‘Vicar of Dibley’ church votes to ban women pastors despite 4-year vacancy

Yui Mok - WPA Pool/Getty Images
Yui Mok - WPA Pool/Getty Images

While the laws of the Church of England allow female vicars, the council of a local church — which was once home to the star of BBC’s television series “The Vicar of Dibley” about a female priest — has banned women from taking up the role at a time when the parish has been without a vicar for four years.

St. Fimbarrus Parish Church is situated in the Cornish town of Fowey, England, home to Dawn French, the 65-year-old actress and comedian best known for her role as Geraldine Granger in the BBC series for 15 years.

The parish’s Parochial Church Council has passed a resolution not to have women vicars, and the Rev. Angela Berners-Wilson, the first woman to be ordained as a Church of England priest, described it as a “shame,” The Telegraph reported. 

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“It seems a shame that they are still without a vicar as they don’t want a woman as Priest in Charge — that is their right under Church-agreed legislation. However, at least they do accept women’s priestly Ministry which is something!” Berners-Wilson was quoted as saying.

The CofE’s General Synod voted to ordain women as priests in 1992, and ordinations began two years later. In 2014, it voted to allow women to be ordained as bishops for the first time. However, it is up to each individual PCC to decide who will lead their congregation.

The church decided to ban women vicars after a few members said they would quit the church unless it was led by a man.

Church Warden Carol Carruthers was quoted as saying that while their Evangelical church looks to the Bible for guidance on all matters of faith and while the Bible is clear about equality, there is "debate about the roles women play in the church."

“The Bible, written 2,000 years ago, was ahead of its time in its progressive attitude to women. There is, however, debate over the roles women play within the church. The church council has agreed a compromise position where we will both welcome women priests to teach the bible faithfully each Sunday and lead communion, but seek an overall male priest in charge."

She added: “We appreciate this can be difficult to understand looking from the outside into the church, but would robustly defend that this position is not sexist, is widely established in the worldwide church, and accommodates all views in the membership of our church without exclusion.”

The Fimbarrus church’s decision stands in sharp contrast to the appointment of Rev. Shona Hoad, who is now the vicar of the neighboring communities of Tywardreath and Golant, The Sunday Times noted. 

A local business owner, Sinead Hanks, was quoted as saying that Hoad is an excellent example of what a vicar should be.

Hanks described her as young, dynamic and likeable.

Her appointment has made the situation in Fowey more frustrating, as many people there would also like a female vicar to revitalize their community, Hanks added, calling the decision nonsensical and untenable.

Wendy Jane, a parishioner, wrote a message for the Fimbarrus PCC on Facebook: “Waiting ... as are a lot of Fowey residents, for your justification and explanation regarding this decision. … Have you ever considered that your unhealthy views on women and their contribution to faith may be a reason that the congregation at Fowey church now consists of a handful of people?”

The role of women in church is also a subject of debate in the United States.

Saddleback Church, the California-based megachurch founded by Rick Warren in 1980, was recently expelled from the Southern Baptist Convention for having a woman fill the office of teaching pastor. The church plans to appeal the decision at the denomination's Annual Meeting in June. Since Warren's retirement last year, the church has been led by Andy and Stacie Wood. 

In a podcast interview with former SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, the bestselling author of The Purpose Driven Life laid out three Scripture passages that led him to conclude it was acceptable for women to become pastors.

Warren cited Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 2 and John 20:17.

“This is not a battle between liberals and conservatives. All the liberals left a long time ago. Everybody in the SBC believes in the inerrancy of Scripture,” said Warren. “Now we are talking about difference of interpretation.”

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