The Church of Ireland has broken the mould by appointing its first woman bishop and sends a message to other strands of Anglicanism that such a move is possible within the spirit of the Christian faith.
Londonderry rector the Rev Pat Storey is the first woman to attain bishop status on these islands. The Church of Wales recently approved the concept of female bishops; the Scottish Episcopal Church is also in favour, but the Church of England has still to back what for many traditionalists in Anglicanism remains, for them, theologically, a step too far.
Whatever reservations some Christians may have about this quite radical appointment, the new bishop comes across as a cleric and a person of great warmth, intelligence and spiritual depth.
The move from a small church on the historic walls of Londonderry to the southern diocese of Meath and Kildare, with 17 parishes, will be a daunting challenge for this affable Belfast-born woman. The appointment by the male-dominated House of Bishops took even the Rev Storey by surprise, but it indicates that the Church of Ireland hierarchy, on this most contested issue within global Anglicanism, is not prepared to be hidebound by tradition or same-sex succession.
The call to the bishopric for Pat Storey, whose husband Earl is also a Church of Ireland cleric, has been warmly welcomed by leaders of the other main churches in Northern Ireland, including the Roman Catholic Church.
The Methodist Church in Ireland currently has a female President, but, while the Presbyterian Church has women ministers, the likelihood of departure from male succession for the moderatorship remains a far distant prospect.
For fundamental Protestants and Roman Catholics, strict interpretation of Biblical teaching precludes a woman as the church’s earthly head. Which requires Rev Storey’s upgrade to be seen through the prism of one particular denomination.