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Female cleric will enthrone new head of Anglican Church

Today's enthronment promises to be a colorful, multicultural affair.

Female cleric will enthrone new head of Anglican Church
John Bingham
United Kingdom

March 21, 2013

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African dancers will surround the throne of St Augustine, there will be Punjabi music, a Burundian blessing and even improvisation – on the organ.

But perhaps the most dramatic statement about the future of the Church of England in the service to formally install the new Archbishop of Canterbury this week will be that he will be enthroned by a woman.

The Venerable Sheila Watson, the Archdeacon of Canterbury, one of the most senior female clerics in the Church of England, will perform the first of two inductions in a service to formally recognise the Most Rev Justin Welby as the 105th archbishop at the city’s cathedral on Thursday.

In a show of unity not seen since a rift over homosexuality opened up eight years ago, all of the primates of the 77-million strong Anglican Communion are expected to attend and worship under the same roof.

Although the service contains elements dating back 1,400 years, there will also be a series of departures from tradition.

When the Archbishop arrives, and is forced to bang on the cathedral door for admission, he will be grilled by one of the younger members of the congregation before being allowed in.

But perhaps the most striking image of the day will be when he takes his place on the diocesan throne to be installed as bishop of the diocese of Canterbury.

By recent traditional all bishops in the southern province of England are enthroned by the Archdeacon of Canterbury.

Mrs Watson, whose husband Derek is the former Dean of Salisbury, is the first woman to hold the position and will be the first to enthrone the most senior cleric in the Anglican church.

She will announce his induction into the “into the possession of the Archbishopric of Canterbury, with its rights and honours, and with its duties and opportunities of service”.

It comes just four months after the Church was sent into crisis by the rejection at the General Synod of plans to ordain women as bishops.

Mrs Watson’s recent duties have included carrying out the enthronement of the new Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, who opposes women bishops and does not ordain women priests.

But her central role in the enthronement service underlines the level of support for women to be admitted to the episcopate.

The Archbishop will later take his place on a Chair of St Augustine to be installed as “Primate of All England and Metropolitan” – or leader of the Church of England – by the Dean of Canterbury, the Very Rev Robert Willis.

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