A church in the United Kingdom, known for its connection to a British television star who famously played a female vicar, has decided to rescind a ban on female pastors amid mounting pressure from activists calling for equal opportunity in the clergy.
St. Fimbarrus Parish Church in Fowey, Cornwall, has been without a vicar for four years. Although the Church of England laws permit women to serve as vicars, the church council announced in March it was looking to hire only a male to occupy this role.
Fowey is the hometown of Dawn French, a 65-year-old actress renowned for her role as Geraldine Granger in the BBC television series “The Vicar of Dibley.”
A newly elected Parochial Church Council in Fowey, responding to the concerns of parishioners and activists, has unanimously voted to lift the ban, according to a statement.
The council cited local and community-wide disappointment in the original decision, which they said was made without consultation and didn’t represent the sentiments of the town or parish.
“There was disappointment that this had happened without consultation and many expressed a strong desire for change,” the new Fowey PCC said in a statement shared by media. “Following recent widespread consultation with the congregation and the wider Fowey community, the PCC has voted unanimously to rescind the previous PCC’s resolution requiring male leadership.”
The church will now begin the search for a new part-time vicar, without any gender stipulations.
The Chruch of England has allowed women to become priests since 1992. Rev. Angela Berners-Wilson, the first woman ordained as a priest in the Church of England, described the decision at that time as a “shame.”
The controversy in Fowey stood in contrast to the neighboring communities of Tywardreath and Golant, which recently welcomed Rev. Shona Hoad as their vicar. The Sunday Times reported at the time that many Fowey residents expressed frustration at their parish’s decision, arguing that a female vicar could similarly revitalize their community.
Church Warden Carol Carruthers said at the time of the decision was based on the fact that there is much “debate over the roles women play within the church.”
“The Bible, written 2,000 years ago, was ahead of its time in its progressive attitude to women,” Carruthers said. “There is, however, debate over the roles women play within the church. The church council has agreed [to] a compromise position where we will both welcome women priests to teach the Bible faithfully each Sunday and lead communion, but seek an overall male priest in charge.”
In May, PCC announced that Carruthers and Chairman Andy Virr would not stand for re-election.
The debate over women’s roles within the Church is not confined to the Fowey church or the CofE but echoes similar discussions within the United States.
Saddleback Church, the California-based megachurch founded by Rick Warren in 1980, was recently expelled from the Southern Baptist Convention for having a woman fill the office of teaching pastor. The decision was upheld at the SBC’s Annual Meeting in June. Since Warren’s retirement last year, the church has been led by Andy and Stacie Wood.
Also, at the meeting in June, SBC messengers overwhelmingly approved a proposed constitutional amendment to prevent women from serving as a “pastor of any kind.”
The 2000 Baptist Faith and Message states that while men and women are both called to spread the Gospel, the office of the pastor is limited to men.
Speaking in favor of his proposed amendment from the meeting floor, Pastor Mike Law declared: “We are not ashamed of 1 Timothy 2:12 or afraid of what the Bible teaches. We are not ashamed of our God and His Word.”
Those who favor prohibitions on women serving as pastors often cite 1 Timothy 2:12, which reads: “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent.”
In a recent podcast interview, Warren, the bestselling author of The Purpose Driven Life, laid out three Scripture passages that led him to conclude it was acceptable for women to become pastors.
“This is not a battle between liberals and conservatives. All the liberals left a long time ago. Everybody in the SBC believes in the inerrancy of Scripture,” said Warren. “Now we are talking about difference of interpretation.”
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