HISTORY was made in Bahrain yesterday with the ordination of the first female priest in the Middle East. Reverend Catherine Dawkins was officially ordained by the Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf, the Right Rev Michael Lewis, during a ceremony at St Christopher's Cathedral, Manama, last night.
She became the first woman to be ordained following a vote by members of the four dioceses of Egypt, Jerusalem, North Africa and the Gulf.
Rev Dawkins, who previously served as assistant chaplain at the Anglican Chaplaincy in Aden, Yemen, alongside her husband Rev Nigel Dawkins, told the GDN she was still overwhelmed by the decision.
"I'm still reeling in the disbelief that it's happening," she said yesterday.
"It's an amazing privilege for me.
"I was working in London when I first felt called to ordination and I went through all the processes in the Church of England for training with a view to becoming a priest.
"When I got married, Nigel was already serving as the Anglican chaplain in Yemen.
"The bishop there was very supportive of me coming to Aden and very happy to ordain me as a deacon to work in the church, yet at that time he said he was sorry but he was not able to have women priests."
Despite this, Rev Dawkins always felt the calling to be a priest and was overjoyed when the diocese gave permission for the ceremony to go ahead.
She and her husband worked in Aden for two years, but are now relocating to Dubai on Wednesday a month before schedule, after the situation in Yemen deteriorated.
However, she has fond memories of living and working there - particularly with medical staff at the church-run clinic.
Rev Dawkins will take up a post at Christ Church, in Jebel Ali, and her husband will take over the role of senior chaplain to the Mission of Seafarers.
"The main work in Yemen was the clinic, but there are weekly services for foreign Christians - around 30 or so would come to the weekly service and it was a mixture of Ethiopians, Indians, Pakistanis, Filipinos and Westerners," she said.
"The church in Dubai has lots of Indians, so it's much bigger and the weekly services have got between 200 and 300 people attending, about half of whom are Indian and the other half a mixture of African and European nationalities.
"The church is really busy in Dubai, with a large congregation, lots of weddings and activities.
"In England I did a lot of prison-visiting and they do go into the prisons in Dubai to visit people there."
She said she did not expect any negative reaction, since many members of the diocese were Westerners used to the idea of female priests.
St Christopher's Cathedral dean Reverend Chris Butt said the ordination service had huge significance.
"We are privileged to host this big occasion, not because it is just a Bahraini event but it holds significance for the whole of the region and this diocese, and it is a joy to be involved in this process," he said.
"It is a sign of recognition in the wider church that women have a final role in the ministry of the church and not a secondary. It is also recognition of the gifts and special insights that women bring into the ministry in a powerful way."
Guests from other chaplaincies in the Gulf and further afield attended the ceremony, as well as Rev Dawkins' friends. It took place in Bahrain because of the country's status as the cathedral of the Gulf.
By ALICIA DE HALDEVANG