Australia’s first female head of an Anglican diocese said she’s had a warm welcome from the faithful she leads, four months after she began in the historic position.
As the church’s homeland in England voted to allow women bishops this week, Bishop of Grafton Sarah Macneil said she had heard no opposition to her own appointment as she travelled around the northern NSW community.
“They’ve been very welcoming, very open – they are very positive, down to earth, interesting people,” Reverend Macneil said.
“A few people have said, ‘We weren’t sure, but it’s fine, we welcome you as a bishop’.”
Formerly a priest at Jamison and archdeacon in the Canberra and Goulburn diocese, Bishop Macneil said she considered the biblical verses which were behind the centuries-old tradition of male leaders before she became ordained in 1994.
“I doubt very much whether any woman who has felt being called to leadership in the church has not looked at quite some depth at those scriptures and how [they] might be applied today,” she said.
“That is part of the discernment process, [asking] ‘Do I believe I’m being called to something that God does not want me to do?’”
A former diplomat with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade who was once posted to Stockholm, Bishop Macneil said New Testament verses such as “women are to keep silent in the churches”, or “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man” had to be read with a different society in mind.
“I see those verses being in the context of their times and in their days,” she said.
“Just as in the same [book] Paul says a woman ‘should wear a veil'.”
Married to an Anglican priest, Bishop Macneil, who now heads 28 parishes including Lismore, Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie, applauded the decision by the Church of England on Monday to allow women bishops.
“I think it’s good that the mother church of the Anglican communion has taken the step,” Bishop Macneil said.
The church has female bishops in the United States, Canada and New Zealand, although some developing countries still forbid female priests.
High-level female leadership is not strictly new for the Church of England, with queens dating back to Elizabeth I holding the largely symbolic position of supreme governor.