Vicar who objects to women bishops is being chauvinist, pure and simple

Father Howard Stoker, vicar of St Andrew's Church, Holt

Father Howard Stoker, vicar of St Andrew's Church, Holt - Credit: Archant

Liz Nice says Father Howard Stoker of St Andrew's Church, Holt, hasn't a leg to stand on when suggesting there would be something wrong with having a female Bishop of Norwich.

Bearing in mind I stopped going to church in my early 20s, my view on women in the Church may not hold much sway.

But, quite frankly, I cannot see a single reason why a woman shouldn't be a bishop.

The Church has changed so much, even in my lifetime.

Women priests, so hotly debated in the early 90s, are commonplace and I know at my own church, where my parents are still regulars, the idea of whether a woman or a man is officiating is neither here nor there.

As long as someone turns up, nobody minds what body parts they have.

This is not, now, even considered modern.

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Vicars are judged for the way they relate to their parishioners, whether they 'go on' too long, and for the empathy they show both during, before and after the service.

How these qualities are gender related, I cannot begin to fathom.

'Sticklers' are frowned upon. Politics from the pulpit is derided. Comments about certain members of the Royal Family have led to mild uproar (I was on the vicar's side) but again, whenever I heard these tales related by churchgoing friends or members of my family, I never remember anyone mentioning whether the vicar in question was male or female. In just three decades, it had ceased to matter.

Father Howard Stoker from St Andrew's Church in Holt seems to be an anachronism at best, an outright chauvinist pig at worst after stating that he would not support a woman replacing the retiring Bishop of Norwich.

In a letter to his parishioners, he stated: 'Ever since the ordination of women as priests and more recently as bishops there are those like myself who still cannot fully accept their sacramental ministry in the Church.

'Such a position is not lightly held and is one based upon an understanding of scripture, apostolic tradition and the authority of the Church of England in relation to the wider one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, and nothing has happened to make me change my opinion.'

Nothing has happened?

What planet is this man living on?

We have female priests, deans and a number of bishops.

We have traditionally Luddite congregations who used to rant and rave about the thought of a woman preaching at them but now accept them warmly and gladly and never give their gender a thought.

Father Stoker may be surprised, too, to discover that it is now 101 years since women got the vote.

That women are running companies. That women actually go out to work. That we have a female Prime Minister?

All of this, sadly, appears to have passed him by however and his effort to try and make this a sacramental matter, to endeavour to bury the issue in the mysteries of Church doctrine and the question of whether God would want a woman administering the Sacrament, I find repulsive.

Everything about the Church is man made.

The traditions, the scriptures, the way services are conducted.

If God exists, he has liberated man to interpret Him and His message as he sees fit.

Father Howard Stoker has exercised that freedom in the most despicable way – by still trying, in 2019, to keep women down, to suggest that if a woman were to hold such a high position in the Church here in Norfolk, then there would be something wrong in that, when surely, over the last 2000 years, we have moved far away from that attitude, in the Church and in every other walk of life?

I also wonder how Father Stoker's female parishioners feel about him now? I certainly wouldn't want a vicar who considers women to be lesser in any way and I can't imagine how they can.

Father Stoker ended his letter with a plea for continuing to be 'united in faith, hope and love' but I'm afraid, when it comes to unity, the man doesn't know the meaning of the word. What he means is, unity between men, all boys together, women, know your place.

I know where I'd like to put him.