A NEWLY-MARRIED deacon in Oxford is calling for canon law to be revisited, after she was unable to be priested owing to her husband’s divorce.
The Revd Sorrel Shamel-Wood, an Assistant Curate in the Dorchester Team Ministry, married the Revd Andy Shamel, Chaplain of Lincoln College, Oxford, in August last year. Mr Shamel had been divorced for a year when they met in 2017 while Mrs Shamel-Wood was training for the priesthood at Cuddesdon.
They were engaged in January 2018 and Mrs Shamel-Wood was ordained deacon in July 2020, a month before their marriage. They were unable to delay their wedding because Mr Shamel needed a spousal visa to start working in the UK. He was was ordained in the diocese of San Diego ten years ago and is licensed in the Oxford deanery.
Marriage following divorce is not an insuperable impediment to ordination in the Church of England. Canon C4 states that, on application by a diocesan bishop representing the candidate, the archbishop of the Province can issue a dispensation by way of a faculty. But guidelines also emphasise that “great care must be taken . . . to ensure that the Christian ideal itself is not obscured.” Among the factors that bishops are supposed to consider is the stability of the current marriage: applications are not normally entertained when the current marriage is less than three years old.
Ms Shamel-Wood praised both Cuddesdon and the diocese of Oxford for their support, but said that seeing her friends and cohort be ordained this Petertide had been “very painful. . . Despite knowing in my head that this is a legal technicality, in my heart it makes me feel rejected by the Church and that I have been found unworthy.
“I also feel angry and frustrated at the irony that Andy continues to preside at the altar without any ramifications when it is his divorce that is the barrier to my ordination. I have never been married before but I am the one who is being punished.”
Practically, it would be helpful to her team — which looks after 12 semi-rural churches, for Ms Shamel-Wood to be able to preside at the altar.
“I think this law needs revisiting because, at the moment, it is hurting people,” she said this week. “It is too blunt an instrument to do justice to the complexity of people’s lives. . . This rule does not have a sound theological basis; it fails to take seriously a divorce once someone has been priested; and it punishes ordinands without taking the time to listen to their situations and stories. It would be better if each case were dealt with on an individual basis, to prevent situations like mine.”
Oxford diocese had “done everything they can to be pastorally supportive during this difficult situation,” she said. This had included being invited to deacon at the priestings in the diocese, and to co-teach on the diocese’s Old Testament course.
This week, the Bishop of Dorchester, the Rt Revd Gavin Collins, said: “I very much look forward to the day of her priesting.”