After decades of debate, Australian Anglicans now have one female bishop, and they will get a second within 10 days of the first woman's consecration - writes Matthew Fenwick.
On 22 May 2008, West Australian Archdeacon Kay Goldsworthy was consecrated Australia's first female bishop. Canon Barbara Darling's consecration is due to follow on 1 June in Melbourne.
Supporters of the move described it as a breakthrough for the equality of women in the church. However, opponents of consecrating women bishops warned it may further divide Anglicans across Australia.
Sydney's archbishop, Peter Jensen, and the bishop of Northwest Australia, David Mulready, were among Anglican clergy who did not attend Goldsworthy's consecration because of their opposition to the ordination of women ministers.
Bishop Goldsworthy, who is 51, is married and has two sons, and she was one of the first women to be ordained in Australia, when in 1992 the country's Anglican church opened the priesthood to women.
She will serve as assistant bishop in the Perth diocese.
"I am delighted that we in the church of Perth continue our unwavering commitment to Christ's Gospel by recognising women and men as equal partners in the world," Perth's archbishop, Roger Herft, had said in a statement before the ceremony.
Canon Darling will be an assistant bishop in the Melbourne diocese and she will take responsibility for youth and children's ministry and the hospital chaplaincy. "I'm thrilled there will be two of us [women bishops] to support each other and share together," Darling told The Age newspaper.
The turning point came in September 2007 when the church's highest court ruled that there was no legal barrier to women becoming bishops. Women with extensive leadership experience such as Goldsworthy and Darling were now considered eligible for these roles.
"A lot of these women would have been consecrated already," Val Graydon, president of the Movement for Ordination of Women, told Ecumenical News International.
However, the announcements were met with concern by some Anglicans from the Sydney diocese. Equal but Different, a Sydney-based coalition, has argued against both the ordination and the consecration of women. Its spokesperson Claire Smith warned that differences of opinion may lead to divisions in church leadership.
"There will be a fundamental disagreement on the understanding of the ministry that's sitting around the table," said Smith.
In April, Australia's Anglican bishops released the Protocol for Women in the Episcopate to address this contentious issue. The protocol provides for alternative ministry where people are unable to accept a female bishop's leadership.
Smith questioned whether the protocol would be effective. "Those who have been affected by this change will be waiting to see how those opposed to this innovation are cared for," she said. "You've just got to wait and see."
In contrast, Graydon said that the church's unity depended on both sides acting in good faith. "I believe the church is able to act with a gracious spirit and with a sense of understanding of each other," she said. "We can continue to minister together."
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]