Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Cracking the “Stained-glass Ceiling”

Off the Wall 4/2/15

History was made in York Minster, the cathedral of York, England, one of the largest of its kind in Northern Europe last Monday (26/1/15), when Church of England consecrated the Right Reverend
Libby Lane as the bishop of Stockport.

According to the Guardian newspaper, women have been consecrated as bishops in many parts of the worldwide Anglican communion since 1989, and as priests in England since 1994, but opponents put up a long resistance to their further promotion, which only became possible last autumn. Roman Catholic bishops, who frequently attend important Anglican occasions, were absent. The service marked a final and decisive break with the tradition of an all-male priesthood.

Bishop Lane swore obedience to the queen, and to the archbishop of York and their successors. She heard Jesus’s instructions to his disciples from the gospel of Luke: “I am sending you out like lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say ‘peace to this house’ …”

The Guardian reported that there was a protest when the congregation was asked to assent to Bishop Lane’s consecration. As the congregation of nearly 2,000 people replied “It is”, a man stepped forward near the altar and shouted: “No. Not in my name. Not in the Bible. With respect, your grace, I ask to speak on this absolute impediment, please.”

Dr Sentamu read out a pre-prepared statement and repeated his question. There was no further interruption and the service continued. The protester was later identified as the Rev Paul Williamson, who once tried to charge an earlier archbishop of Canterbury with high treason for ordaining female priests.

With a quiet rumble the bishops in scarlet and white rose from their seats to gather round and lay hands on Lane and on each other in a sign that she, like they, had a physical connection running back nearly 2,000 years to the disciples whom Jesus had touched. Sentamu anointed her with oil as she knelt in front of the congregation. He gave her a Bible. The act was done. History was made. The congregation burst into prolonged applause, led by the archbishops, and she bowed her head at them.

The Rt. Rev. Lane, who is married to a male priest, George, making them one of the Church's first clerical couples, was among the first women to be ordained as a priest, in 1994. According to Christian Today, although not a "name" outside the Church, she is highly rated within it and came to the attention of senior bishops as one of eight clergy women elected as observers to the House of Bishops.

When the announcement of her nomination was made, she said: "I am grateful for, though somewhat daunted by, the confidence placed in me by the Diocese of Chester. This is unexpected and very exciting. On this historic day as the Church of England announces the first woman nominated to be Bishop, I am very conscious of all those who have gone before me, women and men, who for decades have looked forward to this moment. But most of all I am thankful to God.

"The church faces wonderful opportunities, to proclaim afresh, in this generation, the Good News of Jesus and to build His Kingdom. The Church of England is called to serve all the people of this country, and being present in every community, we communicate our faith best when our lives build up the lives of others, especially the most vulnerable. I am excited by the possibilities and challenges ahead."

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said: "I am absolutely delighted that Libby has been appointed to succeed Bishop Robert Atwell as Bishop of Stockport. Her Christ-centred life, calmness and clear determination to serve the church and the community make her a wonderful choice.

Rev. Rosie Harper, chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham Alan Wilson, wrote on her Facebook wall: "It's happened. The CofE has it's first woman bishop: The Rev Libby Lane, Dean of Women in Ministry, Chester Diocese. Whew! All the very best to her - she'll be under the spotlight! Only took 2,000 years. Roll on the time when other issues of equality are also addressed."

However, while offering prayers and good wishes to Mrs Lane, the General Synod's Catholic group said it regrets "the implications for the wider unity of the worldwide Church." Dr Colin Podmore, chairman of the traditionalist group Forward in Faith, wrote on the website of the Bishop of Beverley, one of the "flying" bishops who looks after parishes opposed to women's ordination: "Catholics believe that both women and men are called to different ministries in the Church. But for theological reasons, we are unable to receive the sacramental ministry of women as priests (presiding at the Eucharist) or bishops (ordaining priests to preside at the Eucharist).

Christian Today reports that Bishop Lane's consecration marks the end of a long and hard process of theological and procedural negotiation which has left unresolved divisions in the church. Disputes since the General Synod agreed in 2005 that "the process for removing the legal obstacles to the ordination of women to the episcopate should now be set in train" have focused on accommodating the beliefs of members of the Church of England would not accept the episcopal ministry of women. There was widespread anger when a 2012 attempt to pass the legislation at the Synod narrowly failed.

Roman Catholic Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham, said on Vactican Radio last week that the Catholic Church will be keeping its ban on allowing women to serve as priests. Archbishop Longley, who is also the Catholic co-chair of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, told the Vatican Radio that while "the conversation about women's ministry continues in parts of the Catholic Church, this development is unlikely to bring about changes in the Catholic teaching on the sacrament of ordination."

The Anglican Diocese of Polynesia, while ordaining women priests, some of whom hold senior positions in the Diocese is yet to appoint a woman bishop. The Methodist Church in Fiji ordains women ministers and has for some time now had a woman Divisional Superintendent, its equivalent of bishop, in Rev. Kelera Wesele who has served as Divisional Superintendent of the Vatulele Division and is the new Divisional Superintendent of the Vatukarasa Division.

I have benefitted from the wisdom and support of my big sisters in ministry – both clergy and deaconesses and sisters, in my own spiritual and ministerial formation. I was honoured to candidate for the ministry and be ordained alongside the largest number of women ministers in the Methodist Church’s history. However the challenges that my sisters face in a patriarchal society, are much greater than I do as an ethnic minority in our community.

While some faith communities have a doctrinal and traditional stand on this issue which - like the Church of England – mean a long and slow process of discernment, there are times when the Bible is simply proof-texted for passages of scripture to cement prejudice rather than share “good news” of love, forgiveness, freedom from oppression and empowerment for all God’s children.

Well, perhaps that’s the challenge of living in a multi-ethnic, multi-faith, multi-denominational and multi-cultural society.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”

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