MARK Saturday, March 31, 2012, as a “purple letter” day in all the colourful, and at times stormy, 224-year presence of the Anglican Church in Australia.
For this is the day when the Church’s NSW province finally sees a woman consecrated as a bishop, and thus wear the distinctive purple of episcopal office.
But, all too true to Anglican form in NSW, when a newly-consecrated Assistant Bishop Genieve Blackwell walks from Goulburn’s St. Saviour’s Cathedral accompanied by upwards of 20 other bishops – all men – her elevation will not be without controversy.
With her in the long procession of church dignitaries leaving the Cathedral will be the other bishop consecrated that day, Ian Lambert. But - unfair to both - most eyes, cameras, interviews, and conjecture will centre on Genieve Blackwell.
Usually, such an important landmark in Anglican history as a women’s consecration would see the Archbishop of Sydney, as Metropolitan of NSW, and Consecrator of all bishops in the province, presiding at the ceremony.
However, Sydney under Archbishop Peter Jensen, is now one of a minority of dioceses in Australia implacably opposed to the ordination of women priests, let alone consecration of female bishops.
Although Archbishop Jensen has not publicly attacked Archdeacon Genieve Blackwell’s appointment as Assistant Bishop of Canberra-Goulburn by Bishop Stuart Robinson, he’s unable to attend the service “for reasons of conscience.”
Instead of being at St. Saviour’s to lead the consecration ceremony, other duties will take him elsewhere. A diplomatic way of managing what otherwise would have been a “red letter” day in Church history: Peter Jensen, Archbishop of Sydney, recognising women priests!
Such an event would have attracted huge media interest, and stirred up the still smouldering and potentially devastating fires of a break-away movement in the world-wide Anglican Communion. Thus, the next most senior NSW bishop, Newcastle’s Dr Brian Farran, will be chief Consecrator.
Amid the formalities and legalities of the two bishops-designates’ consecration, each will swear to pay “true and canonical obedience to Peter, Archbishop of Sydney and all the successors of that bishop in all things lawful and honest.”
Bishop Robinson, who stated after his appointment three years ago to head the Canberra- Goulburn diocese that one of his aims was to encourage the appointment of more women priests, will preside over the Eucharist. Bishop Trevor Edwards, Vicar-General of Canberra- Goulburn, will be the preacher.
Organisers expect Goulburn’s historic Cathedral – mother church of the Canberra- Goulburn diocese – to be packed with a 900-strong congregation for the colourful twohour service, starting at 11 am.
This will include more than 120 men and women clergy from around NSW and interstate, including representatives of other denominations. But no Sydney Anglicans. St. Saviour’s choir, under conductor Greg Oehm, will be augmented from churches throughout the diocese, with David Johnson as organist. Perhaps prophetically, the opening words of the first of three hymns during the ceremony assert: “Here in this place new light is streaming . . .”
In any case, there will be wide interest in these Goulburn events. Yet nowhere near as much as attended moves here 20 years ago to appoint Australia’s first Anglican woman priest, after the Sydney arch-diocese sued Canberra-Goulburn to try to stop the ordination going ahead.
Sydney eventually had its action thrown out of court, but not before the first Australian woman was ordained in WA. She was Kay Goldsworthy, who again made history when she was consecrated Australia’s first female bishop in 2008.
A few weeks later, Sydney-raised former school teacher Barbara Darling was appointed a bishop in Melbourne. Now we’re to see Australia’s third woman bishop emerge from the growing ranks of female Anglican clergy in Australia.
Fittingly, it should be here in Goulburn, which might have been pipped at the altar in ordaining Australia’s first woman priest by legal manoeuvring, but still managed to provide the first of now many in NSW.
But Genieve Blackwell’s consecration, with its attendant arcane and bitter back story for and against the ordination of women, shouldn’t be the full focus of events on March 31. For Ian Lambert, the other new Assistant Bishop consecrated that day, has a quietly interesting back story, too.
He was a Navy officer before changing course to study for the Anglican priesthood at St. Mark’s National Theological Centre, Canberra. He’ll continue as rector of Bateman’s Bay, while adding the South Coast, Monaro and Snowy to his part-time episcopal duties.
Currently Yass-based, Genieve Blackwell will become rector of Turvey Park and Archdeacon of her Wagga Wagga home town, while serving the north and north-west of Goulburn- Canberra diocese.