A community’s prayers have been answered with Reverend Chris Swannell making history as the first New Zealander in an openly gay relationship to become an Anglican priest.
Rev Swannell, who owns a boutique lodge at Russell’s Orongo Bay with his partner, the wine and travel writer Michael Hooper, led his first service at Christ Church in Russell on Sunday morning.
He had been ordained as a priest two weeks earlier, after a wait of 13 years in which he had served the Russell community as a church deacon.
Rev Swannell said he expressed no bitterness over the long wait towards his vocation and that this was a time of hope for the community.
“We have probably felt a little bit excluded and not fully inclusive within the church. So I think for the LGBT Christian community, and for those who have a spiritual faith, hopefully this will give them a little bit of hope for the future.”
The Bishop of Auckland, Jim White, said the church had had gay clergy for centuries and in recent decades had adopted a policy of “don’t tell and we won’t ask”.
But in May this year a general synod passed a new ruling allowing same-sex relationships to be blessed by the church. It was a compromise which stopped short of allowing the church to marry two men or two women, but it did open the door to people in same-sex relationships to become priests.
Bishop White said that every time he had visited Russell in the past 13 years parishioners would ask him when Rev Swannell would be allowed to become a priest.
“It’s been the heartfelt desire of the vast majority of people in Russell. It’s been their plea for a long time,” he said, describing Russell’s newest priest as a “lovely man” with a life-long dedication to the church.
“I expect he’ll have a wonderful ministry.”
Rev Swannell said the final step to becoming a priest had happened because the community wanted it.
“I see it as a progressive step for the church. I guess you could call it a milestone,” he said.
A community Christ Church member said the day was welcomed and had been anticipated for a long time.
“Today’s a dream come true for all of us and prayers (have been) answered. For 13 years I certainly had been praying that Chris would allowed to be ordained and here we are.”