Photo Credit: Lambeth Palace
A service has been held in the chapel of Lambeth Palace – the official London residence of the Archbishops of Canterbury – to celebrate 25 years of the ordination of women in the Church of England. The then-Bishop of Bristol, Barry Rogerson, ordained 32 women in Bristol Cathedral on 12 March 1994 in the first of many ordinations that year. A message from Bishop Barry was read to the more than 80 female priests who were invited to Friday’s service.
The guests included many women who were among the first to be ordained in 1994 as well as some of the lay people who were active in the campaign for the ordination of women. Also present were female ordinands as well as a number of other female clergy.
Prebendary Angela Berners-Wilson, the first woman to be ordained in the Church of England, was also at the service. Dr Isabelle Hamley, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Chaplain, preached the sermon. Amongst the five female bishops at the service was the Bishop of Derby, Libby Lane, who was the first woman to be consecrated in the Church of England when she was appointed Bishop of Stockport in 2015.
In her sermon, Dr Hamley reflected on the gift of Jesus that Mary and Joseph were given, and the risks and responsibilities of nurturing it. “Let us cherish this gift where it is public and obvious, and where it is hidden, private and yet equally powerful. Together, may we witness to the gift that lives in us, and the God who has called us to follow him”, she said.
Speaking at the service, Archbishop Justin said: “Many of those here today have been pioneers as they work out what it means to be an ordained woman in the Church of England – not just for themselves and their communities, but for the whole of the Body of Christ. Today let us bear witness to those who paved the way in 1994, as well as upholding those whose way into ministry has been opened up since.”
In his message, Bishop Barry said that: “over the last 25 years, I have observed and received the ministry of women in parishes, but also in chaplaincies; hospitals and hospices, schools, universities and prisons and know what an innovative and positive contribution women priests have made.
“Perhaps today we might give a thought for all those women, worldwide whose vocations to the priesthood have still been neither recognised nor tested.”
Prebendary Berners-Wilson said: “It was an amazing thing to be – by a few seconds – the first woman to be ordained to the priesthood in the Church of England. Today I’ve been reflecting with great gratitude on those other women who were priested alongside me, and the many hundreds of others since.
“For 25 years it has been the greatest privilege to finally be able to live out my calling, after a 15-year probationary period first as a deaconess then as a deacon. Today has been a day to celebrate all the women priests who have been enabled to grow into the fullness of who God has called them to be as bearers of Christ’s good news for the world.”
Friday’s service was recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio Four and is available to listen online in parts of the world for the next 28 days.