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ENGLAND: Former atheist Miranda Threlfall-Holmes leads candidates -female bishop

ENGLAND: Former atheist Miranda Threlfall-Holmes leads candidates to be female bishop

by Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent
The Times
July 9, 2008

Women priests who might become bishops include London vicar Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Southwark's Christine Hardman, Dean of Leicester Vivienne Faull, Dean of Salisbury June Osborne, Westminster Abbey's Canon Jane Hedges and St Paul's Canon Lucy Winkett.

But high up the list of potential candidates among the 1,500-plus stipendiary women priests is the slim, auburn-haired Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, a mother of two children in her mid-thirties.

Former atheist Dr Threlfall-Holmes, whose motion for a simple measure to consecrate women without even a code of practice for traditionalists was defeated by the General Synod, was at a girls' grammar school in 1992 when the General Synod voted to ordain women priests.

That debate, at Church House, Westminster in London, was equally dramatic in its own way as this week's on women bishops at the York summer meeting of the Synod. The two-thirds majority in all three houses was achieved by one vote, when a lay woman crossed the floor from the traditionalists' side to vote for women priests at the last minute.

Dr Threlfall-Holmes, who is a chaplain and fellow at Durham University, where she is researching the history of the doctrine of the Trinity, was in a maths lesson when the debate took place. "We insisted on having the radio on in our statistics lesson to hear the vote. A massive cheer went up when it went through. We were clear as women that it mattered."

She became a Christian at Cambridge University when, during a "messy situation", she was reduced to praying the atheist's prayer: "Dear God, if there is a God, please sort this out."

She said: "Suddenly God was there in the room in a way that is impossible to describe, but He was definitely there." Her response was to swear violently. But the whole difficulty she had been wrestling with "melted away" the following day.

Months later, sitting in an empty church pondering whether to accept a job offer, she prayed and heard a voice behind her say: "Be a vicar." She turned around and there was nobody there. "I fought against it for a good couple of years but in the end I could not do anything else," she said.

She assumed at that stage that women's ordination was no longer an issue. It was only on arriving at St John's theological college in Durham to begin her training that she realised how many clergy and laity remained opposed. That prompted her to join the lobby group Women and the Church.

She said that she was worried if traditionalists were upset by the vote but believed the Synod had done the right thing. "I think we made the right decision. Most people thought we made the right decision. I think we did it in a good way."


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