Sydney Morning Herald
Anglicans pull welcome mat from under bewildered Freemasons
By Malcolm Brown
The Anglican parish of St Paul's, Lithgow, has split after an edict from the parish council that Freemasons abandon their beliefs or stop going to church.
The parishioners receiving the edict have protested and received support from within the congregation.
On October 28, the parish council issued a leaflet saying: "There has been a clear recognition of the Spiritual dangers of Freemasonry and that it is incompatible with being Christian."
It said Freemasonry undermined the Bible, contained rituals offensive to Christianity and denied the one true God.
On December 9, the parish council gave parishioners who were Masons and local chapter members of the Order of the Eastern Star, the female equivalent of Freemasonry, seven days to make up their mind. It said that "to continue in Freemasonry is to cut yourself off from fellowship with St Paul's".
Harold Coates, a former NSW grand master of the Masonic lodge, former mayor of Lithgow, state MP and a lifelong member of the parish, said he would not abandon Freemasonry.
"I have been a parishioner of St Paul's all my life and my dad was before me," he said. "I was present in 1924 when the foundation stone was laid. My dad was the longest-serving warden in that church. We were both builders and we maintained the church.
"My dad was a Freemason from 1912 till he died. I have been more than 66 years a Freemason."
Mr Coates said he knew of two other Freemason parishioners who had received the letter, along with a woman who belongs to the Order of the Eastern Star.
When there was no response to its letters, the council issued another letter, signed by the rector, the Rev Bill Winthrop.
It said: "In view of your rejection of our pleas to withdraw from Freemasonry it is the view of Parish Council that you are out of Christian Fellowship with our congregation ... We accordingly request that you no longer attended church services at St Paul's or any of the churches in the Lithgow Anglican Parish, nor attend any of its meetings or functions."
Mr Coates said Mr Winthrop, along with an assistant minister, had approached him and said he did not like the word "excommunciation" but "the doors of the church are shut to you all".
Mr Coates said he was attending a Presbyterian church but was not prepared to abandon either Freemasonary or Anglicanism.
The St Paul's parish office did not return the Herald's calls. But the office of the Diocese of Sydney issued a statement on behalf of the Archbishop, the Most Rev Peter Jensen.
It said Dr Jensen had been fully informed of the issue but wanted it regarded as a parish issue, to be resolved with "fairness to all concerned", with "proper application of biblical teachings and observance of diocesan procedures".
The Anglican Church's spokeswoman, Margaret Rodgers, referred the Herald to an entry on the Anglican church's Web site, comprising a 1988 report whose fundamental criticism of Freemasonry was its denial of the pivotal role of Christ in salvation.