Reaction to New Zealand Election Mostly Favorable

Episcopal News Service. January 10, 1990 [90006]

The Rev. Penelope Jamieson, elected in November the Anglican Communion's first woman diocesan bishop, admitted in an interview with a local newspaper that her election "is going to be painful for a lot of people." Yet, Jamieson insisted that the diocese might grow from the tensions resulting from her election. "The people have clearly said this is what they want, and that they will stand by the obvious differences and difficulties that will arise."

Jamieson recognized that her election as bishop of Dunedin would reverberate throughout the Anglican world, but expressed hope it would not be the cause for strife. "We are a separate province," she said of the Anglican Church in New Zealand. "We are autonomous, and I have confidence that the concept of community within the Anglican Church will be wide enough, deep enough, to allow for the acceptance of a woman diocesan bishop."

Jamieson said that the role of a bishop is to "keep a diocese focused on its task, its mission, on the Gospel, on the Christ whom we serve, and to encourage people to live together with their diversity."

When asked how she would approach people who might leave the church because of her election, Jamieson told the Otago Daily Times (Dunedin): "I have no desire to be a stumbling block to anybody. . . . In my experience people leave the church for a large number of reasons, and sometimes the fact that a woman is in a position they find unacceptable is an excuse rather than the reason. I've usually found there are other reasons as well."

Jamieson expressed her own surprise at the news of her election. "I honestly hadn't anticipated that it would happen so soon or that it would happen to me," she said.

"I think I was elected because the diocese felt there was a need, a general urge, to reinterpret the traditional role of a bishop, and to explore ways of bringing it in line with contemporary feeling. I've always thought the Gospel was about now," Jamieson said in an interview.

Roman Catholics offer "prayerful good wishes"

Bishop Peter Cullinane, secretary of the Roman Catholic Bishops Conference, said, "While ordination to the priesthood, including ordination as bishops, is not open to women in the Catholic tradition, the Catholic Church in New Zealand offers prayerful good wishes to the Rev. Penelope Jamieson."

Cullinane said that the appointment raised again the question about why the Roman Catholics and Orthodox churches do not ordain women. He said that the question of ordination should not be confused with questions of the equal dignity of women and men, nor should it be characterized as a matter of "unjust discrimination."

An editorial in the Otago Daily News recognized that Jamieson's election might result in "widening the division with Rome," but added that "she has made some sensible and forthright comments to place the issue in perspective. Her remarks show that she has her feet very much on the ground and recognizes the difficulties that may arise." The paper also suggested that the choice of Jamieson reflects the conscious need for "strong, committed leadership and perhaps the opportunity for new directions to be taken in this modern world."

A similar editorial in the Southland Times (Invercargill) charged: "Women have been serving the church for hundreds of years, mostly in humble capacities, and the time has long been past when they should have attained its highest offices. Only tradition and ingrained prejudices have kept them out and these attitudes are no longer acceptable."

The Nelson Evening Mail wrote: "An argument that any institution should shun women from its key positions sounds pretty antediluvian as we come to the end of what the United Nations has termed the Decade of Women."

The Very Rev. Michael Hurd, dean of Nelson Cathedral, said he would recognize Jamieson as a bishop and believed that there would be more women elected bishops in the future. "We decided 12 years ago that we would have women as priests. Bishops are decided from priests, so it follows on," he said.

The archdeacon of Southland and vicar of St. John's, the Venerable Ken Light, said the election of Jamieson represented the kind of leadership needed by Anglicans. He said her election could not have occurred without "the support of some pretty solid people of Southland and Otago because the feminist lobby isn't that big in the diocesan synod."

Jamieson has also received well wishes from the bishop she will succeed. "I have always supported a women being ordained," said Bishop Peter Mann. "I am very happy the church has now gone the full way," he said.