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American Woman Priest Tells Bishops: We Strengthen Church

July 23, 1988

CANTERBURY, England (AP) _ A woman priest from the U.S. Episcopalian church told a conference of Anglican bishops Friday that fund raising had increased during her three years as rector of All Saints parish in Indianapolis.

The Rev. Nan Arrington Peete, in an address related to the divisive issue of women priests in the Anglican communion, said contributions in her parish had increased by 40 percent over the past three years.

She also said her congregation of about 150 fed impoverished people six days a week and in the winter of 1986 lodged the homeless in the church because the city’s 13 Episcopal churches had no other shelter.

″It was a transforming experience for the congregation,″ Ms. Peete said.

But a male opponent of female priests declined even to say whether or not he recognized Ms. Peete as a minister.

The ordination of women priests and bishops is the most difficult issue facing the 525 bishops from 164 countries at the Lambeth Conference, which is held every 10 years.

About half the audience, which included the wives of 380 bishops, gave Ms. Peete a standing ovation.

The bishop of London, Graham Leonard, a leader of the group opposing women priests, told the conference he did not believe the ordination of women was ″a legitimate development.″

″It is, I believe, a fundamental change for which a much greater doctrinal consensus is required and from the greater part of the Christian church,″ he said.

Answering questions later at a news conference, Leonard said: ″I’m not prepared to say the Rev. Nan Peete is a priest, but I’m not prepared to say she isn’t.″

Ms. Peete said the invitation to address the gathering came from the archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, leader of the world’s 70 million Anglicans. He is presiding over the three-week conference.

Opponents of the ordination of women as priests say that issue has created problems among U.S. Episcopalians, who began ordaining women in 1977. A statistical handbook puts the U.S. Episcopal Church membership at 2.5 million, a decline of about 500,000 over the past decade.

According to statistics released by the Anglican Consultative Council, a liaison body of the 27 self-governing churches worldwide, seven Anglican churches have ordained 1,269 women priests, 958 of them by the U.S. Episcopalians and others by churches in Canada, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Kenya, Uganda and Brazil.

The 20 other churches have refused to ordain women and apparently are awaiting guidance from the Lambeth Conference.

The U.S. Episcopalians are now preparing to consecrate the first woman bishop and Runcie has said that could break up the Anglican communion because opposing bishops would not feel in communion with her. Some opponents say that although they might accept women priests, they cannot accept a woman bishop because bishops are considered to be the successors of the all-male apostles of Christ.

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