BELFAST — RECENT ordination here of the first two women to become Anglican Church ministers in Europe has heightened interest within the British Isles in a deeply divisive issue for the church. The Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Rev. Robin Eames, has been asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Robert Runcie, to head a commission to consider the effect on the Anglican Communion of the appointment of women bishops.
Dr. Eames presided over the general synod which decided by a two-thirds majority at its general synod in Dublin last May to give women equal opportunity with men in the priesthood.
The Rev. Irene Templeton and the Rev. Kathleen Young were ordained June 24, along with five men, by Bishop of Connor Samuel Poyntz in St. Anne's Cathedral. The new ministers are members of the Church of Ireland, which has 390,000 members in Northern Ireland and 97,000 in the Irish Republic.
The Church of Ireland is the seventh in the Anglican Communion to ordain women, after the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Africa and Brazil.
There has been opposition among a minority of Irish clergy, and sensitivity to this was reflected by Canon John Bartlett, principal of the Church of Ireland Theological College in Belfast, who spoke at the ordination in St. Anne's.
``Our happiness for some today must be tempered with concern for other faithful servants of the church who in conscience find this a difficult piece of history,'' he said.
A number of Irish Anglican clergy have expressed deep reservations, and in some cases, strong opposition, to the ordination of women.
Bishop Poyntz said that the Church was small enough and cohesive enough to cope with such tensions, and said that the views of those who disagreed on the issue had not ``gone unheard.''
Mrs. Young will minister in the parish of Carrickfergus, County Antrim. Mrs. Templeton is married and has a five-year-old son. She will minister at Kilmakee, outside Belfast.
Both women, who formerly were deacons, were praised by Poyntz. He said, ``They are remarkable in many ways, and they are bringing with them considerable experience and pastoral gifts.''
The Presbyterian Church in Ireland has ordained women for some two decades, although the conservative wing won an important concession at its June Assembly, whereby ministers do not have to take part in the ordination of women if this is against their conscience.
Two more women are expected to be ordained by the Church of Ireland in September.