Woman priest tells of her vision on road to St Paul's

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The Rev Lucy Winkett, the first woman priest to be appointed to the staff of St Paul's Cathedral, in London, joined a panel of her male colleagues and spoke for the first time yesterday about the controversy her appointment has created.

At a press conference called by the Dean of St Paul's, Dr John Moses, in order to "set her free", Ms Winkett sat beside Canon John Halliburton, the man who has made it clear he does not recognise her status as a priest.

But, at pains to present a united front, the newly appointed 29-year- old minor canon turned to the Cathedral's chancellor, who stands at the opposite end of the theological spectrum when it comes to the ordination of women, and said she was "quite proud of the Church of England that it's found this way of living with difference."

Canon Halliburton made it clear that he would not let his views get in the way of his personal relationship with Ms Winkett, whom he had not seen since the interview after which he abstained from voting. He went as far as to joke: "I may, one day, sit down and have a deep, spiritual talk with Lucy about my feelings, but I won't start asking for absolution."

He played down reports that he would "boycott" Ms Winkett's Communion services. "I shall do nothing of the sort," he insisted. "I shall quietly not be present."

Ms Winkett, a curate at St Michael's and St Mary's in Ilford, east London, told the assembled journalists about her calling to the ministry. "For me, it was quite a sudden decision," said the Cambridge graduate who, at 23, had expected to pursue a career in music.

"I was sitting in a church service one evening and it just kind of happened. Something clicked inside of me and I wanted to be a priest from that moment." Although back then, entering the priesthood was not a possibility, her "conviction" never left her.

Reports that she had joined the Church following the death of her boyfriend, Andrew Stillwell, in a climbing accident, were exaggerated, Ms Winkett claimed. "It's a very neat pattern that looks very obvious. That the death of someone close leads to a vocation in the Church, but I can't say that was the position. As I've said before, the experience of bereavement is a catastrophic one. A full stop. There isn't one logical step from one to another. Death isn't like that."

For Ms Winkett, one of the most exciting aspects of her new job, which starts in September, is the singing. "To hear a woman's voice singing the Communion in St Paul's will be a wonderful thing," she said.

It is a task for which she is well qualified. Not only did she study at the Royal College of Music, but she sang secular rock songs in a Cambridge band called - by sheer chance - the Ordained. She was, however, reticent about the idea of introducing her acoustic-electric guitar to the Church of England heartland. Asked whether there was a place for rock 'n' roll at Britain's most famous cathedral, she looked rather bemused. "I don't know," she said. "Honestly, I don't."