[Diocese of Dublin Press Release] Twenty–five years of women’s ministry in the Church of Ireland was celebrated at a service in Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday morning (October 18). The service took place close to the anniversary of the ordination to the priesthood of Canon Ginnie Kennerley who was ordained in the cathedral on October 21 1990 by Archbishop Donald Caird. Assisting on that day was Archbishop Henry McAdoo and Bishop John Neill, then Bishop of Tuam and who later became Archbishop of Dublin.
Bishop Neill had been an advocate for the ordination of women to the priesthood and returned to Christ Church on Sunday, St Luke’s Day, to preach on the anniversary. He highlighted Luke’s role in painting a picture of Mary, mother of Jesus, and her vocation. In many ways the figure of Mary as presented by St Luke gave an image of what the Christian priesthood is about, he contended.
“The Christian priest has often been portrayed as an icon of Christ – a person through whom others should be able to see Christ. Unfortunately, this theme has sometimes been used to assert that the priest must be male, and yet the incarnation is about human nature rather than male gender. Equally the figure of Mary can be seen as an icon of priesthood balancing this – as one enabling others to see Jesus, as he is brought forth into the world,” he explained.
The Bishop recalled the Lambeth Conference of 1988 when he was involved in seeking the admission of women to the episcopate. He said one of the most moving speeches he heard was from the first woman priest he had ever met, Nan Peete from the Episcopal Church of the United States of America.
“Her theme was quite simply “The time has come…” The more I reflected on that phrase that she used again and again, the more I realised that there is a right time for change. Patterns in the world change, wrongs are exposed, new challenges are thrown up, and then we look into Scripture and tradition using our God–given reason and we realise that it all makes sense. It is not looking for proof texts, but striving to see the bigger picture of what God is saying to us today,” he said.
Bishop Neill added that the emergence of the voice for admission of women to the priesthood was because “the time had come”. Society had changed, the role of women had changed. “Yet the seeds of those very changes were deep, even if hidden, in the Christian tradition itself. So often a false dichotomy is set up between the spirit of the age and the spirit of God. Yes, there may well be a clash, there can be so much that is negative in the spirit of the age, greed, prejudice and hedonism, but that is not the full story. The spirit of the age also bears many of the signs of a response to the God of Love, even if totally unconscious of the fact,” he stated.
Bishop Neill gave thanks for the Ministry of Canon Kennerley and the fact that men and women now serve happily alongside each other in the Church of Ireland and that many hold significant positions of leadership.
“There will always be differing responses to a developing tradition that is at the heart of the Church of Christ, but it is vital that we take time and stay together as we seek God’s way forward. The very same issues arose more recently in matters surrounding remarriage following divorce, and today painfully in issues of human sexuality,” he said. He concluded by saying: “In the midst of all the confusions facing the churches in the world today, let it be our prayer that we may hold on to that vision – praying the Lord of the Harvest to send forth many to bring healing and reconciliation to a broken church and a broken world”.