It began when the US Presiding Bishop, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, was requested by Lambeth Palace not to wear her mitre during a service at Southwark Cathedral a fortnight ago. Dr Jefferts Schori described the ban as “bizarre — it is beyond bizarre”.
Since then, the “Mitregate” saga has refused to die down. Last weekend, another woman bishop from the United States, the Bishop of El Camino Real, the Rt Revd Mary Grey-Reeves, presided at the eucharist in Gloucester Cathedral. She was in Gloucester with the Bishop of West Tanganyika, the Rt Revd Gerard Mpango. Bishop Grey-Reeves was permitted to wear her mitre.
The Bishop of Gloucester, Dr Michael Perham, who invited Bishop Grey-Reeves, said in an explanatory note that the law governing visiting bishops from overseas needed urgent revision. He had none the less applied for, and been granted, permission for Bishop Grey-Reeves to officiate, under the provisions of the Overseas and Other Clergy (Ministry and Ordination) Measure of 1967.
Dr Perham writes: “The Measure makes no reference to what the bishop wears. . . On Sunday, when she stood at my side when I presided at the eucharist, and again when she preached at a Partnership Service later in the day, she did . . . wear her mitre.”
Concerning Dr Jefferts Schori, the Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Colin Slee, was told that “canon law does not recognise women bishops, and women bishops cannot officiate in this country in any episcopal act”. Many believe that presiding at the eucharist is a priestly, not an episcopal act; but mindful of sensitivities over the forthcoming Synod debate, he chose to be “hugely diplomatic and careful”.
A Lambeth Palace spokewoman said on Wednesday: “This is not a ban. It was simply a recommendation that has been given in the past on legal advice in similar situations.”
A Church Times reader, the Revd Elizabeth Baxter, recalls a service in Ripon Cathedral in 1994 at which the then Bishop of Dunedin, the Rt Revd Penny Jamieson, was invited to preach. She was asked not to wear her mitre by the Bishop, the Rt Revd David Young. Ms Baxter writes: “In solidarity with Bishop Penny, the many bishops who took part in that service processed without their mitres.”