When the Rev. Genieve Blackwell is consecrated Assistant Bishop of Canberra-Goulburn by Bishop Stuart Robinson, the Archbishop of Sydney, and Metropolitan of New South Wales, Peter Jensen will stay away “for reasons of conscience,” which makes sense considering the fact that he sued to prevent women from entering the episcopate.
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.
Blackwell will be the fourth woman consecrated bishop from the ranks of Australian clergy.
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.
Canberra-Goulburn might have been the first woman consecrated had not Bishop Jensen and the Sydney Archdiocese sued to prevent it.
Soon after Bishop Robinson was appointed to lead the Canberra Goulburn diocese almost three years ago, he stated that one of his aims would be to encourage the appointment of more women to higher clerical office.
Canberra Goulburn has been a leader in Anglican agitation for more women priests for many years. The first of a growing number of female priests to be ordained in NSW came from this diocese 20 years ago.
It would have been the first such appointment in Australia had the Sydney Arch-diocese not sued Canberra Goulburn to try to stop the historic occasion.
Sydney eventually had its action thrown out of court, but in the meantime a woman had been ordained in WA. She was Kay Goldsworthy, who again made history in 2008, when she was consecrated as Australia’s first female Bishop. (Two more women Bishops have subsequently been appointed in Australia).