A gay man who says he was forced to give up his role at a regional Anglican Church has taken legal action after the Dean allegedly told him and his husband they had to “end their marriage” and “live as friends”.
Peter Sanders was formerly the musical director and organist at St Mary’s Anglican Church in West Armidale, New South Wales.
He’s lodged a complaint with the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board earlier this month, The Australian reported.
Sanders wants the Dean of the Armidale Diocese to apologise for discriminating against him and husband Peter Grace.
Grace also held a leadership role at the church, as head of a church committee.
The two men went public with their story last year, after getting a civil same-sex marriage in early 2020.
They said St Mary’s Reverend Christopher Brennan told them they’d lose their positions within the church if they didn’t separate, become celibate and undertake religious counselling.
They refused. Sanders claims Brennan then unlawfully terminated his job as music director and church organist on the grounds of his homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
However the church claims though they paid Sanders honorariums, he never formally employed in the role, according to The Australian.
‘End their marriage and live as friends’
In court documents, a former St Mary’s congregant recalled the church’s management committee discussing the dispute last April.
Janice Clark was one of five committee members. She’s alleged Reverend Brennan instructed the committee to tell the couple they were living in an “un-Biblical manner”. He said the two men should “end their marriage, be celibate and just live as friends”.
Clark alleged Reverend Brennan didn’t want the men to leave the congregation. But he insisted they couldn’t keep their positions unless they divorced.
“I regret I did not act sooner to prevent [Sanders] becoming such an integral part of St Mary’s worship,” he allegedly told the committee.
“People who do not live Biblically cannot have leadership roles in congregations.
“My neck is on the block because I could be fired for allowing this to happen.”
But in the meeting, Clark alleged another committee member spoke up, telling Brennan she had a gay nephew who’d come out and was “totally accepted” by her family.
“He’s also an un-Biblical person,” the Dean allegedly replied, causing the woman to “burst into tears”.
Janice Clark said she quit the committee three weeks later and later left the congregation.
Peter Sanders recalled Bishop of Armidale Rod Chiswell and Reverend Brennan met the couple at their home to discuss the matter.
“The Bishop said that same-sex marriages were un-Biblical and that we were going to hell,” he said.
Sanders and Grace refused to give up their marriage for their roles at the church. They told the two clergymen they would leave the congregation
A third of Anglican Church’s congregation leave in outrage
Last year, Bishop Chiswell explained everyone was welcome in the church. But those in leadership roles must “agree to the Faithfulness in Service code.”
ABC News reported after the dispute, around a third of the St Mary’s Anglican Church congregation also left in outrage.
In January, Peter Sanders and Peter Grace travelled 10 hours from Armidale to an Anglican church in Albury to have their same-sex marriage blessed.
There, Father Peter MacLeod-Miller conducted the ceremony (pictured, top) for the men, to cheers from the Albury congregation.
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