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12 April 2019

Pastoral Letter following the 2019 National Meeting of Bishops

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

At the end of March, the Anglican bishops in Australia gathered in Perth for their annual meeting. Our main
sessions were on living with theological difference. The dominant issue underlying many of our conversations
was how the Anglican Church of Australia will respond to changes in society and law around same-sex
relationships and marriage. There were some other important discussions, including clergy supervision and
accountability in response to the recommendations of the Child Abuse Royal Commission.

In this letter, I want to outline to you my reading of the conversation, at this time, about same-sex
relationships, same-sex marriage, and the implication of those conversations for the Anglican Church in
Australia. While the General Synod has passed resolutions about marriage, our experience as a Diocese is
that members of this church have different understandings about the nature of marriage with some seeing
it as a relationship that is only possible between a man and a woman, and others supporting a view that
marriage is possible between people of the same sex.

Whenever we speak about same sex marriage, we are talking about people. Women and men who know
themselves as desiring life-long close companionship with a person of the same sex. They do not experience
themselves drawn to such companionship with a person of the opposite sex. Some perceive a call to celibacy,
but many do not. This is a conversation about people who long to share their lives with someone for richer,
for poorer, in sickness and in health, for better, and for worse.

We are also talking about people who see that their church might change further and feel passionately about
those changes. People who are asking what sort of church and diocese we will be and expressing what that
feels like for them.

In reflecting on this I am conscious of people well known to me. Women and men who have shared their
lives, and hopes with me. I recognise the restraint that LGBTIQ+ people, and those whose lives are entwined
with theirs, show within the church. This restraint has often been costly; most especially a cost of keep silent
about their dreams and aspirations. It includes the cost of too often feeling unsafe to speak about their life
with other churchgoers. This restraint has involved people accepting direction from bishops about their lives
with loving generosity. It includes the cost of parents feeling unable to embrace their LGBTIQ+ children within
the life of the church. Just after the National Bishops’ Meeting, one Newcastle Anglican wrote to me
despairing that it is not possible for their child to have a marriage ceremony in their parish church.
Increasingly we see LGBTIQ+ Anglicans, and those who are close to them, leaving the church and speaking of
their faith being damaged by the church.

Prior to the bishops’ meeting we received an advance copy of a book of essays by the Doctrine Commission
on same-sex marriage. The academic writing outlines differing and opposing points of view with only some
reference to finding a way forward. The Doctrine Commission may be able to consider the bishops’ feedback
before the book is released more widely.
I found the conversation at the bishops’ meeting, at times, deeply troubling. For a long-time the quest for
unity in this Church, with an accompanying restraint, has been the dominant influence. We learnt that some
Australian bishops have been involved in supporting an intervention into the Anglican Church in New Zealand
because of its decision about same-sex marriage. We also learnt that some Australian bishops are working
towards the possibility of allowing the blessing of same-sex unions. There were bishops present who
articulated that, in demonstrating God’s love enabling people to experience the fullness of God’s reign, they
wish to find ways for blessing the relationship between people of the same-sex. There were bishops present
who hold that such a view is in error and contrary to scripture; demonstrating a lack of love as it does not
help people properly respond to God and live in accordance with God’s commands. The views are deeply and
sincerely held, including the view that the position of the other is in error.

We have been in a similar place before. In the 1970s Anglicans explored the ways in which people who had
been divorced could marry again while their first spouse was still alive. This broke new ground and involved
careful reflection on the scriptures, theology and pastoral insight. In those conversations the nature of
marriage and sexual intimacy also featured significantly. A pastoral way forward with episcopal oversight was
introduced to this Church.

Each year the bishops’ meeting seems to edge closer to the possibility of a deep breach in episcopal
relationships within the Anglican Church of Australia. This breach will be played out by bishops declining to
attend meetings with other bishops, on the floor of the General Synod when it meets, in the disciplinary
processes of this Church, in promoting matters to the Appellate Tribunal and in exploring ways of supporting
dissenting congregations in each other’s dioceses (to the extent allowed by Anglican church law). The context
for working through the differences of opinion will be the Anglican legal process because that is the way
Anglicans (at least in Australia) make permanent decisions. It will also be expressed in economic behaviours
– people will change how they contribute financially.

So, what else might we see? I think we will see

• LGBTIQ+ people bear witness to their life by getting married.

• LGBTIQ+ people and their family ask clergy for blessings within the context of worship as well as ask
for marriage services.
• some people leave the Anglican Church to join a congregation associated with the Fellowship of
Evangelical Churches which has Anglican roots but is not part of the Anglican Church. Other people
will leave to join the Roman Catholic Church. Some will go to the Uniting Church. Each will decide
based on the stance of that group or Church.
• LGBTIQ+ people offer themselves for ordained and lay ministry.
• some community groups withdraw from civic services in our churches over the perceived stance of
the church to LGBTIQ+ people.
• increased scrutiny on the way Diocesan Bishops exercise discipline.
• more focus on how bishops, especially Diocesan Bishops, relate to each other.

The strained relationship between bishops will also be worked out in symbolic ways. Next year, the
Archbishop of Canterbury has invited all bishops and their spouses to a gathering called Lambeth 2020. A
group of bishops had already indicated that if another group of bishops was invited they would not attend.
After issuing the invitation, the Archbishop withdrew the invitation to the small number of same-sex spouses
of bishops. Following that action, there has been a move to discourage spouses from attending Lambeth

2020. Your bishops have accepted the invitation to attend. We wish that all bishops of the Anglican
Communion would choose to be present.

I come back to one of my earlier points. We are talking about people in all of this. People who seek to discern
their purpose and calling which they hear the church as dismissing with this sort of conversation. Many
LGBTIQ+ Christians experience Jesus, as portrayed in the Gospels, inviting them closer and speaking to their
soul. They see the church treating them as “the other” and rejecting them.

What has become clear is that no amount of biblical or theological scholarship seems likely to move people
in any direction. The overarching discussion seems to be, ‘Can we find a way of accommodating this
difference?’ with both groups indicating at times, ‘We shouldn’t have to.’ Prior to the bishops’ meeting I
received communication from several Anglicans yearning for a church where the capacity to bless same-sex
relationships might be possible and from others expressing profound apprehension that such action would
even be contemplated.

Within the law of the land and under the Constitution and applicable Canons of the Anglican Church of
Australia, the Bishop together with the Synod and Diocesan Council is responsible for the good order and
government of this Diocese. In our Diocese of Newcastle, we have many perspectives. My desire is that we
find a loving way to express our shared life. It is of the Gospel that we continue to welcome and affirm
LGBTIQ+ people as fellow members of the Body of Christ and welcome their use of their gifts for the service
of God, his people and his cosmos. I have diminishing confidence that the national church is going to help us
find a way forward. I have some confidence that together we might be able to find a ‘Newcastle Way’ which
will incorporate living with strong difference in an open and Godly way.

I have invited the Right Reverend Professor Stephen Pickard to help us think theologically about this question
when the Synod meets in October. Dr Pickard’s engagement at the recent National Bishops’ Meeting was
affirmed by bishops.

One of our fundamental commitments as a Diocese is to the safety of people. This includes the safety of
LGBTIQ+ people in our churches and those who come to the church seeking its ministry. All people associated
with our church life should have the opportunity to learn of and express their full citizenship within the
kingdom of heaven flourishing by the grace offered to them through Jesus Christ.

There is much to think about as we together shape our common life as a Diocese. I commend these reflections
to your prayer and careful conversations.

Please pray for each other and for your bishops. I know that I have valued the sense of being prayed for each
day since I began to minister among you. I have been enabled by God’s grace to undertake the work entrusted
to me.

In peace and with every blessing,

Dr Peter Stuart
Anglican Bishop of Newcastle