The congregation of a church which lost its organist who claims he was fired for being married has written to every Anglican leader in the country in an extraordinary and "unprecedented" challenge to the authority of the Armidale bishop.
The letter, sent to Australia's 18 bishops and 5 archbishops, lays out the controversy which has engulfed St Mary's West Armidale Anglican church.
Organist and musical director Peter Sanders was allegedly sacked from his position after being told he was living an "unbiblical" lifestyle and told to "separate" from his partner in June.
"An overwhelming majority of the congregation of St Mary's takes the view that there is no place for the church in the bedrooms of the parish," the letter reads.
"We are desirous of your prayer, support, and counsel in these matters."
In the letter the congregation claim "round one" of the "the next battle to be fought in the Australian Anglican Church" has commenced, and said they may abandon the church if the problem isn't resolved.
Bishop Rod Chiswell said he was deeply saddened by the intervention.
"I am deeply saddened by the actions of people claiming to represent the St Mary's West Armidale congregation in sending this letter to Bishops in other dioceses," he said.
"The reality is that there are no new developments in this matter and the Dean and I continue to seek to deal with it pastorally."
Professor Thomas Fudge, a member of the group, said they weren't seeking to get senior clerics to pressure Bishop Rod Chiswell, just to start a theological debate within the Australian church about the controversy.
"The thinking behind that communication was to alert the bishops across the country about what is going on, because the issue here is not just about a couple of men in a very small church in Armidale," he said.
"The issues are much larger."
But Professor Fudge conceded the authority of Bishop Rod Chiswell was being challenged by the communication, which he said was "virtually unprecedented" in the history of the Australian Anglican church.
He said the debate was broader even than the treatment of Mr Sanders, but was a contest between what he said was about the right of church members to have a different interpretation of the Bible.
"His authority as bishop is being challenged. What St Mary's church specifically have done and what other Anglicans throughout the country have also done is to implicitly challenge the right of a Dean and of a Bishop to say this is the truth, this is the whole truth, this is what we're going to preach and we are not going to allow room for debate," he said.
"Now, historically, this would be a pretty dangerous position to be in, to challenge the authority of a bishop. Fortunately the church no longer arranges for the burning of heretics."
Professor Fudge said Anglicanism does not have an "authority figure" like the Pope to resolve a dispute like the Armidale controversy, and "protocols" require bishops not to get involved in each other's business. Even Australia's most senior Bishop, Primate Geoffrey Smith, cannot legally compel another senior cleric to do anything. Nor can the symbolic international head of the church, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, force the issue.
The congregation has already received half-a-dozen responses from bishops around the country, after the letter was sent on Thursday. Many were supportive, others neutral.
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Just one bishop, Bishop of Wangaratta Clarence Bester, was willing to publicly criticise fellow Bishop Chiswell.
'The Bishop of Wangaratta is deeply saddened by the fact that people in Church even within our day, age and context are ostracised on the grounds of being who they are, who God has created them to be, for expressing their full humanity, their inherent sexuality and their constitutional right," he said.
The group of 6 congregants were elected as an informal representative group to act on behalf of the rest of the congregation in June. The congregation voted 31 to two to condemn the alleged sacking of Mr Sanders.
Nearly 14000 people have signed a petition calling for the Bishop to reverse the alleged sacking.
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