We are partakers of the divine nature. The communion we share is not just a humanly created fellowship of like-minded people."
"Therefore, the unity of the national Church is vital to the success of our mission in the world," the Primate said, "The Church itself must be one in order that the world may know the nature of God."
Dr Carnley warned the General Synod of what was at stake as it addressed difficult and potentially divisive issues. These include the admission of women to the episcopate [women bishops]; complex questions related to human sexuality, and the idea allowing lay people to celebrate the Eucharist.
The Primate pointed out that to deny the importance of unity, to cause division in the Church, or to turn one's back on the communion of the Church, would not just be a sign of human failure.
"It is a form of infidelity- a deliberate turning away from the communion of God," he said.
In the same address, the Primate also underlined the fact that Church attendance had declined in the last period for which statistics were available [1991-1996].
"While there are some encouraging signs of success dotted across the nation, the Church's performance is patchy," he said. "No diocese is getting it all wrong, but no diocese is getting it all right. We have a huge job still to do."
"We certainly have to work at bridging the gap between the current interest in Australia in spirituality and the flagging interest in so-called organised religion."