City welcomes its first female Anglican priest 

IT’S Sunday morning and Robyn Shackell is standing in front of more than 70 parishioners at Warrnambool’s Anglican Church.

After waiting for more than 20 years, Reverend Shackell’s voice is at last delivering a Eucharist service as the city’s first female priest, having been ordained on Saturday along with Ararat’s Anne McKenna. 

The Ballarat diocese of the church approved the ordination of female priests in October following decades of agitation. 

“It was a very long time. I first felt like God was calling to me to be a priest 27 years ago and the first women were ordained in Australia 25 years ago,” she told The Standard following Sunday’s service. 

Sydney, the Murray and North-West Australia are the only remaining Anglican dioceses not to ordain women as priests. 

“I believe God has given me certain abilities that will be helpful for His people.”

“Over the years this diocese has been a conservative diocese and so for some people the thought of what has been a traditionally male role has been difficult,” Reverend Shackell said.

“There are still a few priests in this diocese who find it difficult, but they’ve been very gracious. But in this parish they’ve been wonderfully supportive.” 

She’s not wrong. After the hymns end parishioners formed a line for a special blessing but most just wanted to say congratulations and offer hugs. 

A busload of well-wishers witnessed her ordination at the Ballarat Anglican Cathedral by Bishop Garry Weatherill.

But the 67-year-old isn’t taking on the local parish leadership and instead will conduct services in an honorary role with parish priest Father Scott Lowery. 

Her journey to ordination started thousands of kilometres away from Warrnambool in the red centre. “I was actually travelling around Australia and I went to a little church in Tennant Creek and they didn’t have a priest there and because I’d done some theological studies already it just seemed that God was calling to “Robyn you have the skills, why don’t you think about being a priest,” she recalled. 

“On that holiday the call became stronger and so then I came back and I spoke to the local parish priest. Obviously I couldn’t become a priest in this diocese at that stage because we hadn’t had the legislation.” 

Over time she became a chaplain to businesses and workplaces around Warrnambool and was ordained as a deacon five years ago. 

Primary school teaching and psychology are also listed on her resumè. 

But the new priest is confident the altar is where she belongs. 

“God has always been really important in my life and just the wonder of creation and the wonder of God caring for us as individuals.

“The wonder of God sending His son Christ for us to show His love to us has always been really important to us.” 

“I believe God has given me certain abilities that will be helpful for His people.”

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