“IT’S good to have you in your cathedral.”
With those eight words from Bishop Peter Stuart, and the standing ovation that followed, retiring Newcastle Anglican Bishop Greg Thompson was acknowledged and embraced at a thanksgiving service at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday night.
There were tears from, and for, the Muswellbrook-born bishop whose stand against child sexual abuse led to strong opposition from some in the diocese, and a public concession by him that he was the bishop who was not welcome in his own cathedral.
“When the history of this diocese is written, yours will be known as the second shortest, but one that made a profound, lasting, deep cultural difference,” Bishop Stuart said.
Bishop Thompson’s term started in February, 2014, and in his first few weeks he was confronted by the diocese’s shocking history of child sexual abuse after the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse subpoenaed tens of thousands of diocese documents.
Bishop Thompson was also confronted with the way things were done in Newcastle, which prompted him a year later to tell clergy that “We can’t have mates looking after mates anymore”, after he made an historic apology to survivors of abuse and the community.
During the service on Sunday Bishop Thompson reminded a full cathedral congregation, which included Hunter politicians and community leaders, that “to remember well is not to forget what’s happened”.
He acknowledged that “sometimes it takes a lot to forgive”.
Bishop Thompson designed a crest that featured an eagle hawk. During one of his darkest days before the royal commission public hearing in Newcastle in August, Bishop Thompson said he was climbing stairs along the Newcastle coastline when “flying over me was an eagle hawk”.
“There are no regrets because I’ve always felt the hovering presence of God in my life,” he said.
“I feel the hovering presence of God with us tonight.”
He acknowledged the difficulty of being a bishop whose confrontation with the church’s dark past coincided with confronting how he had been sexually abused by a number of men, including former Newcastle Bishop Ian Shevill. His public naming of the bishop as a sexual abuser angered some.
“Sometimes we have to face the chaos and find our way through it,” he said, and drew laughs from the congregation when he conceded that “Sometimes I think I attract chaos.”
He acknowledged the courage of abuse survivors.