Sailing to the Edge of the World

Shelia Fletcher questions the relationship between women and the church from the early nineteenth century.

History, naturally, was called into service in the recent debate in the Church of England Synod on the ordination of women: history going back to the time of Christ, to St Augustine, to the Venerable Bede, to what were termed 'the loins of Henry VIll' and to the father of Mr John Selwyn Gummer. But perhaps the most illuminating reference was not to any aspect of the history of the Church, but to Columbus. The Reverend John Sentamu, who comes from Uganda, told his fellow-members that they could not wait for ever for theology to settle a great question of experience; reminding them that Columbus had discovered that the world was actually round, not flat, because he was prepared to sail to the edge of it. In fact, the role of women in the Church of England – at least from the end of the nineteenth century – has divided those who are ready to sail from those who are afraid of sailing over the edge.

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