First woman priest at St Paul's suffered hate-mail and abuse

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THE BITTER feud over the ordination of women erupted again last night after revelations that one of the country's high-profile priests had been subjected to prolonged antagonism from church and congregation.

The Reverend Lucy Winkett, the first woman priest at St Paul's Cathedral, claimed she received hate-mail, suffered rude comments, and was shunned by colleagues.

Finally, worn out by the rejections, she broke down in tears when male servers appeared to snub her during a service. Her sobs, caught on camera by a BBC television documentary crew, provide evidence that hostility aimed at women priests exists. The programme is to be screened in 10 days time.

The Reverend Winkett's obvious enthusiasm upon her appointment as a minor canon at the cathedral was continuously eroded by opponents to female ordination.

Repeatedly, antagonists boycotted her Eucharist services and refused to accept her left-over consecrated wafers while the cathedral's tercentenary celebrations were marked by the obvious absence of one group of London diocesan clergy.

Even her own colleagues aired their opposition. Some male canons refused to have anything to do with her whilst others would not serve by her side at the altar. Canon John Halliburton refused to recognise her authority as a priest.

The repeated rejection, she said, was a "heavy and painful" burden to carry.

"I don't like being emotional in public. That's not how I am. I wouldn't say I regret being seen that way - it happened, it's there, it's part of the cost of doing what is natural to me, trying to live out my calling.

Two years after her appointment the Reverend Winkett remains guarded , insisting that her time at St Paul's has had its "happy" moments.

She asserted recently that she would forge links with the "enemy" rather than complain about the treatment she has received. She has developed a strong, respectful relationship with her main opponent, the Reverend Halliburton.

"If there is ever to be any change, we cannot keep banging on about how angry we make each other," said the 31-year-old.

She is now half way through a five-year appointment and insisted that she was "peaceful".

"My main concern is to be a priest here. If that brings with it controversy, so be it," she said.

The daughter of a civil servant and history teacher, Ms Winkett chose the priesthood after gaining a history degree at Cambridge. The death of her boyfriend, Andrew Stillwell, in a climbing accident forever changed her girlhood ambitions to gain a "job, house, man and car" though she insisted it was not the key factor in her decision to seek ordination.

A fellow female priest who studied with her at Queen's College, Birmingham, described her as an honest, compassionate and committed person who would obviously go far.

Yet, when she joined St Paul's from the Ilford parish in January 1997 at the height of the furore over women priests, she was attacked from all sides.

The Reverend Malcolm Gray, London chairman of the traditionalists, Forward in Faith, declared that St Paul's no longer provided his followers with a spiritual home.

Months later the Reverend Andrew de Berry, member of the Manufacturing, Science and Finance union clergy section, said Ms Winkett had been subject to "out-and-out chauvinism and bigotry".

Yesterday it was revealed that much of this hostility was evident when the televsion crew went into St Paul's to film a documentary of the same name. The three-part series is to be screened from Sunday June 27 on BBC 2.

Yesterday Steve Jenkins, spokesman for the Church of England, insisted: "Things are changing and moving forward.

"Most people will recognise that documentaries are historical by nature."

He said the church recognised both schools of thought and had done a "remarkable job" dealing with both within its priesthood and congregations.

In a statement yesterday, the Dean of St Paul's, the Very Reverend Dr John Moses, said: "What is portrayed in the programmes does not pretend to be anything more than a partial representation of St Paul's, but shows something of the aspirations and tensions that are an inescapable part of the life of all cathedrals."

He said the cathedral "must be seen to be publicly accountable" and had therefore allowed Wall to Wall Television to make the documentary.

"It is never easy for any institution - and certainly for a busy cathedral - to be shadowed day after day by television cameras in preparation for a series over which, at the end of the day, the institution - and in the case of St Paul's the Dean and Chapter - has no editorial control."

Since the first ordination five years ago, 2,000 women have been ordained, of which almost 800 are in charge of parishes.

The change in Church of England legislation, however, prompted hundreds of its clergy to defect to the Roman Catholic church.