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| Sunday, 3 December, 2000, 15:29 GMT
Sex-change vicar back in pulpit
The first Church of England vicar to undergo a sex-change operation returned to a warm welcome from parishioners on Sunday.
Around 100 people attended the service at St Philip's Church in Upper Stratton, Swindon, Wiltshire.
The only sour note for the Reverend Carol Stone, previously known to her congregation as Peter, came with a critical outburst from one woman who was escorted out.
The other parishioners gave their minister a standing ovation.
During the service, Ms Stone, 46, told them she was delighted by the support she had received.
But she also dedicated prayers to those unable to accept her transformation.
She said: "This sermon hasn't been just three months in the making if the truth be told, I've been waiting to write it for the best part of 46 years - never dreaming one day I might.
"After almost 23 years of preaching I felt like a young curate again preparing for one's first sermon."
Ms Stone, who has been married twice and has a daughter, was dressed in purple robes and wore a pair of gold ear-rings
She compared her return to a scene from the classic children's tales of Pooh bear by A A Milne.
The vicar related how Pooh had gathered with his friends on a bridge to gaze at the river and told them that everyone was alright apart from him - only to be reassured by Christopher Robin.
Ms Stone said: "If Pooh were here today, I'd like to think he would say the same about me - that I too was alright, as indeed you are."
A single police officer attended the service as a precautionary measure but the elderly woman who expressed her opposition to Ms Stone was calmly escorted out by church members.
After the service, parishioners spoke of their feelings towards the vicar.
Michael Ennis, 71, who lives locally, said: "She has shown a great deal of courage. I remember how she was in the last few months before and you could see the strain on her face.
"I don't think the people here will ever let her go. A person doesn't change - their abilities don't change. I thought the service went very well."
Greta Davies, 56, also from Upper Stratton, added: "It was a lovely service. Peter was an exceptional priest and Carol will be too."
Ms Stone spent time chatting to her congregation after the service.
She said: "I felt terrified. It (giving the sermon) was a very special moment.
"I never believed I would be able to return. I knew there would be people here today who held me in their prayers and hearts.
"The lady who spoke out wasn't part of the church fellowship. As a priest you have a concern for people of all views and standpoints.
"I believe God still has work for me to do. Inside me there is deep peace and a wholeness I never had before."
Rev Peter Stone was ordained in 1978 and served at Bradford-on-Avon in Wiltshire.
He was chaplain and head of religious studies at Dauntsey's School, West Lavington, before taking up the post at Upper Stratton in 1996.
A regular contributor to radio, he received a National Broadcasting Award from the Sandford St Martin Trust in 1979.
He announced he had decided to go ahead with the sex-change operation in June.
The Bishop of Bristol, the Right Reverend Barry Rogerson, said there was no ethical or ecclesiastical reason why he could not continue ministry afterwards.
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