Campaigners welcome Blackburn u-turn over gender equality

By staff writers
September 15, 2009

Campaigners working for equality between women and men in the Church of England have welcomed the news that Blackburn Cathedral is to overturn its decision to offer communion wafers consecrated by a male priest when a woman priest was taking a service.

In a public statement, Women and the Church (WATCH) said it was grateful to Blackburn Cathedral for acknowledging the offence this has caused and for discontinuing the practice which they introduced a year ago after a female canon was appointed to the Cathedral staff.

This practice harks back to beliefs outlawed as heretical in the 4th century.

The Church of England’s law-making body, the General Synod, passed the vote allowing women to be admitted to the priesthood 17 years ago.

In 1994 1,500 female deacons were ordained as priests. Since then 4,000 women have been ordained and there are now almost 3,000 active clergywomen serving in the Church of England - nearly a quarter of all active clergy.

Christina Rees, Chair of WATCH said, “Bearing in mind that the Church is now in the process of making it lawful for women to be bishops, this is very good news. It shows that treating women in ways we wouldn’t treat men is no longer acceptable. Blackburn Cathedral has got the message and has done the right thing and we are very, very pleased.”

Blackburn Cathedral’s decision to end the discriminatory practice underscores WATCH’s conviction that only if the Church allows women to be bishops on the same basis as men will it meet with the approval of General Synod and the wider membership.

The group says that when it opens its Episcopate to women, it will at last be bringing its position into line with the law.

An Act of Synod, passed one year after the decisive vote for women priests, created a separate strand of bishops called Provincial Episcopal Visitors - more commonly known as ‘flying bishops’ – intended to minister to those opposed to ordained women.

The Act of Synod gave rise to a culture of separatism in the Church and created male-only ghettos, say campaigners.

WATCH says it is working for the simplest and most straightforward legislation for women bishops in order to undo some of the damage caused by the Act and to rebuild relationships of trust in the Church.

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