Anti-woman priest worships in a shed

MOST OPPONENTS of women priests turn to Rome. But one disaffected Church of England vicar looked no further than the shed in his back garden for the answer to his spiritual dilemma.

The Rev Stephen Weston, who left the Church of England last summer over the ordination of women priests, has constructed a cross-shaped wooden chapel in the garden of his terraced house in Sutton, Norfolk. He calls it: "Stephen's Byzantine Shed". The former rector of Sutton with Ingham and Catfield, in the Norfolk Broads, was received into the Orthodox Church last October. Mr Weston has been licensed as an Orthodox reader, which gives him the authority to conduct services.

He has a congregation of five - mostly disaffected Anglicans - who fit quite neatly into his 18 feet by 13 feet chapel. But it's a bit of a squeeze when Father Alexander Haig, the local Orthodox priest from Colchester, visits once a month. "I'm tall and thin, so I manage," said Mr Weston, "but he is ... broader."

Yesterday was the fifth anniversary of the ordination of the first women priests in Bristol Cathedral, an event which triggered the exodus of 440 Anglican clergymen. Mr Weston, 50, would have left earlier, but he had to hold on until he had done 20 years service in the priesthood in order to qualify for his pension.

"The ordination of women priests was the last straw for me," he said yesterday. "It signified that the bishops who pushed it forward did not regard themselves as guardians of the apostolic faith.

The Church of England ceased to be my spiritual home. Discovering Orthodoxy was like discovering the pearl of great price."

His chapel, which cost pounds 2,000 to build, is dedicated to St Fursey, an Irish saint who arrived in Norfolk in 633. If the congregation hits double figures, Mr Weston will have to find other premises.

"When I put in my application to the council I said it was a private chapel, not a public place of worship," he said.

"I promised that if we ever got into double figures, we would look elsewhere."

For now, Mr Weston is safe. He holds services three times a day, at which he is generally the sole worshipper . On Thursdays the full complement of five attends Bible studies and vespers, and on high days and holidays, such as St Fursey's Day in January, a record 17 turned up. "It has a semi-monastic feel about it," said Mr Weston, "but I only started in October so it's early days yet."

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