EVERY few years the global Anglican Church experiences a shudder over the “women” question.
Should women be ordained as priests? Should women be ordained as bishops? Should the church subscribe to the view of the apostle Paul, who outlined in the New Testament a view of family and church life with men at the head, or should it accept that a 2000-year-old text doesn’t need to be taken literally on all points?
In Australia the Anglican Diocese of Sydney leads the “no women priests and bishops” group, and continues to argue strongly that it’s the majority Church of England, which has supported women bishops since 2008, which has strayed from the Bible.
In Newcastle the story is different. On June 3 Newcastle Anglicans calmly and happily celebrated the 30th anniversary of the ordination of women priests with a service at Christ Church Cathedral.
Three decades after taking what, at the time, was seen as a big step by appointing women to lead parishes, the diocese has plenty of evidence to show that the sky hasn’t fallen in because women are at the helm and the sun is still shining. It has shown that strong Christian leadership isn’t predicated on gender.
On Sunday the diocese calmly announced another decision that will be seen the same way in the future – it appointed the first female and Hunter-born Dean of Newcastle, Canon Katherine Bowyer. The announcement came weeks after the diocese marked the 200th anniversary of worship on the cathedral site and after it farewelled a bishop who changed a culture that supported decades of child sexual abuse.
Canon Bowyer’s appointment is to be applauded. As the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has shown, repeatedly, institutions with women in leadership roles – including even the patriarchal Catholic Church – are less likely to respond poorly to abuse allegations.
The diocese is showing it is not afraid of change, and that tradition and history alone are not enough to ignore facts and evidence, or an outstanding Christian leader who just happens to be a woman.
The diocese will hold a synod in November to elect a new bishop to replace the retired Bishop Greg Thompson. After two centuries of male bishops the case for a female Newcastle Anglican Bishop can be made with two words. It’s time.