Last week davidould.net reported on the decision by the synod of Newcastle Diocese to approve 2 controversial bills. The first sought to change the Diocese’s disciplinary procedures so that being in a same-sex marriage was to not be considered an offence (including being considered as a breach of Faithfulness in Service). The second, which was not completed and sent to Diocesan Council (where it will almost certainly be approved), was a “Wangaratta” type bill to allow for a liturgy of blessing for those in a same-sex marriage.
Since that synod vote many members have contacted davidould.net to voice their concern about how these votes came about. Those who got in touch used language such as “concerning”, “deeply upsetting”, “offensive to conservatives” and even “a stitch-up”.
The substance of the many complaints concerns the work, or more accurately the lack of work of the Diocesan “Faith and Order Commission” (“FAOC”).
The existence of a FAOC was first suggested as part of Bishop Peter Stuart’s 2017 Presidential Address where he said,
The FAOC was then established by Diocesan Council in 2018 with the Dean, Katherine Bowyer as it’s chair, as reported in the year book:
Motion 20.4 passed by the 2018 synod included a clause which read as follows:
The FAOC set about the task of considering the topic of human sexuality. A number of additional people were added to the core group and they were sent copious amounts of reading to begin their work. But the FAOC never met, let alone produced the promised “theological and biblical resource” on human sexuality. So it was a great surprise to many in synod that the two human sexuality bills arrived as private bills introduced by the chair of the FAOC when the FAOC had no report to deliver to inform those debates (as was its mandate) nor, it appeared, had even met once to consider the matter.
One member of synod reports what happened during the debate (the events of which have been corroborated by a number of sources also present):
Surprise has been expressed to davidould.net that even the chair of the FAOC didn’t know whether the body had been disbanded or not.
And so the synod considered the matter. More than one person that we have spoken to have expressed a similar opinion on the mind of synod; that they are deferential to the bishop and will consider something that he approves of as something that should be approved. So it was with these two bills. While proposed by the Dean, they were understood by many to have the Bishop’s clear backing. As one synod member put it to us, “the Dean is the Bishop’s agent for getting things done”. It may have been a private bill but the implication was that this was “official” and “from the leadership of the diocese”.
We approached the Dean for comment and asked her some specific questions, many of the same questions that we were hearing from members of synod themselves:
We received the following answer for publication:
Conservatives in the diocese are now very disappointed with the way that things have been handled. They were promised participation and collaboration but saw those much-publicised vehicles sidelined with no explanation. They have spoken to us of a breach of trust by the bishop himself and we understand that several who serve in diocesan posts are now seriously considering their positions.
One member of synod said to davidould.net, “Conservatives and evangelicals have been treated with contempt” by “a group of leading individuals in the diocese”.
If the diocese has entered a crisis over the votes themselves, it has only been made worse by the manner in which those votes were reached.
update: 5pm 8 November 2019
The Bishop of Newcastle, Peter Stuart, has sent an email to the diocese including the following:
The new Chair of the FAOC is known as a very vocal supporter of same-sex marriage.