LONDON, March 13 -- The first women priests in the Church of England officiated at their first Holy Communion services Sunday, offering prayers for unity in a church badly split over their ordination.
Thirty-two women who had been serving as deacons, previously barred from the priestly role at Holy Communion by old church rules, were ordained in Bristol Cathedral in western England Saturday.
Worshippers packed parish churches in the Bristol area Sunday for the women's first services as priests, and most of those who attended told reporters they approved of the rule change by the Synod of the Church of England to allow women's ordination.
At St. Peter's parish in Avon, the Rev. Sheila Tyler was greeted by a steady stream of well-wishers congratulating her on her ordination and her first service as a priest, which came on what is Mother's Day in England.
Tyler, who had previously preached at the church as a deacon, told Sky Television she had been apprehensive because of all the attention.
'I felt greatly privileged, but I felt nervous,' Tyler said. 'It was a wonderful occasion.'
While those who attended the services said they approved of the women priests, the Church of England's decision in November 1992 to allow women's ordination has angered many and brought a split with traditionalists.
Some traditionalists, including priests and prominent conservative laymen like Cabinet minister John Gummer, have left to join the Roman Catholic Church, which still bars women from the priesthood.
The Church Society, a group within the Church of England, mounted a legal challenge to the decision that was dismissed by Britain's High Court. Dissident clergy say they will continue to fight for a portion of church property for those who want a church that does not allow women priests.
The Rev. Francis Brown, one of the most vehement of the opponents of women priests, joined hundreds of others demonstrating outside Bristol Cathedral during Saturday's ordination.
'Today is the day on which the Church of England dies as part of Catholic Christendom,' Brown said. 'What has been created today in Bristol Cathedral is not new priests, but it is a new order of transvestites, women dressed up as priests.'