THE Anglican Diocese of Newcastle has heralded a new era, with confirmation a woman will head up one of its most senior roles, paving the path for the church to reboot its public image.
The diocese announced on Sunday that Archdeacon Sonia Roulston, 52, and Archdeacon Charlie Murry, 48, had been appointed assistant bishops, serving with Bishop Peter Stuart, who was installed on Friday.
The appointments represent two firsts – it is the only time the diocese has had more than one assistant bishop, and it is the most senior role a woman has ever held in the 171 years of the diocese.
It comes at a time public confidence in the church has fallen to an all-time low following the findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
It also comes amid rising secularism as nearly a third of all Australians marked “no religion” in the 2016 census.
Archdeacon Roulston said elevating the role of women should be seen as a “normal step” as the church evolves.
“It is exciting to be the first woman to be making this step, but in a way it seems to be a normal step to be taking,” she said.
“The community sees it, by and large, as something we should be getting on with.”
The appointment follows the installation of Newcastle’s first Anglican Dean, Canon Katherine Bowyer, last year.
Archdeacon Roulston said the diocese should draw on its strengths to “take our place in the community” going forward.
The church was a place that “gave hope” and helped people see the “bigger picture”, she said.
“I hope that we’ll be a vibrant church that’s begun to find its confidence and its life again … that’s begun to find how it can better connect in its local context,” she said.
“We’ve got good news to share, but we’ve got to get better at doing it.”
Archdeacon Murry was thrilled to take the job.
“It’s a great honour, it’s exciting, it’s humbling and it’s daunting,” he said.
Archdeacon Murry emphasised the importance of the church’s role in the community, even if Australia was increasingly secular. He said simply his job was to “know and be known by the people”.
Bishop Stuart said he created the second assistant bishop position, dividing the diocese into “coastal” and “inland” regions, so the church could concentrate on responding to the findings of the royal commission.
“Actions will always speak louder than our words,” he said. “The Newcastle community need to see us doing the right thing, and they need to see us doing it consistently.”
Archdeacons Roulston and Murry will be ordained as bishops on May 10.