[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The Church in Wales has elected its first female bishop, a little over three years since the Province passed legislation opening the episcopacy to women. The Revd Canon Joanna Penberthy, currently the Rector of Glan Ithon in Llandrindod Wells, in the Diocese of Swansea and Brecon, was elected as the next Bishop of St Davids on the second day of an Electoral College that was locked inside the diocese’s historic cathedral. Wales joins a growing list of Anglican provinces to have appointed female clergy to the Episcopate.
The Diocese of St Davids covers the areas of Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire, and Pembrokeshire in the western-most part of Wales. The cathedral is on the site of a 6th century monastery founded by Saint David – Dewi Sant – the patron saint of Wales. The cathedral city is the smallest in Britain – with a population of just over 1,841.
The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, made the announcement at 1pm this afternoon (Wednesday) to a small group of supporters and journalists gathered outside the cathedral. Canon Penberthy will become the 129th Bishop of St Davids when she officially takes over from Bishop Wyn Evans, who retired last month. She will be one of six diocesan bishops in the Church in Wales. Archbishop Barry will himself retire in January, creating an episcopal vacancy in the Diocese of Llandaff.
Canon Penberthy was ordained at Cranmer Hall in Durham and was ordained a deaconess in 1984, serving St Andrew’s Church in Haughton Le Skerne. She moved to Wales a year later, serving Christ Church in Llandaff. She served a number of parishes before becoming the provincial officer for parochial development and renewal, returning to parish work in 1999.
In 2007 she became the first woman to be appointed as Canon of St Davids Cathedral; which is where she will now return as the first female bishop in the Province.
When the province made the changes to permit the ordination of women to the Episcopate, they rejected any notion of structural provision for opponents of the move. Instead, the House of Bishops produced a binding code of practice, which begins with the assertion that “The Church in Wales is fully and unequivocally committed to all orders of ministry being open equally to all, without reference to gender.”
It continues: “Anyone who ministers within the Church in Wales must be prepared to accept that the Church in Wales has reached a clear decision on the matter.”
But the Code recognises that some people within the Church in Wales “on grounds of theological conviction and conscience are unable to receive the sacramental ministry of women bishops or priests” and that such people “continue to be within the spectrum of teaching and tradition of the Anglican Communion.” It says that “appropriate provision for them will be made in a way intended to maintain the highest possible degree of communion and contributes to mutual flourishing across the whole Church in Wales.” This includes the right for individuals to request “appropriate sacramental episcopal ministry” from a male bishop when required.
“This is an historic moment for the Church in Wales as it hasn’t been possible to elect a woman bishop until now,” Archbishop Barry Morgan said this afternoon. “But what is really important to stress is that Joanna wasn’t elected because she was a woman but because she was deemed to be the best person to be a bishop.
“She has considerable gifts – she is an excellent preacher and communicator, can relate to all sections of the community, is a warm, charismatic, caring priest and someone who is full of joy.
“Joanna knows this diocese – she worked here for 11 years and was a Canon of this cathedral so she is on familiar territory. She has also worked in the dioceses of Llandaff and St Asaph and has been the Provincial evangelism officer so she knows the province intimately. . . The diocese of St Davids is enormously lucky to have her as its next bishop and I shall be absolutely delighted to consecrate her.”
The bishop-elect said: “I am immensely humbled and honoured at the trust that has been placed in me. I am very much looking forward to returning to St Davids and serving God's people as their Bishop.”
Today’s election will be formally confirmed by the Archbishop at a Sacred Synod service on 30 November. Canon Penberthy will be consecrated at Llandaff Cathedral on 21 January and enthroned in St Davids on 11 February.