Qantas vs Jetstar

John Sandeman

If only Qantas executives knew the Christian scene in Sydney better: they might have invented their two-brand (Jetstar and Qantas) strategy a long time ago. Setting up a low-cost cheeky sibling (Jetstar) alongside the premium brand (Qantas) has been very effective for the airline. Woolworths' own brands even call their premium products "Premium". The two-brand strategy works for lots of companies.

But Christians have been doing it for a long time. We have high-fee prestigious schools, and a new set of low-fee schools. People sometimes talk of "the real thing", as in "Is St Agatha's the real thing or a schools board (ie. low-fee) school?". Those people are keen to know which is the premium brand.

If you are older, you can live in the Anglican Retirement Villages scattered around pleasant parts of Sydney. Those with fewer resources might go to Chesalon Homes, part of Anglicare.

Chesalon, by the way, is on the up and up, an under-reported success story for Anglicare, a major loss maker come good. It is about to start marketing to a broader range of people. Watch out ARV!

The two-brand strategy can be a winner for companies, but can send the signal that Christians are satisfied with the class set-up of our society when our institutions reflect class differences so well. Perhaps as strangers and pilgrims we should not be so well adapted to the social ladder.

Perhaps we should not be so willing to identify with the trappings of social success.

It's not just a Sydney Anglican problem. A Pentecostal friend told me recently that as the school founded by his local church has grown in size and stature, the chances of a spontaneous praise service being allowed to take up a school morning have diminished. The HSC results are up, though.

I know of a church that has defined its aim as reaching influential people. While it is unusual and perhaps refreshingly honest to write that aim down, many churches by virtue of their location will end up targeting a particular type of person.

It may not be possible to get as many fishermen as Jesus did, to every church.

But setting up some of our institutions to service only the rich is another matter.

Watertight divisions between Christian organisations on the basis of the wealth of the people they serve are very sad. They send a signal that the church upholds privilege in our society. In reality, there is nothing more levelling than the gospel, but we're good at hiding that.

On our own we can't stop some parts of Sydney being wealthier than others, so some nursing homes or schools will always have more resources: "the rich are always with us".

Ruth's wealthy mate Boaz did what God had commanded and did not harvest the wheat in the corners of his field but left it for the poor (and his future wife).

If we set up some of our institutions to only serve the rich, we fail to leave the grain in the corners of our fields, because the poor are shut out.