A Far North man has made history as the first New Zealander in an openly gay relationship to be ordained an Anglican priest.

Chris Swannell, who owns a boutique lodge at Russell's Orongo Bay with his partner, wine and travel writer Michael Hooper, led his first service at Christ Church in Russell on Sunday morning.

He had been ordained two weeks earlier, after a wait of 13 years, during which time he served in Russell as a church deacon.

The Bishop of Auckland, Jim White, said the church had had gay clergy for centuries, and in recent decades had adopted a policy of "don't tell and we won't ask".


However, because the church would not bless same-sex relationships, gay priests were expected to commit to being celibate.

That changed in May this year when a general synod passed a new ruling allowing same-sex relationships to be blessed by the church, a compromise that stopped short of allowing the church to wed gay couples but opened the door to people in same-sex relationships to become priests.

Rev Swannell was the first person in the Auckland diocese, and to the best of his knowledge in New Zealand, to become a priest under the new ruling.

Bishop White said every time he had visited Russell in the past 13 years parishioners would ask him when Rev Swannell would be allowed to become a priest.

"It's been the heartfelt desire of the vast majority of people in Russell. It's been their plea for a long time."

He described Russell's newest minister as a "lovely man" with life-long dedication to the church.

"I expect he'll have a wonderful ministry," he said.

Rev Swannell, who worked as a parish assistant in the 1980s and 90s and had been a deacon since 2005, said the final step to ordination had been a long time coming. And it had happened because the community wanted it.

"I see it as a progressive step for the church. I guess you could call it a milestone."
He would be a member of a local shared ministry, leading regular services at Russell's historic Christ Church, officiating at weddings and funerals, and sharing responsibility for pastoral care.

The reaction of Russell people had been very positive.

"It's a very tolerant, progressive and inclusive community, and I think this change is a healthy sign," he added.

He was ordained at Christ Church in Whangarei on July 22 by Archbishop John Paterson, Bishop White and Bishop Andrew Hedge, of Waiapu.