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Wednesday, November 12, 1997 Published at 07:50 GMT


Women priests celebrate five year anniversary

TheThanksgiving service for the anniversary was held in St Margaret's church in Westminster

A special church service has been held to mark the fifth anniversary of the introduction of women priests by the Church of England.

In the last five years, nearly 2,000 women have been ordained. But the split in the Church, which was opened up by the issue, still exists and some members of the Church remain hostile to women priests.

[ image: Women were first ordained as priests in the Church of England in 1992]
Women were first ordained as priests in the Church of England in 1992
The thanksgiving service was organised by the campaign group which used to be called the Movement for the Ordination of Women, but is now known as Women and the Church (Watch).

Christina Rees of Watch said she was optimistic for the future role of women in the church. " I think we should look outwards and forwards, and get on with living out the message of God's love and hope for those around us," she said.

[ image: The Reverend Penny Martin is well loved by the people in her parish]
The Reverend Penny Martin is well loved by the people in her parish
The Reverend Penny Martin, of St Laurence church in Pittington, Durham, is adamant that women priests are here to stay.

"The Church has been through so much. This issue isn't going to split it, as sometimes we're made to fear ... if people really cannot cope with women ordained as priests, I think they should leave the Church of England, " she said.

But Durham is a divided diocese. The decision to allow women into the church has alienated some parishes. At St Mary Magdalene's in Sunderland, a traditionalist Church of England parish, the people were outraged when the Bishop of Durham ordained women priests.

The congregation rejected the Anglican Bishop and prays instead for the Pope. Of 13,000 parishes across the country, roughly 200 reject their diocesan bishop.

[ image: Father Beresford Skelton rejects women priests]
Father Beresford Skelton rejects women priests
Father Beresford Skelton of St Mary Magdalene's, said that his orthodox position has much support.

" There's quite a groundswell in the life of the church of traditionalists who would not disappear into the background with the new ways ... we're here to stay," he said.

The decision by the General Synod of the Church of England to allow women to become priest followed many years of debate. The1992 vote brought the Church into line with many Anglican churches overseas.

Some in the Church remain concerned that the debate about women could turn the church in on itself and not out towards the world, that it is supposed to serve.

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