An Anglican parish in South London has taken the unusual step of petitioning its diocesan bishop to ordain to the priesthood the deaconess who has been licensed to work in the parish since 1968 and who in fact is responsible for most of the pastoral work there.
The parish is the Church of the Ascension. Blackheath, whose vicar is the Rev. Paul Oestreicher. The deaconess is Miss Elsie Baker, The decision to petition Dr Mervyn Stockwood, Bishop of Southwark, was approved by 41 votes to three at the parish's annual general meeting on April 6. The turn-out from a total of 135 on the parish roll was regarded as high and as providing a "thoroughly representative cross-section," Accepting the petition on behalf of Dr Stockwood, who is on sabbatical leave, the Rt Rev David Sheppard, Bishop of Woolwich and Bishop-elect of Liverpool, described it as "the tip of an iceberg." It underlined a point sometimes missed in the debate on the ordination of women: "There are many who have voted that there is no theological objection to the ordination of women, but who have gone on to vote that it is not timely to proceed to this now. One of the arguments frequently used to support this argument is that to ordain women now would be divisive in the Church. But not ordaining women is already dividing the Church . . . No change in this matter divides the Church as deeply as would change."
Presenting their petition to the Press last week, representatives of the parish claimed that of the Church of England's 43 diocesan bishops all but five were in favour of ordaining women to the priesthood, while over the past six months or so 41 diocesan synods had recorded that they could see no fundamental theological objection to such a step. Of 93 full-time deaconesses working in this country, no fewer than 83 have signified their willingness to be ordained priests.
The question will be decided in July by the Church of England's General Synod, when what is feared by advocates of women priests is what was described by Mr Oestreicher, himself a prominent member of the Synod, as the "totally im moral solution" of saying yes in principle but no in practice. The question has been put on the agenda of the Church of England and of the Anglican Communion in general by the action of the Anglican diocese of Hong Kong, where in November 1971 two women were ordained to the priesthood and where a woman priest had earlier been ordained in 1944 during the emergency situation created by the last war.
The Anglican Church in Wales, for its part, last week said yes in principle but no in practice to women priests the latter, it is understood, out of a desire not to get too far out of step with fellow-Anglicans in England.
Its Governing Body meeting at Aberystwyth approved by 213 votes to 32 the view "that there are no fundamental objections to the ordination of women to the priesthood," hut went on to add that it con
sidered "that it would be inexpedient For the Church in Wales to take any action in this matter
at the present time." Despite eloquent speeches from two deaconesses, an amendment calling for immediate legislation to allow women priests was defeated.
Some 40 priests from the Westminster Archdiocese at an in-service training course this week heard talks on marital problems, communication and world peace as weli as religious topics.
The ten-day course at All Saints Pastoral Centre, London Colney, Hertfordshire, opened on Sunday with an address by Cardinal Heenan. Bishop Alexander of Clifton was chairman for the course and the priests heard Bishop Butler, Auxiliary Of Westminster, on theology; Dom Patrick Barry, Headmaster of A mpleforth, Faith in Education; and Fr Agnellus Andrew, OFM, on Christian communication, Mr John Baker, a barrister and his wife. memhers of the Enfield Catholic Marriage Advisory Council centre and Dr Jack Dominian, consultant psychiatrist at the Central Middlesex Hospital, spoke on counselling and marriage problems. Mgr Ralph Brown, presiding judge of the Westminster Metropolitan Tribunal and lecturer in Canon Law spoke about nullity and Canon Law today.
Other talks from experts during the course included lectures on prayer, the sacraments, preaching, moral problems, care of the dying and dogmatic theology, the speaker on the last subject being Fr Thomas Lane, CM, of All Hallows College, Dublin.
Women of the Year lunch
The Catholic Women of the Year Luncheon committee,
which represents 1 6 organisations ranging from the Catholic Nurses' Guild of England and Wales to the Catholic Stage Guild, has been overwhelmed by the response to its appeal in the press for nominations for "women of the year".
"We received hundreds of letters," said Mrs Pamela Weisweiller, the chairman, "and it was a most difficult task to whittle them down to a final list. In every parish there seem to be women doing herculean tasks for the Church and often rearing a large family as well.
The luncheon w as inaugurated seven years ago to honour exceptional Catholic women and to raise funds for the Jinja Groups, a trust which sends non-graduate young workers such as ,carpcnters, plumbers, printers. etc, to offer their skills to the developing nations.
All proceeds from the luncheon, which this year is at Quaglino's, Bury Street, London, SWI, on May 6, are passed to the trust. The speakers will be Sister Mary Conran, FCJ, lecturer and writer on catechetics, and Mrs Magdalen Goffin, writer and broadcaster. Their theme will be: "Putting the Catholic Case."