Vicar's Musings for Ordinary Sunday 22
31 August, 2014
Today there is a Parish Meeting, at 1pm after High Mass, to consider the Parish Council report "The Question of Ordained Women's Ministry at the Altars of St Peter's Eastern Hill." Everyone on the Parish Electoral Roll has received the report by e-mail, or for those without an e-mail address on record, a hard copy has been mailed. There are also plenty of copies at the back of church for any others who may be interested in reading the report. I hope that you are able to attend the meeting today, as we draw considerations to a close on this important question in the ongoing life of our historic Anglo-Catholic parish. It has been encouraging to see the honest and respectful way in which parishioners have grappled with this sensitive issue, since it was first raised at last year's Annual General Meeting. Around 130 people attended one or more of the seven congregational meetings and, as you can see in the Report, there were nearly 50 different people who chose to express an opinion on the matter.
Today's meeting will be an important opportunity to discuss the contents of the report, and to look together at the choice we are currently facing as a parish. It is essentially a simple choice: should we consolidate our current practice of permitting only male priests to celebrate Mass, or should we change? For more years than I've been your Vicar, female priests have been invited to St Peter's to preach, or to sit in choir for festal occasions. If we are to accept ordained women at the altar, this practice could be extended, with female priests being invited to concelebrate at the Maundy Thursday Mass, for example, or with a female bishop being invited to preside when on a parish visit. Another possibility is that a female associate priest could be appointed, when required by the parish and being the best person for the job. Such a person might be asked to assist at weekday masses or with pastoral care, much like Fr Graeme Brennan is doing presently in Bp Graeme's absence.
But what of those opposed to change? If we were to take such a direction, how would we accommodate those in disagreement who have indicated a desire nevertheless to remain in the parish? I think communication is the key here. Currently we post the pew sheet on the website ahead of time each week, detailing the names of priests fulfilling sacramental roles. If this information was published in the pew sheet a week in advance (for those without internet access) any who might feel uncomfortable with attending a particular Mass could come to an alternative service that week.
So, where next? Following today's discussion, on Sunday 7th September, at all services, the Parish Council will conduct a straw poll (i.e. a non-binding vote) as the final stage in the discernment process. In consultation with the Parish Council I will then reflect on the outcome of the poll, as well as on the Parish Council report, and indicate where I judge the Holy Spirit to be leading us on this question. Pray for me as I do for you.
The Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster
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