Belfast Telegraph

Praise be! Church women are smashing stained glass ceiling

By Alf McCreary

The Church of England has finally cleared the way for the appointment of women bishops, and there is rejoicing among many of its members, male and female.

However, outsiders are entitled to ask why it took the English Anglicans so long to do something which the other major Churches sanctioned long ago?

The Church of Ireland was the first in these islands to consecrate a woman bishop, Rev Pat Storey in 2013, and the Irish Presbyterians were the first to ordain women, although they have still to appoint a woman Moderator, and are now at the back of the queue.

I still fail to understand why so many men, and women, have such a mental block about appointing females to leading roles in their Churches, when even a cursory reading of the New Testament reveals the crucial role which many women had in helping to sustain Christianity.

People might ask if it really matters that our Churches should give women the authority which they so truly deserve, but there should be no doubt about it.

Today, women play a leading role in society, and a number have been national Presidents, including two in Ireland.

Women now reach the top of so many professions, from the law to journalism, and from aviation to business and politics, so why not in the Churches?

It is also important that the Church of England has at last cleared the way for women bishops because a significant number of people still support it, despite the secularists spreading rumours to the contrary.

According to this week's Church of Ireland Gazette, the latest statistics show that about one million people attend Church of England services every week, and that the attendance is down by only 1% from last year.

Each week the clergy of the Church of England officiate at around 2,000 baptisms, 1,000 weddings and 3,000 funerals.

There is also a stable trend at Christmas with 2.4 million people attending services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

The Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Steven Croft, said: "At a time when membership of political parties is at an historic low, and in a society which feels increasingly time-squeezed, it is conspicuous that the Church of England's weekly base of worshippers is at one million, with the last census showing many more millions identifying with the church."

Church attendance in Northern Ireland still remains reassuringly healthy, and more people here go to church on a Sunday than watch local sport on a Saturday.

However, support for the Churches is not just a matter of statistics.

They are also a bulwark in the face of an all-out holy war by extreme Islamists against Christianity.

Just 10 years ago there were more than a million Christians in Iraq, and now there are around 250,000. It is estimated that radical Muslims are persecuting Christians in 36 countries.

Christians have been crucified, burnt or buried alive, tortured and decimated just because of their faith, which is currently the most persecuted religion in the world.

Too many in the secular West ignore this, but we will continue to do so at our peril.

The health of our Churches is important to the very survival of our civilisation, whether you are a believer or not.

'The health of our Churches is crucial to our civilisation'

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