Saturday 29 October 2011

Huffpost's "15 Inspiring LGBT Religious Leaders". Who's Not on the List?

Huffington Post recently published a slide show of 15 "inspiring LGBT religious leaders". They are :

  • Irshad Manji, Muslim and founder and director of the Moral Courage Project at New York University's School of Public Service.
  • Bishop Gene Robinson, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire.
  • Rev. Ouyang Wen Feng, who founded a gay-friendly church outside Kuala Lumpur and is thought to be Malaysia's only openly gay pastor.
  • Imam Daayiee Abdullah, the imam and religious director of Masjid An-Nur Al-Isslaah, and the co-director of Muslims for Progressive Values
  • Bishop Mary Douglas Glasspool serves as the Assistant Bishop of The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles.
  • Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum serves as the spiritual leader of Congregation Beit Simshat Torah, the largest LGBT synagogue in the world.
  • Rev. Troy Perry founded the LGBT denomination of Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) in 1968.
  • Larry Yang is on the Spirit Rock Teachers' Council and a core teacher at the new East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland, Calif.
  • Pastor Manny Santiago is the pastor of University Baptist Church in Seattle, Wa.
  • Rev. Scott Anderson is the first openly gay PCUSA minister ordained after the church voted to allow individual presbyteries to set their own ordination guidelines around sexual orientation.
  • The Rev. Pat Bumgardner is currently the Senior Pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of New York.
  • Rabbi Steven Greenberg, the first openly gay Orthodox rabbi, is Director of Orthodox Programs for Nehirim, the organization for GLBT Jewish culture and spirituality.
  • Bishop Yvette Flunder, founder of the United Church of Christ Church, City of Refuge and presiding Bishop of The Fellowship.
  • Archbishop Carl Bean founded the Unity Fellowship Church Movement, a primarily African American and LGBT denomination.
  • Rev. Malcolm Boyd is an Episcopalian Priest and author of "Are You Running With Me Jesus?"
They also ask their readers, "Who is not on the list?". Perhaps in response to this, number 16 has been added:

  • Justin Lee is the founder and Executive Director of the Gay Christian Network.
So, who else is missing?  I find the selection somewhat idiosyncratic. Some (Gene Robinson, Troy Perry) are household names to LGBT Christians, and I approve the inclusion of people from other (non-Christian) faiths, but others  I have never heard of, and this is a topic I investigate constantly. Is this a reflection on my particular biases?  More troubling to me than these unexpected inclusions, are the omissions. There is not a single Catholic on the list, so I would like to propose some of my own.  Off the top of my head, I suggest the following (more could easily follow):

Fr John McNeill, theologian, therapist and priest, who was forced to leave the Jesuit order to continue writing the truth about sexuality and theology.  His pioneering books, and subsequent work as a therapist, have been an inspiration (and literal lifesaver) to countless gay and lesbian Catholics over nearly four decades.

Fr James Alison, openly gay priest and theologian, who writes not gay theology but theology from a gay perspective, is influencing not only gay Catholics, but also the wider Christian community - including such notable theologians as Archbishop Rowan Williams , primate of the Anglican Church.

Sr Jeanine Grammick, c0- founder of New Ways Ministry, who responded to the simple question "What is the Church doing for my gay brothers and sisters?" with the recognition that what "the church"  was failing to provide, she would attempt to do directly.  This she has continued to do, also over nearly four decades, in spite of direct opposition and hostility from the powerful elites in Rome.

Fr Bernard Lynch, now a London - based priest who was one of the first priests to respond with compassion and dedication to the plight of gay men in New York in the early days of the AIDS crisis, and found from the institutional church not support, but direct hostility and outright persecution. Since then, he has become not simply a gay priest, but one who openly acknowledges his marriage to husband Billy - and an inspiration to London gay Catholics for the wisdom he shares, in talks and in spiritual direction.

Mark D. Jordan, scholar and writer, whose books illuminate so much of the hypocrisy and paradoxes in the institutional Catholic Church, and its response to homoerotic relationships.
Arthur Sullivan, journalist and political conservative, whose fierce advocacy for gay marriage from a conservative perspective have done so much to win over to the cause of LGBT equality, people whose conservative values would not be seen as natural straight allies.

Those are my initial suggestions. Any more? ( I would particularly welcome nominations of more women. ).
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Friday 28 October 2011

Fairfield has Conference on Sexual Diversity - Hartford Courant

Three down, one to go - in the series of conferences on sexual diversity and the Catholic Church. The last of the series is due to take place tomorrow, at Fairfield University. This report from the Hartford Courant focusses on the "concerns" expressed by some Catholics to the bishops that the series is even taking place, concerns that the bishops shared with the organisers.  I (and many others) are far more concerned that the important issues being raised at these conferences are simply being ignored by the bishops. If they refuse to tackle the serious inadequacy of pastoral care for people with real lives to deal with, who will?

As the organisers have made abundantly clear in their advance publicity and commentary, the purpose of the conference series is not to promote dissent from teaching, but to consider the reality of Catholic lives, and the many areas which current teaching and pastoral practice simply does not address.
"When a Catholic university decides to sponsor a conference on sexual diversity, it's a ubject worthy of a bishop's attention.
Fairfield and Fordham universities, both run by Jesuits, an order known not to shrink from thorny issues, have joined with Yale Divinity School and Union Theological Seminary, to host a series of four conferences titled "More Than a Monologue: Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church."The last of the four conferences, one at each school, is Saturday at Fairfield and focuses on lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender priests, nuns or others involved in the Catholic ministry. 
With sessions entitled "Lesbian Nuns: A Gift to the Church" and "Gay Ministry at the Crossroads: The Plight of Gay Clergy in the Catholic Church," some Catholic observers who didn't want to give their names said they half-expected the programs to be shut down on the Catholic campuses.
That hasn't happened, but Bishop William E. Lori in Bridgeport and New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan did weigh in.
About a week after the first conference, held at Fordham University in New York on Sept. 16, Lori and Dolan issued a joint statement saying that they had received "thoughtful expressions of concern from many of the faithful regarding" the four conferences. They said they had shared their concerns with the presidents of Fordham and Fairfield universities.
"Advertisements and commentary in advance of these conferences seemed to imply that they might encourage dissent from the Church's teaching and from her teaching authority," the statement said, "while advocating for erroneous opinions about sexuality dominant in our culture."
The archbishop and bishop went on to say they had been assured by both presidents that the conferences, "while sensitive to the experience of the participants, will not be a vehicle for dissent."Paul Lakeland, a professor of religious studies at Fairfield, said that when he helped plan the series, he knew it could provoke "a certain amount of adverse publicity" and the possibility of having "alumni huff and puff … It's the price you pay for tackling the issues."
Lakeland said he had received some e-mails critical of the conferences."It's important for Catholic universities to address issues of concern in the church," Lakeland said. "That's what we do, and this is one of those issues of concern… The role of the university is to be in a place where the church does its thinking."Christine Firer Hinze, a professor of Christian ethics at Fordham University, said, "We aren't doing this in spite of the fact that we are Catholic; we are doing this because we are a Catholic university."The Rev. James Martin, who is culture editor for America Magazine, a national Catholic publication, said it's "highly unusual" for two Catholic universities to be "providing a forum to talk about a very controversial topic in the church… I would say it was a significant initiative on the part of the organizers."For the Catholic campuses to hold the forums, "I'd say in the present climate it's somewhat daring," said Andrew H. Walsh, associate director of the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College. "But this is not a topic that can be completely suppressed. There is going to be discussion about it."
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Wednesday 26 October 2011

Catholics react to Archdiocese push for constitutional same-sex marriage ban

Catholics from both sides of the issue are weighing in on the plan by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to create ad hoc committees in every Catholic church in Minnesota to push the state’s constitutional same-sex marriage ban.

One lay Catholic who works for a church-affiliated organization, who asked not to be identified for fear of losing their job, told the Minnesota Independent that the organized campaign in support of the marriage amendment was “offensive, divisive and against the image of Christ we see in the Gospels.”

“But honestly after the sex abuse scandal and the cover-ups made by the hierarchy, nothing they do shocks me anymore,” the source said. ”After watching the Catholic Church use funds to pay for their lawyers, pay off victims and now shove through this amendment, I’ve decided to withhold my tithe from the church. I do not want to provide them more money to defend themselves or lobby against me and those I love. Instead, I will give that money directly to services in Minnesota that provide food and housing for the poorest among us."

Minnesota Independent:
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Monday 24 October 2011

Gay / Lesbian Church Weddings for Denmark, 2012.

Denmark was the first country in the world to provide near-marriage for same-sex couples, in a system of registered partnerships that were widely described as "gay marriage". The only surprise in the announcement that like their Scandinavian neighbours Sweden Norway and Iceland they are to extend this to full marriage is that it has taken them so long. (Finland also has plans for full marriage equality).

The real interest here, is that this legislation explicitly includes gay church weddings, as there are already in Sweden and Iceland, with the approval of the dominant Lutheran Church in those countries.
Denmark is the latest European nation to announce plans to introduce gay marriage, with same-sex couples to be allowed to marry on Church of Denmark premises.
The Danish coalition Government’s church minister, Manu Sareen, told local newspaper Jyllands-Posten that gay men and women will soon be able to marry when legislation is introduced early next year.
“I look forward to the moment the first homosexual couple steps out of the church. I’ll be standing out there throwing rice,” he said.
“I have many friends who are homosexuals and can’t get married. They love their partners the same way heterosexuals do, but they don’t have the right to live it out in the same way. That’s really problematic.”
Denmark was the first country in the world to allow gay civil partnerships with legislation in 1989. Public polls suggest around 69-percent of the population supports same-sex marriage according, The Copenhagen Post reports.
The first same-sex weddings could take place as early as March, 2012 after the legislation is passed.
One of the people who participated in Denmark's first near-marriage ceremonies was a minister of religion. For the most part, European Lutherans do not have a problem with partnered gay or lesbian clergy, and most Danes will take this in their stride. Still, there will be some opposition.
....marriage equality in Denmark isn’t welcome by all with some religious leaders opposing the plans fearing it will cause a spilt in the Church of Denmark. Henrik Hojlund, of the Evangelical Lutheran Network, said gay marriage would be “fatal” for the Church and told the same newspaper “The Church of Denmark is being secularised right up to the alter in a desperate and mistaken attempt to meet modern people halfway.”
ATV Today

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Wednesday 19 October 2011

At this Nashville church, once-shunned gays fuel growth

It’s standing room only at Holy Trinity Community Church as the Rev. Cynthia Andrews-Looper wraps up her sermon for the 10:15 a.m. service, one of three she’ll do this morning.

She strays from the pulpit, pacing in front of an architectural rendering of a planned multimillion-dollar expansion to the church.

“Let’s make God-sized goals,” says Andrews-Looper, a former standup comedian.

Like many of her parishioners, Andrews-Looper grew up in an evangelical church — in her case, Independent Fundamental Baptist — and found she was no longer welcome when she revealed she was a lesbian. She started a Bible study with a handful of other gay Christians in July 1996, which eventually led to starting Holy Trinity, affiliated with the United Church of Christ denomination"

Author sheds light on what life is like as openly gay Christian

In his book "Sunday Morning: A Testimony of Life"  Richard Brown shares his personal testimony on life as a gay African-American Christian. Brown hopes to shed light on the world of gay Christians and the struggles they face from the organizations and churches that have challenged the idea of who is worthy to serve the Lord. "Sunday Morning" attempts to stand as a contrast to the developed practices of today's churches and asks for a change to solidarity at all costs.
Through personal experiences and scriptures, the author seeks to show the reader that God loves all people, including homosexuals. He expresses that the growing interest and coverage of same-sex marriage has allowed Christian organizations and churches to express their disdain on the topic of homosexuality."

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Church of England women bishop plan passes key threshold

The proposal to approve women bishops for the Church of England has just passed a key threshold: of the 44 diocesan synods, 28 have already approved the proposal - comfortably more than the half of the total (i.e. 22) that were required, with 14 votes still to come.

While approval at this stage may well have been expected, there are two features that particularly interest me. One is the sheer scale of support, and the other the very clear rejection of a compromise motion, to assuage the male hardliners who simply cannot countenance serving under a woman.

The sheer scale of the support thus far is impressive: 28 synods have voted in favour, and just 2 against. In most of these, support has come from all three houses of bishops, clergy and laity, and frequently by huge margins. The dire warnings of a seriously divided church, and the probability of a serious schism, are unfounded. The dissenting voices are few. When they see the scale of their defeat, most will learn to adapt. Some no doubt will choose to leave, or seek allegiance to an alternative hierarchical  structure - but they will be few.

The compromise motion, recognizing the inevitable victory for the proposal, aimed to sugar the pill for conservative male clergy by providing for alternative structures whereby dissenting male clergy could avoid reporting to female bishops, by working instead with a parallel structure consisting exclusively of men. This is obviously insulting to women, and has been roundly rejected. Just 6 of the 30 votes so far have supported the compromise. That is, 24 have rejected it - already more than half. The compromise cannot reach the minimum of 22 required.

Although it is clearly supported by a majority of the dioceses, this was just one (important) landmark along the way. The proposal still has some way to go. Next, it will have to be approved by the full national synod, with parallel votes in favour required from each of the three houses - of bishops, clergy and laity. The scale of support at diocesan level, coming generally from all three houses, should make passage at this next level pretty  much a formality. Thereafter, it will have to go before the British parliament.
Legislation to introduce women bishops into the Church of England has moved a step closer, according to supporters.
So far 28 out of 30 of the Church's regional councils, the diocesan synods, have voted to endorse the legislation.
Having been backed by most of the 44 diocesan synods, the measure will return to the General Synod next year.
A further motion with extra concessions for Anglicans who cannot accept women bishops has been supported by just six diocesan synods.
The Church's national assembly, the General Synod, may vote finally on the legislation next July.

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Thursday 13 October 2011

"Love in Action": Ex-ex-gay John Smid's Journey of Grace.

This past Tuesday, was "Coming Out Day". One notable example of someone who came out publicly was John Smid, the former director of the ex-gay program "Love in Action". Writing at the website for his new ministry, Grace Rivers, he publicly declared that he is gay, and that in effect, there are no genuine "ex-gays" - only gay people who have learnt to live a life in contradiction with their innate orientation.

A number of LGBT websites and blogs this week are reporting this news. For example, this is from one of the early reports, at LGBTQ Nation:

John Smid, the former Executive Director of Exodus International’s oldest ministry “Love in Action,” has publicly admitted that he is gay, and now says that being LGBTQ is an intrinsic part of a person’s being, not a “behavior” that one can repent from.
Writing on the website of his new ministry, Grace Rivers, Smid said, “One cannot repent of something that is unchangeable.
Smid, who resigned as Executive Director of Love in Action in 2008 — an ex-gay Christian ministry that purports to “restore those trapped” in homosexuality — is now disavowing the message he preached for years that promised gays they could change.

Those are the simple facts. (Wayne Besen has excellent commentary at Falls Church News). What interests me, from the perspective of queer faith, is the story behind the story - what was the journey that led him from director of a major ex-gay program, to coming out himself, and proclaiming publicly the dishonesty that underpins the movement. To learn more, I began to explore his website, Grace Rivers.

Smid summarized part of his spiritual journey in a post for June16 this year, just before the premier of Morgan Fox's documentary film, "This is what Love in Action Looks Like". He has filed the post in the category "A Journey of Grace", and that is precisely what it is.

Back in 2005, when first approached about the planned documentary on the protests outside Love in Action premises,  Smid and his colleagues wanted no part of it.
I had no intention of being any part of this documentary. The Love In Action staff discussed Morgan’s proposal and decided it would be best to remain silent and allow it to be what it would be without any words from me. I was frustrated about the fact that there was a protest and even more that it was being chronicled by someone I believed to be a fringe film artist in the gay community. I wanted no part of any of it.
However, he did agree to an initial meeting with Fox over coffee, and began to modify his views. Instead of seeing Fox as a "fringe film artist", he began to see him as a person of integrity and talent - and began to recognize things about himself, which had been suppressed.

Some years later, after he had left his post at Love in Action, Smid began to further "process the effects of the protests".  In particular, he began to see the negative effects on young people of forcing them into a program against their will, if it was the wish of their parents - on the basis that parents knew best. That led him to arrange further meetings with Morgan Fox, to talk over the protests - and to put these reflections onto additional film.
So, we began to schedule the interviews. I spent many hours with Morgan in front of a camera sharing my life story, answering questions about my 22 year work with Love In Action. We also drove around town to different spots for “B” roll footage for the documentary.

As the film was worked into a DVD, Morgan and I talked a lot about it. We discussed the different directions it could take. I shared my thoughts, Morgan shared his, and it became a kind of project that we both flushed out together
The next phase of the journey came after the filming was complete, and Smid got to see a DVD of the final product - which he disliked. He was uncomfortable and embarrassed to be such a central part of the film - but when he examined his feelings more closely, he found that it was not because of the content of the film, but on the grounds of his part in the Love in Action program itself.

Morgan and I got together and I began to share honestly the things that I had written down that were challenging me about the film. I started with, “Morgan, I feel embarrassed about being seen in the film.

“His face dropped into disappointment. He said, “I’m sorry, John. I didn’t mean……” I said, “No, Morgan, this is about me and my reaction. It isn’t about you or what you produced. His honest response to my comment allowed a very vulnerable conversation to come out. He was humble and yet honest himself. I went on to explain more of my agreement that I had been wrong and that we had done some things that needed correction.

And so it was that from initially being opposed to having any part in the filming, John Smid moved to a point where he wanted to participate in the premier, and has likewise moved from running a program to "convert" gay men into ex-gays, he has now come out publicly as gay himself, and declared that indeed there are no ex-gays.

As a Christian, Smid agrees that gay men may encounter the transforming power of Christ in their lives  - but this transformation does not lead to a change in orientation. For some, it may lead to marriage (to a woman) and children in spite of their orientation, or it may lead to a life of voluntary celibacy - or it may lead to a life in loving partnership with another man.
Actually I’ve never met a man who experienced a change from homosexual to heterosexual. I have met some women who claim that is the case but then again, male sexuality and female sexuality are vastly biologically different so this would not be a fair comparison.
I have met men who find their transformation to include marriage to a woman and having a family and it is something for them that is a wonderful life experience. I’ve met some who find their transformation to include satisfaction in living a single life in Christ and His calling. But, I’ve also met some who experience transformation from sexual promiscuity to a faithful gay relationship that is truly, in their experience, a great blessing to their relationship with Christ.
John Smid's story can hardly be described as "Damascene" - it was not sudden, but took place over a number of years. What is important in it, was the effect of honest and open sharing with another, and honest self-reflection, followed by the courage to admit to the mistakes he had been making in the past, about himself, and about the changes he had been urging on others.

Even the CDF, in their otherwise hostile Pastoral Letter on homosexuality, concludes by reminding us of two key texts in scripture, "Speak the truth in love", and "The truth will set you free".  By beginning to speak the truth with Morgan Fox back in 2005, John Smid allowed the Holy Spirit to do her work, leading him on a notable journey of grace of coming out. That journey began in discomfort and embarrassment, as in coming out to himself showed him the errors of his previous position. It will have continued (probably) in coming out to friends and associates -such as Morgan Fox, whom he now acknowledges as a friend. It reached its culmination this week, in declaring himself in a public blog post. In doing so, I am certain that he will have found confirmation, as countless others have done on coming out, that "The truth will set you free."

John Smid has a new ministry, Grace Rivers, which works for the transforming power of Christ in our lives. As he has now proclaimed forcefully, that transformation should not be seen by the queer community as threatening, but liberating. 
It is our greatest desire to see Christ transform His people. We hope that He may use Grace Rivers as one instrument to do this. We have learned that honesty and authenticity are the vehicles to see the fruit of the Spirit flourish in our lives. We invite you to look through the pages of the Grace Rivers website to see events, articles and tools to reflect our desire. It is our hope you will see Jesus reflected in the truths set forth here.

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Women bishops get clergy blessing

"THREE-quarters of Anglican church leaders in Staffordshire have thrown their support behind allowing women to become bishops, despite concerns from some churchgoers.

The move has been described as "long overdue" and will finally place women on the same footing as their male counterparts in the Church of England."

The Lichfield Diocesan Synod met on Saturday to debate and vote on the motion.

The diocese is headed up by the 98th Bishop of Lichfield, the Right Reverend Jonathan Gledhill, and is served by 294 full-time stipendiary (paid) clergy and an even larger number of non-stipendiary (volunteer) clergy and lay ministers.

Ninety-four people voted in favour of the changes, 31 were against and two abstained.

Although the national body, the General Synod, has already agreed in principle to women becoming bishops, it still needs to win the backing of at least half of the 44 dioceses across England for it to become law.

Sunday 9 October 2011

Lichfield Diocesan Synod approves women bishops plan

"A Midlands church council has approved draft legislation which would allow women bishops in the Church of England.

The Lichfield Diocesan Synod, which covers Staffordshire and parts of Shropshire, the Black Country and West Midlands, met on Saturday.

It is one of 44 regional councils to discuss the proposals which have passed the first stages at the Church of England General Synod.

The debate in Stafford heard from a range of speakers.

If the draft law is approved by at least half of all the 44 diocesan synods, it can return to the General Synod for further debate.

If approved there, it will be sent to Parliament for approval and Royal Assent.

Gavin Drake, Lichfield Diocesan director of communications, said the draft law had so far been approved by 19 other diocesan synods.

By the end of the year, the draft legislation is due to have been debated by all 44 synods."

BBC News

Saturday 8 October 2011

‘Overwhelming’ support for female bishops at Synod meeting - Ripon - Ripon Gazette

The Anglican proposal to approve female bishops needs the support of a majority of diocesan synods to move ahead. So far, every single one has voted in favour, in most cases overwhelmingly - as in this instance, from Yorkshire. 

That will not end the matter: it will still need approval at the national synod from each of the three houses of bishops, clergy and laity. But the pattern thus far is that at diocesan level, support has in fact been coming from all three houses. This proposal will pass. Once it has become a fact, opposition will fade away, just as opposition to women priests faded once people met the reality of women priests - and recognized their value.

"Church leaders from North Yorkshire and Leeds have voted overwhelmingly in favour of women bishops.
The Diocese of Ripon and Leeds stretches from south Leeds to the borders with County Durham.
Its Synod, or governing body, met on Saturday, October 1, at the David Young Community Academy in Leeds to debate a draft measure called ‘Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women), which has been forwarded to every diocese in the country by the General Synod.
The Synod decided overwhelmingly in its favourwith the vote to approve the women bishops’ measure going 74 in favour and 7 against with 2 abstentions."

'via Blog this'
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Wednesday 5 October 2011

Savage Love on the Catholic Church | The Fairfield Mirror

"An openly gay and popular syndicated sex columnist was raised in a Roman Catholic family and at one point attended a school for men looking to become priests. When he admitted his sexuality to his mother, he thought, like other members of the gay community, that he was saying he wouldn’t get married and that he wouldn’t be able to provide her grandchildren.
Today, he’s gay, he’s married and he’s raising a child with his husband. Now he’s making his case for homosexuality against the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church should change its negative opinion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning people (LGBTQ), said Dan Savage in his keynote address for the “Pro-Queer Life” conference on Saturday. Fairfield University provided transportation for students to see him speak at Union Theological Seminary in New York."

The Fairfield Mirror:
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Saturday 1 October 2011

Women bishops law in Anglican Church makes progress

"This month the campaign to allow women bishops in the Church of England could clear another hurdle.

Supporters are surprised and encouraged by the backing it has been getting in the Church's regional councils, or synods.

"We were expecting positive votes but the overwhelming majorities have been more encouraging than we expected," says Helena Jenkins, a parishioner of St Luke's church in Sevenoaks, Kent.

"I like to think it's the Holy Spirit moving, because I just feel so strongly that this is the right way for the Church to go," says Ms Jenkins, a member of the campaign group Women and the Church.

"And I think even some people who have difficulty with the idea of women in ministry have been listening perhaps more than they were."

The measure needs the approval of half the synods of the Church's 44 dioceses before it returns to the General Synod, which could take a final vote on the measure next July.

So far all the 17 diocesan synods which have voted have backed the legislation."

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