''I feel a little bit overwhelmed'' … Archdeacon Genieve Blackwell will be consecrated in March and become assistant bishop of the diocese of Canberra and Goulburn. Photo: Andrew Meares
IT IS almost 20 years since an injunction filed in Sydney prevented the Anglican diocese of Canberra and Goulburn from ordaining the Australian church's first female priests.
That anniversary will be marked in a service in February as the diocese prepares to celebrate another milestone - the consecration of NSW's first female bishop, Genieve Blackwell, 49.
Archdeacon Blackwell, the rector of Yass, will attend the service ahead of her move to Wagga - where she grew up - taking on a post in Turvey Park as rector and the diocese's assistant bishop, after her consecration on March 31.
She said she had been studying at Sydney's Moore Theological College during the debate of 1992, which eventually led to women's ordination across Australia later that year.
The current Archbishop of Sydney and long-time opponent of the ordination of women, Peter Jensen, was one of her lecturers.
But the bishop-designate said her appointment was a natural progression from the appointment of women as deacons and priests in the NSW church.
''It's exciting and pleasing to have my gifts affirmed in that way, and it's great to be able to serve the church in that way,'' she said. ''I feel a little bit overwhelmed by the attention, but that's all right.''
Although as Metropolitan of NSW Dr Jensen would usually conduct the consecration, he has asked the Bishop of Newcastle, Brian Farran, to do so in his place.
The diocese of Sydney remains one of the few in the Australian Anglican Church that does not ordain women as priests.
''I very much admire Genieve Blackwell,'' Dr Jensen said. ''However, I regret I am not able to take part in the service for reasons of conscience.''
Canberra and Goulburn bishop Stuart Robinson said Sydney had facilitated the approval process for Australia's third female bishop since 2007 ''with grace and alacrity''. ''We have a situation where opportunity and finances allow us to appoint someone of Genieve's calibre and character and we're in the process of doing that,'' he said.
Bishop Robinson said some of the 11 deacons who were prevented by a court order from becoming priests on February 2, 1992, would attend the anniversary service next year. ''It will be a celebration of God's goodness even though for them it was a period of significant pain,'' he said.
Archdeacon Blackwell, who will make the move to Wagga with her husband, John Silversides, and their two children, said Christians have long held different opinions on issues beyond women's ministry. It was important to keep talking, she said.
''And what's really important is what we hold in common, which is faith in Jesus Christ,'' she said.
On whether Sydney might ever be led by a female archbishop, she deferred to a higher authority: ''I'm not the person to answer that, really. Ask God that one.''