- Date : November 18, 2013
Chief Assembly reporter for The Canberra Times.
With a real sense that she is answering God’s call, Sarah Macneil will next year be installed as the 11th bishop of Grafton and the first woman to head an Anglican diocese in Australia.
The announcement of the Canberra priest’s appointment comes as the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse begins public hearings into the Grafton Diocese’s response to claims of child sexual abuse at a Lismore children’s home.
Dr Macneil is married, a grandmother and a former Australian diplomat.
She is a former dean of Adelaide and archdeacon in the diocese of Canberra-Goulburn.
Dr Macneil will give up her role as senior associate priest at Holy Covenant Church in Jamison, to lead a diocese with 28 parishes, taking in major centres such as Lismore, Ballina, Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie.
“This does feel right, this does have a sense of call to it,” she said.
“A part of me feels an enormous weight of responsibility. But another part of me feels excited and delighted.”
Dr Macneil accepted the position after she and the Grafton nomination board came to the mutual decision that her skills and interests would suit the direction the diocese wanted to take.
Dr Macneil praised the diocese for being willing to appoint a woman – a step that will not be universally celebrated within the Anglican Church.
“Grafton is a trailblazer,” she said.
“That appointment board in taking this step has knowingly expressed confidence in doing something that hasn’t happened before in this country and I just find that awesome.”
Dr Macneil said some Anglicans in the diocese may have theological objections to the appointment of a woman bishop.
If individual parishes had concerns, there were procedures in place for her to ask a male bishop to provide them with episcopal ministry.
Dr Macneil’s predecessor, Keith Slater, resigned earlier this year after publicly apologising for the way he handled allegations of abuse at the North Coast Children’s Home.
The royal commission will begin public hearings relating to the home on Monday.
Dr Macneil said she had been impressed by the diocese’s willingness to confront past abuse and to make any changes needed to prevent it happening in the future.
“There’s no heads in the sand,” she said. “It’s saying, ‘This is going to be very difficult for us and painful … And painful for the victims of any abuse that there has been. ”’
Dr Macneil has a particular interest in the way churches communicate with, and reach out to people in the 21st century.
She remains optimistic about the future of Christianity in Australia.
“I am positive because of the treasure that we have. Christian faith, faith in Jesus, however you like to express it, actually is a pearl of great price. It actually is something that is life-giving.”
Dr Macneil and her husband, semi-retired priest Ian Chaplin, will move to Grafton in time for her installation as bishop early next year.
Canberra’s new Catholic archbishop, Christopher Prowse, will be installed during a Mass at St Christopher’s Cathedral on Tuesday
Other reports from Australia, announcing ‘Australia’s First Female Anglican Bishop’, have overlooked the fact that there are three other Women Bishops, who are Suffragan Bishops, and not in charge of a diocese. However, Dr. Macneil will be the first female to be elected a Diocesan Bishop in the Australian Provincial Church
This is quite a step forward for the Australian Anglican Church, whose Sydney Diocese does not even allow women to be ordained priests within the diocese. Nor is it keen to allow women to preach or take any leading role in the administration of the Church. However, Sydney’s prevailing understanding of ‘Male Headship’ is not generally adhered to by other Anglicans in Australia. The Diocese of Grafton can be commended for its foresightedness.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand