A Sydney priest who dedicated his life to helping at-risk youths and has fought to bring more inclusiveness into the Anglican Church has spoken out against the "toxic" beliefs within the organisation.

Father Dave Smith, affectionately known as the "Fighting Father" for his boxing career and work to use the sport to help others, has spent the last 30 years at Holy Trinity Church in Dulwich Hill, in Sydney's inner west.

His tireless work within the community has seen him become a beloved figure and a three-time Australian of the Year nominee.

Yet, despite his dedication, Father Dave has been cast aside by the Anglican Church all because of an outdated rule that he claims many have fallen victim to.

The 59-year-old recently suffered a marriage breakdown and instead of offering support, he said the church ordered him to stand down from his position.

 

 

Father Dave Smith said he feels as if he has been abandoned by the church because of his marriage breakdown. Picture: A Current Affair
Father Dave Smith said he feels as if he has been abandoned by the church because of his marriage breakdown. Picture: A Current Affair

As the church also provides accommodation for their priests, it means after dedicating three decades of his life to the organisation Father Dave now also has to try and find a new home despite having no steady source of income.

Father Dave told news.com.au he isn't the only person that has had their life turned upside down by this rule.

"The policy generally is if your marriage breaks down you get kicked out. The same thing happened to my father. It is a long standing rule," he said.

"There are a lot of people within the church who have had the same thing happen to them."

Father Dave has been heavily involved in the church since he was a young child and said this situation feels as if he is being cast out by his own family.

"I had a relatively unhappy childhood and from an early age the church became my family. It is hard to be rejected by your own family," he said.

Father Dave said his former partner has also suffered from the lack of support from the church following their marriage breakdown.

"We have both been abandoned. And it's not just us, there have been so many people finding themselves on the wrong end of the church," he said.

Father Dave has been at the Holy Trinity church in Dulwich Hill for 30 years.
Father Dave has been at the Holy Trinity church in Dulwich Hill for 30 years.

The Anglican Church claims its policy around marriage breakdown "does not involve blame or sacking", but the situation it can cause wider issues within the congregation.

"But in the close-knit community of a church congregation, the breakdown of the rector's marriage causes wider relational difficulties and so usually leads to the minister changing roles, in the interests of the congregation," the Anglican Diocese said in a statement.

"After the breakdown of Father Dave's second marriage, several factors meant that in this case, a continuing role was not available in his parish.

"A minister is financially supported by the members of the congregation. When a minister loses the confidence of his congregation, they are no longer willing to support him."

The Anglican Diocese said Father Dave was "generously" provided with a stipend and free housing for twelve months to help him find a new job.

"The diocese also agreed to continue his licence for ministry so he could take up a new role,' a statement from the church said.

"Father Dave is now fund raising for the next phase of his ministry, and we wish him well in this."

Over the years, Father Dave has had his fair share of clashes with other church members, with his support for gay marriage and effort to build a relationship with the Muslim community both becoming major sources of contention.

 

Father Dave has used his boxing skills to help members of the community and raise money for charity.
Father Dave has used his boxing skills to help members of the community and raise money for charity.

"When the church put its support behind the 'No' campaign I said at the time that the church has had a lot to apologise for over the years and this will be another thing we have to apologise for. There is a very strong culture which is against same sex marriage in the Anglican Church," he said.

"My aim to build relationships in the Muslim community has been another issue. I haven't had any support from the diocese in that.

"They couldn't get beyond wanting to see [the Muslim community] as the opposition."

Father Dave said there was a "toxic" culture within the Anglican Church that needed to be addressed.

"I think a lot of people get crushed by the church institution and many separated and divorced people tend to suffer under this church rule. And for the LGBTQI+ community and people of different faith this treatment isn't any different," he said.

"Any number of people, even by virtue of their gender, suffer from rules within the Sydney Anglican Church. If you are a woman then you are often treated as a second-class citizen."

He said there is a definite need for the church as a whole to show more inclusiveness and openness to people from other walks of life.

"The thing is, it isn't about individual, evil people within the church either. It's about how the organisation works," Father Dave said.

"There are actually decent people there but the organisation as a whole can be quite toxic."

One of the things that has surprised Father Dave most about this situation is the amount of support he has been receiving from people outside the church community.

"The reaction from the community has been extremely gratifying and has absolutely made all the difference in the world," he said.

"When something like this happens you think that 30 years of your life have been wasted. But I have had so many people come forward and say 'You have made all the difference'."

People from the Muslim community, those who know him from his work at the youth centre and people from the boxing community have all rallied around Father Dave after hearing about his situation.

Father Dave is set to participate in a charity match next month, which he hopes will provide more opportunities for paid matches.
Father Dave is set to participate in a charity match next month, which he hopes will provide more opportunities for paid matches.

"I feel like god brought them out of hiding to support me and it has been lovely. I wasn't anticipating that," he said.

"I haven't heard from the church, there is a wonderful irony in that. There still are a number of people within the church who have been supportive but it has mainly been people outside the congregation that have reached out.

"I always thought you put yourself out for people in the church and then if the situation ever changes they will be the ones there for you. But instead that support has come from other people I didn't expect."

Father Dave must move out of his current accommodation next week and faced being homeless as a result, but he said multiple people have since come forward with housing offers.

He now faces the difficult task of finding a steady source of income after 30 years working at the same church.

Father Dave is hoping a charity boxing match he has coming up on March 27 in Toowoomba will help his situation.

"If I can win that fight then other opportunities might come out of that. It's a charity match but if I do well it could lead to other paid fighting events," he said.

"But I am 59 so I am not really at my peak."

 

 

Originally published as 'Toxic' rule sees beloved priest abandoned



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