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Two Tracks to ‘Communion’

What might Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’s “two-track” model for the Anglican Communion (see the previous New Oxford Note) look like at the local level? We have been given an advance peek at the Anglican Blackburn Cathedral in Lancashire, England — and it ain’t pretty.

Blackburn, according to The Times of London (July 25), has for decades been a stronghold of opposition to women’s ordination; both the bishop of Blackburn and the dean are said to be among the opposition. But the cathedral recently installed its first female priest, Sue Penfold, as one of its three residentiary canons. Why here? Why now? Penfold was appointed to Blackburn, said cathedral canon Andrew Hindley, to reflect the “broad views” of the Anglican Communion.

In order to accommodate those holdovers who “do not recognize her ministry,” The Times reports, Blackburn clergy agreed to offer “untainted” bread blessed earlier by a male canon from the “reserved sacrament” during the main 10:30 AM Sunday services presided over by Penfold. Bread blessed by Penfold is also available for those who support her presence — and all that it entails. The Times puts general attendance on Sunday mornings at about 200, with “half a dozen who refuse to receive the sacrament from a woman.”

So now there will presumably be two communion lines — two “tracks” — during Penfold’s services: One that leads to bread she has blessed and a second that takes worshipers to bread blessed by a male priest. “It was agreed by all the clergy and cathedral chapter that this was the best way to handle what we call a mixed economy,” said Hindley. The situation “is not ideal,” he admitted, “but we are trying to be inclusive.”

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