NZ’s First Openly Gay Priest: “We are now fully included and accepted” in Anglican Church

Our first openly gay Anglican Priest, Chris Swannell speaks to express about his ordination and what he sees for the future of LGBTI Anglicans.

Reverend Chris Swannell (pictured with partner Michael) made history earlier this year when he became New Zealand’s first openly gay priest.

Swanell, who owns a boutique lodge at Russel’s Orongo Bay with his partner of 25 years, Michael Hooper, has served the Russel Community for the past 13 years as a church deacon.

The Anglican Church previously expected gay priests to remain celibate because the church would not bless same-sex weddings.

That however changed in May of this year when a general synod passed a compromise ruling now allowing same-sex relationships to be blessed by the church. 

While the ruling stopped short of allowing same-sex marriages, it is seen as a significant step for the church and allowed Anglicans in same-sex relationships to become priests.

Speaking to express on the historical significance of his ordination, Swannell says the church can finally “begin to dismantle the closeted environment that many gay clergies live in.”

“It seems ironic that the church upholds ‘truth’ as one of it’s highest values and yet for centuries, certain truths have remained hidden and forced to be buried.”

Swannell sees his ordination as part of the Anglican Church’s journey towards a more inclusive and accepting approach to LGBTI issues.  

The church, he says has “lost too many LGBTI members because of our ‘closed door’ policy,” although he sees that evolving.  

“I think the trend is moving toward a ‘listening to what the world and society are saying’. Certain denominations worldwide are taking massive steps toward exclusivity, tolerance, and acceptance.

Why? “Because we are shifting in our theology, in our doctrines. We are moving with the times or more rightly put, catching up with the times” Swannell says.

“There has never been a time where the church has needed to be more relevant when it comes to social justice issues, political issues, global warming issues so what I would like to say is “let’s get beyond talking about sexuality and worrying about whether this priest is in a committed, loving, ‘same-gender’ relationship. How about talking about the bigger issues facing our communities?”

Whether Swannell’s ordination will start a trend of more openly gay priests or a change to allow the officiation of same-sex marriages in New Zealand is less certain as the rules around ordaining openly gay priests and blessings for same-sex couples is still at each diocese’s discretion.

This was brought into focus when the Nelson diocese reaffirmed their refusal to bless same-sex couples or anoint gay priests shortly after Swannell was ordained.

While some Anglican dioceses allow for blessings of gay and lesbian couples, same-sex marriages are not permitted within the church, although there are Anglicans campaigning for that to be changed.

Regardless, Swannell tells express that he hopes to set an example and that he is “hopeful” his ordination “radiates hope for those from the LGBTI community who have been considering a vocation to the priesthood.”

“We have moved, and this is big. We are now fully included and accepted. For those of us who have dedicated most of our lives in service to the church, this is a formal acknowledgement of the expertise, talents and gifts we bring and offer to the table.”