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My Submission on Same-Sex Couples

holding handsUPDATED (scroll down)

I was not going to put in a submission.

The Archbishops of our church have called for submissions to a Working Group after not moving forward on blessing committed same-sex couples at this year’s meeting of General Synod Te Hinota Whanui.

So much energy has been spent on this feud, I didn’t think a submission from me would be beneficial. But gay friends, young people, and others, including some who feared losing their bishop’s licence (and hence their livelihood) if they spoke up, have urged me to put together a submission.

My Challenge

And so I came up with an idea. In a world of increasing gap between rich and poor, with a housing crisis, environmental concerns, a critical refugee situation, violence, and other major burdens – I will give away $1 for every word of my submission.

This is my challenge to all: for every word of every letter, submission, or report that you support on this topic from the time of General Synod Te Hinota Whanui 2016 until the resolution of this conflict, you will give away $1 to those in need.

Don’t divide the number of words by the number of signatures. If you put your name to it – count up the number of words and give away that number of dollars. Every vestry member, every member of a working group, every blogger, every bishop or archbishop who puts their name to an idea – count the words and give away that number of dollars to those in need.

If you’ve already put in a submission – yes, I still mean you! And I’m including the report that will go to the next meeting of General Synod Te Hinota Whanui 2018. And the words that will issue from that meeting – every representative that agrees with those words – you know what to do. And not from church funds – out of your own pocket.

And if you are poor, or a student, or just cannot afford this – find sponsors who will support your ideas. Set up a give a little page.

Problems

  • The Way Forward presented at General Synod Te Hinota Whanui 2016 was of a formulary blessing already-civilly-married couples. Formularies are doctrinally binding on all license-holders. Thus, to have a formulary to bless a committed same-sex couple binds that belief on those who are opposed to it – compromising their strongly-held opposition.
  • The Way Forward presented at General Synod Te Hinota Whanui 2016 proposed that marriage would not be a “rightly-ordered relationship” until blessed by an Anglican priest or bishop.
  • The Way Forward presented at General Synod Te Hinota Whanui 2016 would limit blessing committed same-sex couples diocese by diocese.

My Submission

A submission to Archbishops Winston Halapua, Philip Richardson, and Brown Turei for the Working Group appointed by the Primates in response to Motion 29 Interim Way Forward (Amended) of General Synod Te Hinota Whanui 2016

Grace and peace to you from God.

Our Anglican Church enables people of conflicting positions to be part of our big tent by having minimal doctrinal affirmations. In our church, one person can be a pacifist, another can bless warships; one person can oppose abortions, another can bless a hospital in which abortions take place.

Our formal church doctrine has that marriage is between a man and a woman, life-long, and monogamous. Within this context, those who hold that sex is only ethical in the context of marriage are not able to accept blessing committed same-sex couples.

Note, however, that the same logic means it is unacceptable to marry (or bless) a couple in which one or both partners are divorced. But approximately a third of marriages end in divorce, and marrying divorcees has been commonplace in our church’s practice for half a century. Clergy conduct marriage services of divorcees even though no change has been made to church doctrine that marriage is life-long. Many rightly see this as heterosexist hypocrisy.

Just as it is disputed whether women can be the proper subject of the sacramental action of ordination, so it is disputed whether a same-sex couple can be the proper subject of the sacramental action of marriage. But women, like heterosexuals, are in the majority in our church. Whilst there is no incontrovertible theological study to substantiate the ordination of women, and with the validity of (for example) the Eucharist being at stake, we allow it.

Unlike women or heterosexuals in our church, committed same-sex couples are a minority. In our church, we pour energy into arguing about committed same-sex couples that we would not dream of devoting to the place of women in ordained ministry or to feuds about marrying heterosexual divorcees.

The majority position of the Way Forward Working Group (composed of some of the best legal and theological minds of our church) agreed that blessing committed same-sex couples is not a departure from the Doctrine and Sacraments of Christ, and therefore not prohibited by Te Pouhere (our church’s constitution). Many places provide such blessings, and people in committed same-sex relationships hold a bishop’s licence. Under the 2016 revision of Te Pouhere, bishops can even authorise such blessings in places under their jurisdiction.

I propose that our doctrine of marriage be changed to being between a couple, with the intent that it be lifelong and monogamous. Such a change would enable the sort of diversity illustrated in my first paragraph. The change would remove the current hypocrisy around marrying divorcees, clarify practice in relation to committed same-sex relationships, and facilitate honesty and openness.

Within this, I propose we affirm the current position that any minister shall have full discretion to decline to conduct any marriage service or blessing, and that we also affirm and encourage vocations to religious life, singleness, and chastity.

Yours in Christ,

(Rev) Bosco Peters

I have given away $1 for every word of this submission – and I challenge others to do the same for theirs.

UPDATE: thanks to Dagmar Hamberger who is donating 50 Euro to a worthy cause (for women who are in distress) as his support of this challenge in a facebook comment.

UPDATE 2: My friend and fellow-blogger, Peter Carrell, has also put up his submission. I challenge him to give away $826 to those in need. If this is too much for Peter, I challenge those who support his position not to put their name to his work (which, by my challenge, would mean they also donate $826 individually), but to donate a certain amount to those in need and to let Peter know until a total of $826 has been given away.

UPDATE 3: thanks to Stephen McGuire who is donating $225 to Ruth Ellis Center, a residential safe-space for runaway, homeless and at-risk LGBTQ youth. Those who are supportive of the sort of direction I am suggesting are showing their focus on other things by taking up my challenge of giving to those in need. No one opposed to my submission has yet done so. When challenged individually, they have not replied to that.

UPDATE 4: There have been some intense reactions to my proposal. I accepted people’s urging to put forward a submission on the understanding that a group of experts would use ideas from submissions to form a final proposal – I never anticipated that my submission is the solution that would trump all others.

By far the weirdest response publicly to my proposal was the claim that I argue that current Anglican practice of remarrying divorcees “can only be redressed by accepting the novelty of ‘same-sex marriage’.” Clearly, I do not argue that at all. And to argue that would be illogical. My (lack of) logic (of this nonsense which I never said and obviously never would say) is then compared unfavourably with a dull schoolchild! To say that there is more heat than light in some places around this is an understatement. Maybe it’s time to elect a USA president!

One helpful criticism of my proposal is that some who can currently assent to our doctrine say they would not be able to assent to a doctrine of marriage that is between a couple because they do not believe that marriage involves a couple who are not male and female. As my introduction makes clear, I am wanting to affirm “our big tent by having minimal doctrinal affirmations. In our church, one person can be a pacifist, another can bless warships; one person can oppose abortions, another can bless a hospital in which abortions take place.”

Others more clever than I may be able to build better on my intention to enable this wide tent. Possibly leaving out “a couple” facilitates the wide tent? Possibly some formal, doctrinal statement such as: “This church acknowledges a variety of beliefs about marriage” may be a way forward?

I feel I have done my bit. And I am certainly open to discussion that generates light rather than heat.

UPDATE 5: I challenged people to give $1 for every word written. I realised for many people that would not be possible – and suggested setting up a give a little page. One student has done just that. Please donate to this Give A Little page. I remind you – the money is not for the student, but for worthy causes.

I was mentally keeping track of how much people here, on facebook, and elsewhere were giving away – but I have lost track of that good amount now. What has been noticeable is: it is only those who are personally in favour of blessing committed same-sex couples who have taken up the challenge of giving money away to those in need! In fact there have been messages – all from those personally against such blessings – that they would not accept this challenge. What I would hope for is a church where those who disagree with each other (on this or other things) can encourage each other, spur each other on, to acts of compassion and generosity.

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29 Responses to My Submission on Same-Sex Couples

  1. Bosco,

    I am struck that you have found time and energy to pause from your passionate commitment to action to address the “increasing gap between rich and poor, with a housing crisis, environmental concerns, a critical refugee situation, violence, and other major burdens”, pressing and urgent issues usually strangely absent from this blog, to focus yet again on this issue. But I am grateful that you have listened to the concerns expressed to you. No doubt this issue is also an important area of justice, and I hope and pray that your submission will help to acheive it.

    I think we need to truely respect diversity and difference, and not just lump all sorts of relationships together and pretend that they are the same when they are not. You have alluded to this in seeking to “affirm and encourage vocations to religious life, singleness, and chastity”, which are different ways than heterosexual marriage of being lifegiving.

    It is not respecting the uniqueness of heterosexual marriage, considered a sacrament and a sign of God’s creative power in part because it naturally creates children, to pretend that same sex relationships are identical. There is something special, sacred, holy, and uniquely life-giving about the sexual union of husband and wife which conceives children, and we need to celebrate and respect that.

    I think to do this properly it would be better to introduce a new rite, distinct from heterosexual marriage, perhaps called adelphopoiesis, that celebrates the distinctivness of same sex unions, which are life giving in a different way to heterosexual marriage, one more like religious life or singleness, who have more time and energy to serve the community than those with responsibilities for the hard work of raising children.

    Whether this would be politically acceptable in the current climate is another matter, but we do need to respect that not all opposition to same sex marriage comes from anti-homosexual prejudice.

    There are very sound reasons to procede with great caution, especially in a society in which marriage and family are under enormous stress and greatly undervalued by society and state.

    In such a social context the Church needs to find a prophetic way to uphold the uniqueness of heterosexual marriage while also celebrating same sex unions, and religious and single life. To lump them all in the same bucket of asimiliation is not the answer, and it was never the aim of the gay liberation movement in it’s more radical days, when we really did celebrate diversity and respect uniqueness, and suffered for it.

    Many Blessings

    • Thanks, Chris.

      Your suggestion of a rite of adelphopoiesis is essentially a variant on what went to GSTHW16, and I listed in its problems (above) that it becomes binding that such a rite is part of church doctrine. There are some who would not accept the possibility of your rite of adelphopoiesis, and I am trying to include them within the church.

      As to the unnecessary snarkiness of your beginning, which did nothing to advance your point, environmental concerns have been a strong focus this month, the poor and issues with violence have been central also recently, and there’s even been a suggestion to help our housing crisis. But writing about them is not progressing those solutions; it is what you and I do In Real Life about those things that is important. Giving away money through reliable agencies to those in need is part of that action. So I challenge you, Chris, to put your money (as I have) where your mouth clearly is and give away $421. In your reply let us know that you have done this.

      Blessings.

    • Bosco,

      Your proposal is a radical change to the Church’s understanding of marriage, because it removes the intrinsic procreative power of heterosexual union from the essence of marriage. The Christian rite of marriage has always recognised the importance of openess to the conception of children.

      This is a very dangerous change, and should not be made purely to meet the procedural peculiarities of local Anglican Synods or the legitimate desire of homosexuals for recognition of their unions. This kind of poorly thought out approach seems to have cased many problems.

      If the Church had put as much energy into implementing the Living Wage, building strong trade unions, insisting that the state build enough state houses to provide affordable houses etc, the real problems facing our families today, as it has debating this issue, then our families and marriages would be in a lot better state than they are today.

      We are fed up with never ending neo-liberal reforms which are destroying our families.

      Many Blessings

      • Thanks, Chris,

        I see you haven’t answered my question whether you are giving $421 to those in need.

        I see no apology for your ad hominems. In fact, you continue with ad hominems. Please can you just put your own reasoning and refrain from ad hominems both here and on the facebook page. Any further ad hominems and you will be banned here and on the facebook page.

        You are unclear who you refer to as “we”. There are many Christians who would see your call for the church to put energy into implementing the Living Wage, building strong trade unions, and insisting that the state build enough state houses to provide affordable houses as dangerous neo-liberal reforms.

        Blessings

      • There is no “intrinsic” procreative power; it is always and everywhere particular. Not all married couple possess it, and unless you are willing to deny marriage on that basis to couples who lack it, this argument fails.

        Secondly, it is not true that “the Christian rite of marriage has _always_ recognized the importance of openness to the conception of children.” From 1549, Anglican rites have explicitly directed the omission of a prayer for children when the woman was past the years of childbearing.

        While procreation has long been held to be a purpose for the _institution_ of marriage, it has never been a requirement for particular marriages to produce offspring. And only those capable of it have been required (in some parts of Christendom) to be open to it and to refrain from methods to prevent it.

      • Tobias,

        In the Catholic Church, impotency is an impediment to marriage and couples marrying must commit to being open to having children, something same sex couples are by nature unable to commit to because they are unable to conceive by their own sexual union. This is a consistent position, but we leave the fertility of older couples to the divine will, noting that scripture is replete with couples thought too old to conceive who in fact did go on to conceive.

        Same sex unions are radically different to heterosexual union, because they are always unable to procreate.

        This does not make same sex unions better or worse, just by nature very different.

        Many Blessings

        • Chris Sullivan, impotency is not the same thing as infertility. The church has never forbidden marriage to the infertile, or those “unable to conceive” whether this is circumstantial or permanent. I think we can leave the miraculous conceptions of scripture to one side in this discussion.

          Yes, same-sex marriages are different to SOME mixed sex marriages on this ground, just as SOME mixed-sex marriages are different to others.

          And yes, there is a difference between same- and mixed=sex marriages, but the difference lies in the respective sex of the couple. No one is claiming that same-sex marriges are mixed-sex marriages, but that they are marriages. To say they can’t be marriages is to engage in circular or definitional reasoning, and is not an argument, but a fallacy.

  2. Bosco, as long as we are reshaping things, and if your church has already given up on lifelong marriages, wouldn’t it be best to propose something realistic for all marriages and be done with it? As for any minister being able to decline to offer one of the sacraments, I personally feel there must be good cause for such a decision. Perhaps it is a politic thing to propose, but it doesn’t seem to address the central issue. Am I wrong?

    Keep up the good work! It’s important that we all think deeply about justice and providing wide room for the expression of God’s love.

    • Thanks, Kevin.

      This church hasn’t “already given up on lifelong marriages” – in fact, as I indicated, that marriage is lifelong is unchanged as the doctrine of our church. I think to enter marriage with the intention that it be lifelong (as per my proposal) is still “something realistic for all marriages”.

      Changing the current agreement, “2.11 Any minister shall have full discretion to decline to conduct any marriage service”, would be quite a different discussion. Those who do not agree with blessing committed same-sex couples often express concern that they will have to do so. My extension of Title G Canon III 2.11 (quoted in this paragraph) to include committed same-sex couples, and the ministers right to decline such, without even needing to give an explanation, I thought covered that situation.

      Blessings.

      • Bosco, do I understand you to mean that a minister may withhold a sacrament of the church simply because he or she wants to do so? I don’t see this option as a responsible one, nor is it very pastoral. At the very least, a minister should be required to announce his or her decision publicly, with its reasoning made clear, and make a sincere effort to help his or her parishioners find a minister who will be happy to bless their union. Certainly there may be times when a minister must place his or her conscience before the teachings and policies of the church, but I feel a minister should make clear his or her position on such a public matter. Conscience first, yes, but a minister also has a great and abiding responsibility to his or her church governance and flock.

        • Thanks, Kevin.

          As I indicated, the statement, “Any minister shall have full discretion to decline to conduct any marriage service”, is part of the current position of the church. It is a canon, not a doctrine. It is not unique to marriage. There are places, for example, where the Eucharist is rarely celebrated – so your principle would similarly apply there. Your principle is an interesting one to discuss across all sacramental actions, but I don’t really want to drift away from the focus of this thread.

          Blessings.

          • I understand, but if you will indulge me one last comment…

            The proposal you make requests a change to the doctrine of the church. It seems a small thing to change a simple canon, if by canon we mean a regulation. And I would argue that the canon ought to be changed if the understanding of marriage is modified as you suggest.

            How are ministers to teach and advise the faithful if they are not held accountable for their actions, or inaction (if we are to put it that way)? Would we be satisfied that a minister has a right to turn away an interracial couple who wants to be married? Would we not insist that he or she explain? (Please remember that it was not that long ago that mixed race marriage was illegal in some of the American states. I have seem this kind of prejudice.)

            Your proposal is a courageous one, but does not go far enough, in my humble opinion. Perhaps progress must be made in small steps, but I prefer a more complete view of the issues at hand. Like you, I suggest that Christians ‘facilitate honesty and openness.’

            I guess it comes down, on a personal level, to my respecting transparency and candidness. I have seen in my own church the damage that secrecy, duplicity, and hypocrisy have done. If I knew that my pastor would deny a blessing of two of his parishioners, then, frankly, I would look elsewhere for spiritual help. As it is, my pastor has told others in the parish to find another place to worship if they will not recognize one of our lesbian couples as good Christians. I have my differences with him on some matters, but in this he has my respect.

            (Has this turned into a soapbox on which I can stand? I hope not. If so, just say so, and I will go elsewhere.)

          • Thanks, Kevin

            Especially for your highlighting that my proposal is relatively (too) conservative.

            Blessing.

  3. Hi Bosco
    Your doctrine of marriage is more or less TEC’s as I understand it. TEC’s evolution towards that doctrine, as well as ACCan’s march along the same pathway has led to a second Anglican church in North America.
    I think it fitting that such a significant difference in doctrine (marriage of any couple v marriage of a man and a woman) is encapsulated by two different Anglican churches and look ahead, on the acceptance of your proposal by one of them, to two different Anglican churches in these islands of the South Pacific.

    • Thanks, Peter.

      I don’t know what you mean by “more or less”, because what I propose is also more or less the doctrine of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. Certainly, what I am proposing is not held in TEC in regard to marriage equality which, as I understand it, has a diocese-by-diocese approach to that.

      Possibly, however, you are referring to TEC’s doctrine, unlike ours, allowing for the marriage of divorcees.

      Does the doctrine of your particular “second Anglican church in North America” allow for marriage of divorcees? If so, it has also followed the evolution of doctrine away from what our church currently holds.

      As to your “second” Anglican church in North America, could you please clarify which you call the “second”: American Anglican Church, Anglican Catholic Church, Anglican Church in America, Anglican Church in North America, Anglican Church International Communion, Anglican Church of the Americas, The Anglican Church of Virginia, Anglican Church Worldwide, Anglican Diocese of Texas, Anglican Diocese of the Great Lakes (I understand there are two with the same name), Anglican Diocese of Washington State and the Pacific Northwest, The Anglican Independent Church, Anglican Independent Communion Original Province, Anglican Mission in America, Anglican Orthodox Church, Anglican Orthodox Southern Episcopal Church, The Anglican Province of America, Anglican Province of Christ the King, Anglican Rite Diocese of the Holy Orthodox Catholic Church, Anglican Rite Old Catholic Church, Apostolic Anglican Church, Apostolic Communion of Anglican Churches, The Apostolic Episcopal Church, Archdiocese of the Southwest (Anglo-Catholic) [Yes – there’s more – I just thought I would stop at the end of the “A”s… the North American list concludes with “W”: World Anglican Episcopal Communion].

      Blessings

      • I will try again, hopefully less sloppily.

        Traditionally Christians have taught that marriage is between a man and a woman. Your proposal changes that, and that change, if promulgated in ACANZP, would be a change to what it currently teaches about marriage.

        I suggest such a change would consequentially lead to two Anglican churches in these islands, one which maintained the current teaching on marriage in ACANZP (however confusing that teaching may be on closer inspection) and one which taught what you propose.

        Such a change would not be without precedent within the life of the Anglican Communion since currently, in North America, TEC and ACCan, support your proposal (e.g. in TEC, your proposal finds favour at the level of General Convention legislation, though individual dioceses may demur) while ACNA does not. ACNA is not a member of the Anglican Communion but it is recognised as a fellow Anglican church by churches belonging to the GAFCON network of member churches of the Communion.

        I am trying to work towards there not being two Anglican churches in these islands so I neither agree with your proposal (for theological reasons not elucidated here) nor find it a pathway which would foster our unity.

        • Thanks, Peter.

          Let’s just line up the current, formal doctrine:

          1) Marriage is between a couple
          2) The couple, in marriage, is made up of opposite sex people
          3) Those getting married intend it to be for life
          4) Marriage is for life
          5) Sex can only ethically occur within marriage

          As my submission identifies: those who hold these current tenets cannot bless committed same-sex couples.

          Our church has ignored (4), for the last fifty years, without any significant issue or the creation of “two Anglican churches in these islands” – far too close to the bone for the majority, heterosexuals, and our tendency to have a significant percentage of our marriages break down.

          So already, what I’m proposing isn’t so much changing what we currently teach by our practice about marriage, as much as being honest.

          My proposal is that (2) and (4) be removed from our required agreements. This means you CAN hold either or both of those positions but you are not REQUIRED to sign up to those positions.

          All you have said, Peter, is that dropping (2) as a requirement is sufficient to have more people leave our church (let’s be clear: there have been some who have left already).

          It seems to me, Peter, that, instead of dropping (2) and (4), your proposal is to drop (4) and (5). And somehow you think that your solution (a) will hold the church together more than mine, and (b) somehow has (unspecified) more theological integrity than mine.

          Blessings

  4. A very good submission, Bosco. And excellent replies – based on pure logic – to your critics on this post.

    I have sent my own submission to the Archbishops – offering to appear before them to support the sort of solution you are proposing. God’s Blessing on you.

  5. Rev. Bosco–

    I appreciate your approach. It seems a reasonable step that could help us focus on more important things. I am not surprised by some comments, so I am adding my two cents (the true challenge tally is below).

    I have yet to have anyone explain how my marriage that provides my husband and his children protections as well as the incredible joy of togetherness “destroys” any families. I find it incredulous that Christians can spend so much time (to your point) determining that one form of human relationship is “sacred” and “life-giving” and that another is not. It is reminiscent of left handers being considered evil because the majority is right handed. What is natural for one is not necessarily natural for another.

    It comes down to “Us” versus “Them.” If you are a “Them”, the responses come across as condescending, regardless of the true intent. Golly, gee, are we going to be allowed to be part of your club???

    I appreciate all who have been working for change. However, realize that this ongoing struggle the “Us” are having causes we “Thems” so simply say, “Bless your heart,” and take our time and talents to where we feel appreciated, not pitied as somehow less worthy.

    Total of $225 going to Ruth Ellis Center, a residential safe-space for runaway, homeless and at-risk LGBTQ youth.

    • Amen, Stephen. I wonder if another pattern is also emerging: those who are supportive of the sort of direction I am suggesting are showing their focus on other things by taking up my challenge of giving to those in need. No one opposed to my submission has yet done so. When challenged individually, they have not replied to that. Blessings.

  6. “As my submission identifies: those who hold these current tenets cannot bless committed same-sex couples.”

    That is not true Bosco. many of us who hold those tenets can and do bless same sex couples.

    Interesting that you are now explicit in your desire to remove “marriage is for life” as essential to the Christian understanding of marriage.

    I must say I am shocked that Anglicans have no right to the sacraments. In the Catholic Church, canon law protects the right of the faithful to the sacraments, and the sacramentals, such as blessings.

    The consequence of all this political manouvering to secure change that everyone can agree with seems to be to make access of the sacraments dependent on the whim of the individual vicar. I find that unacceptable, and so will gay marriage supporters.

    I do respect your efforts to secure meaningful change – may they bear good fruit despite the problems with this proposal. At least Anglicans are discussing the issues and looking for the right way forward, which is a great sign of hope for the Church.

    Many Blessings

    • Thanks, Chris.

      I’m not sure how you missed that in my submission I suggested the change from marriage being lifelong to “with the intent that it be lifelong”. [Let me, again, clarify: my suggestion means that one may believe marriage is for life, but are no longer required to hold that marriage is for life – this change in doctrine then allows marriage of divorcees for those whose conscience allows this].

      Since you say there are many of you (plural) who hold to the 5 tenets I identify and who, you say, also bless same sex couples, it would be useful if you could provide us with actual examples – concrete examples, websites and articles about that would also be useful, especially explaining how you (plural) see no conflict between those 5 tenets and those blessings.

      Blessings.

    • Bosco,

      I know personally of at least 2 cases of ordained ministers holding 1-5 who have blessed same sex couples. A bit of googling will find other cases although it’s often harder to tell if the ministers hold 1-5.

      One can bless the sacredness of a couple’s love without presuming to judge their sex life; this holds for heterosexual couples also.

      A related example is the rite of blessing an engaged couple; who knows, or needs to know, what they might be engaging in prior to the wedding?

      http://www.foryourmarriage.org/catholic-marriage/catholic-beliefs/prayers-and-blessings/

      Many blessings

  7. Chris: a small ( or perhaps not) point: the Anglican Church (unlike, I believe, the Roman Catholic Church) recognises only two sacraments: Baptism, and the Holy Communion (see the 39 Articles).

    I do not accept that any Anglican priest has the right to refuse baptism, or to refuse the Holy Communion to any baptised person (the relevant Canon, the shortest there is, reads “All the baptised may receive the Holy Communion”)

    $70 to Anglican Family Care, Dunedin

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