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Christchurch bishop: It's a matter of faith not gender

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    Christchurch bishop: It's a matter of faith not gender - 24-Aug-2008
    Victoria Matthews quietly chuckles when people assume that because she is a woman in a traditionally male role she must be a liberal.

    Stereotypes do not sit well with the 54-year-old Canadian who will be enthroned as the new Anglican Bishop of Christchurch next Saturday. Nor do questions about how she, as a woman, will cope with the role.

    "The challenge has nothing to do with gender. The challenge has to do with coming to a new part of the world and learning a new culture, a new language in part because I don't speak Maori at the moment, and learning to steer the good ship Christchurch wherever God would have her sail."

    After just five days in the country and two in her new job, Matthews told the Star-Times she may be a novelty in New Zealand, but she is part of a long tradition.

    "The Anglican Communion has had women bishops now for about 20 years. I was the first in Canada ... I'm kind of tired about all the talk about firsts. I happen to be a woman who happens to be a bishop. What's the point?"

    Whether she likes it or not, Matthews' appointment as Christchurch's first female bishop has drawn attention around the world. But then Matthews is no stranger to attention.

    As Bishop of Edmonton she brought the diocese back from the brink of bankruptcy. She has twice been in the running to be Primate of the Anglican Church in Canada, the highest post in the country. However, she had to withdraw in 2004 because of breast cancer and lost out in 2007.

    In 2004, she chaired the Task Force on Alternate Episcopal Oversight which looked at the issue of same-sex marriage in Canada.

    Last year, at the Church's General Synod, Matthews voted in favour of a resolution stating "the blessing of same-sex unions is not in conflict with the core doctrine of the Anglican Church", but voted against permitting those blessings.

    Matthews eschews labels, but when pushed, classes herself as a "moderate conservative". She was not brought up as an Anglican but was "called" to the priesthood in her teenage years.

    "I grew up in a very secular home. My mother died when I was 13. I don't think I ever went to church with my family but there was a very strong Anglican girls' school that my mother had gone to and that they sent me to because it was the best education they could provide God bless them for that," she said.

    "When I was about 15... I heard a voice. I don't think anyone else would have heard it but it was as clear as anything. I heard a voice that said `you are my beloved and you will be my priest. And I will never leave you or forsake you'. I knew it was Jesus."

    The Anglican Church did not ordain women at that point so Matthews initially kept quiet about her calling "I was deeply excited within myself but I kept my mouth shut. If I had told anyone I would have been laughed out of town" but as soon as she could, she entered the seminary.

    So how did she end up in New Zealand?

    "After 10 years [as Bishop of Edmonton] I decided I had taken them where I could take them and that new leadership would take them to new heights.

    "So I said, after a great deal of prayer, that I was going to resign the diocese and wait and see what God had in store for me."

    Within an "astonishingly short space of time" she had received an email from a member of the Anglican community in New Zealand asking her if she would consider putting herself forward for the role of Bishop of Christchurch.

    Matthews, who had visited New Zealand on a tramping holiday 24 years earlier, thought it was extremely unlikely she would get the job, but decided she would trust in the Holy Spirit and allow herself to be nominated.

    The news of her appointment as the eighth bishop of Christchurch was heralded by a phone call at 4.30 one morning in February and was greeted with "excitement and delight, and a firm prayer to God that `we're in this together You made this happen so don't leave me now'."

    Matthews has just returned from the Lambeth Conference, the once-in-a-decade worldwide gathering of the Anglican Church which the Bishop of Nelson, Richard Ellena, described as the "most expensive exercise in futility" he had ever been to.

    The 20-day conference was attended by 650 bishops and cost around $15 million to stage but seemed to do little to heal the schism over the appointment of gay clergy and the blessing of same-sex unions.

    "I couldn't disagree more," Matthews said of Ellena's comments. "It was a profound gathering. We went in with our differences... but as time went on people began to see they needed to set aside their differences and stay together for the sake of the Church. That's not an exercise in futility."

    Matthews is part of the Anglican Communion that agreed at the conference not to go ahead with the blessing of same-sex unions but is open to further discussion on it.

    "As I understand it the Anglican Church, in this province, recognises two ways of life. One is marriage, which is between a man and a woman. And the other is celibacy. But if you think I'm going to be the sexual police, you're wrong. I'm not going to be out with my torch peering into people's bedrooms to see what they're up to."
    Ref: - Sunday Star Times - Anglican Church

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