Worshippers at a Church of England cathedral are being offered a two-track Communion service with a separate supply of “untainted” Communion bread for those who object to its being consecrated by a woman priest.
A special container, for the hosts — unleavened bread representing the body of Christ — which have been previously consecrated by a male priest, is brought out during Sunday morning services at Blackburn Cathedral if a woman priest is presiding.
Blackburn has for decades been a seat of opposition to women’s ordination. Both the present Bishop of Blackburn, the Right Rev Nicholas Reade, and the Dean, the Very Rev Christopher Armstrong, oppose women’s ordination. It has a regular congregation of about 200 on Sunday mornings, with half a dozen who refuse to receive the sacrament from a woman.
Dr Penfold and the Dean are on holiday and not available for comment. But the cathedral’s canon, Andrew Hindley, defended the arrangement. He said: “It was agreed by all the clergy and cathedral chapter that this was the best way to handle what we call a mixed economy.”
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The practice came to light due to this letter to the editor in the Clitheroe Advertiser & Times:
I ALWAYS enjoy reading Canon Rodney Nicholson’s contribution for the “Thought for the Week”, but for once I have to take issue with his comments in the article for June 18th.
I applaud his highlighting of the way women over centuries have been denigrated and how this has passed into our language with phrases like “brownie points” and “acting like an old woman”. He concludes “Christianity is a religion of freedom in which everyone can find their true selves and know that Christ has broken down divisions which humans have created”.
Sadly this is not true. Religious bodies (including the Church of England) lobbied Parliament and secured a dispensation for them to be excluded from gender and employment laws when Equality Legislation was being formulated. This was particularly relevant to the status and acceptance of women as priests.
In 1992 the General Synod of the Church of England, finding there were no theological barriers to prevent women fulfilling their vocation, passed the “Women Priests Measure”. This was ratified in Parliament with a large majority in both houses. Since then 4,000 women have been ordained priests. One in four priests in the Church of England is female.
However, in the 1992 Measure, qualifying clauses were included which created a “glass ceiling” whereby women could not be made bishops and those male clergy who objected to the Measure could receive compensation on resigning their appointments. Furthermore, Parochial Church Councils were permitted to decide whether they would allow a woman to officiate in their church and could even resolve not to have a woman as Vicar or Priest-in-Charge.
I was delighted when a woman was made a Residentiary Canon at Blackburn Cathedral, but saddened to learn that when she is celebrating Holy Communion the Reserved Sacrament (bread and wine) which has been consecrated at a previous service by a man is available for those who do not accept the priesthood of women!
So, Canon Rodney, some people in the church do not treat women equally. While I can appreciate that The Dean and Chapter at Blackburn are trying to accommodate those who are against women priests, I see this as a reinforcement of unacceptable prejudice and gender discrimination.
This is not just an insult to women priests but calls into question the action of the Holy Spirit on the bread and wine!
GERTRUDE ROBINS Painter Wood, Billington