Wait is over for woman in charge of her parish

Mother Bethley Sullivan and Archdeacon Peter MacLeod-Miller. Picture: PETER MERKESTEYN
Mother Bethley Sullivan and Archdeacon Peter MacLeod-Miller. Picture: PETER MERKESTEYN

MOTHER Bethley Sullivan is no ordinary priest — for a start she isn’t paid a stipend to run a large parish, and she lets prison inmates do jobs for her.

The former bush nurse loves The Vicar of Dibley and has even dressed up as Dawn French’s character for a laugh.

But what first really set her apart was her sex — a woman priest in an Anglican diocese traditionally opposed to having women as priests, rectors or bishops.

While Bishop Robert Beal appointed a woman deacon in 1989 and a handful followed, no woman was ordained a priest by a Wangaratta bishop until 2010, and that was Mother Sullivan.

Today there are about eight women priests.

Meanwhile, the controversy of women priests in the worldwide Anglican communion goes on.

Today Bishop John Parkes will belatedly induct Mother Sullivan as priest-in-charge at Beechworth and Eldorado, although she has been in the job three years.

The delay was apparently was caused by the powers-that-be wishing to avoid offence to the diehards still uncomfortable about women priests.

Archdeacon Peter MacLeod-Miller is a strong supporter of women priests and will happily take part in today’s ceremony, as he sees St Matthews “as a former bastion against the ordination of women”.

“At a time when disagreements across the Anglican communion are spreading like wild fire, Bethley’s induction is a sign of great unity and healing,” he said yesterday.

“She was the first woman deaconed and priested in the diocese at a time when Wangaratta led the way in opposing women priests.

“With Bethley the wind has suddenly shifted and now subsequently many women have been welcomed as priests and deacons in the diocese.”

Mother Sullivan answers her phone as “Bethley” but says everyone calls her Mother.

“I’m comfortable with that title, rather than Reverend,” she said.

A single woman, she has an independent income, lives in a retirement village and is also a carer.

She has led a full restoration of Christ Church, Beechworth, and regularly welcomes inmates from Beechworth Correction Centre to work there.

“They have built a gazebo for us and are coming back to work in the gardens,” she said.

Today’s ceremony at Christ Church, Beechworth, starts at 6pm.