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St Paul’s celebration of women priests: the Archbishop’s sermon

16 May 2014


From the Bishops of Beverley, Ebbsfleet, Fulham, and Richborough

Sir, - We rejoice in all the gifts that God gives to his people to further the mission and ministry of his Church. The women ordained in 1994, and all those who have followed them, have made a significant contribution to mission and ministry in the Church of England, and we were glad that that contribution was recognised in St Paul's Cathedral the Saturday before last (News, 9 May).

We were saddened, however, at the Archbishop's suggestion, in his sermon preached at that celebration, that those who have not felt able in conscience to accept without qualification the ordination of women as priests embody "the knee-jerk resistance of an institution facing change".

The grounds for the exercise of conscientious dissent from the priestly ordination of women are well known: the absence of Catholic consent for this development in Catholic order, which the Churchof England shares with the great Churches of East and West which, like ourselves, are ordered in the historic episcopate.

In the proposals coming to the General Synod in July, which will both open the way for the ordination of women to the episcopate and at the same time enable the flourishing of all traditions within the Church of England, the theological convictions of both those who do, and do not, embrace the ordination of women have been recognised as authentically and loyally Anglican. We are anxious that this part of the Archbishop's sermon seems to undermine the respect due to the classical Anglican position expressed by the Five Principles in the House of Bishops' declaration, which he has hitherto promoted as the key to mutual flourishing.

It would be a great shame if, at this late hour in this process, those of the latter conviction were to be caricatured as merely institutional conservatives, lacking their own prophetic gifts. Like the priests and people in our care, we are committed to the renewal and growth of our Church, to the proclamation of the gospel, and to the service of our nation.

c/o The Old Deanery
Dean's Court
London EC4V 5AA


From the Bishop of Chelmsford

Sir, - It was great to read the special features for the 20th anniversary of women's priesthood (2 May). We all rejoice in this, and it is wonderful that women's ordination as bishops is now within sight. Both one of your excellent features and the front page recalled that 125 years earlier our friends in the Salvation Army had women serving in public ministry.

It is unfortunate that you didn't also celebrate the Church Army, as an Anglican mission agency that has seen women deployed and commissioned in public ministry since 1888. For more than 125 years, the Church Army has had male and female evangelists serving the poor, preaching the gospel, and making a difference in the lives of those on the edge.

The women's work in Church Army was founded by Marie Carlile, sister of Wilson Carlile, the founder of Church Army. Women were trained as Church Army evangelists in the UK, and were sent out to help found Church Army societies all over the world. Church Army Africa celebrates its 60th birthday this summer. Women were part of the first staff of the embryonic Church Army in Nairobi.

Today, the Church Army's oldest evangelist is Sister Elsie Thrush. Elsie is 104 years old, and she has been in Church Army ministry for 81 years. She continues to share her faith with others, and is a massive source of inspiration and encouragement to us all. In fact, her blood sister Lily, who died a few years back, also lived to 104, and was a commissioned Church Army evangelist with more than 80 years of public ministry.

We, of course, celebrate the ministry of our Salvation Army brothers and sisters, but it is also good to celebrate our own Anglican Church Army as well.

Chair of Church Army
Bishopscourt, Margaretting
Ingatestone CM4 0HD

[The point is that women were accepted into the leadership of the Salvation Army; but, of course, we acknowledge the contribution of women Church Army evangelists. - Editor]

From the Revd Gareth Jones

Sir, - While the recent celebration of the 20th anniversary of women priests was, no doubt, a happy and worthwhile occasion for many, I cannot help thinking that such a celebration, regardless of gender, smacks of the kind of clericalism that the Church of England, by her very history, has always sought to eschew.

The irony is surely not lost on your readers that, in the fight for women's ordination, many employed the rhetoric of the Church's being a patriarchal and clericalist institution. What that celebration shows is that we have come full circle, but just changed the gender somewhere along the way.

St Mary's Vicarage
26 South Park Road
Ilford IG1 1SS

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