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Church of England celebrates 50 years of women Readers

Posted on: July 26, 2019 1:32 PM
Photo Credit: Readers Website
Related Categories: Chester, Church of England, England, readers, women

[ACNS, by Rachel Farmer] The Diocese of Chester is one of the places that will be marking the anniversary this Sunday (28 July).

Warden of Readers for Chester Diocese, Vivien Gisby, said: “We wanted to mark the occasion with a celebratory service followed by tea, cake and fellowship. The event will be an informal opportunity for our Readers to meet and chat and for us all to give thanks for their ministry in our Diocese and across the Church as a whole.”

Rosamund Essex was the first woman to be licensed as a Reader in the Church of England in July 1969. An Oxford graduate who was also the editor of The Church Times from 1950 to 1960.

In her biography she wrote: “The highlight of all my work in the Church came in 1969 when quietly, almost unnoticed by the Church at large, a canon law was given royal assent which allowed women to be Readers. Few people recognised at once what a revolutionary step this was.”

Readers in the Church of England are lay people from a range of backgrounds and experiences that are trained and authorised to preach, teach and lead worship. There are more than 8,500 Readers actively involved in ministry across dioceses in the Church of England today.

Men were licensed into the role in 1866, but it was over 100 years later, in 1969, before women were permitted to train to become licensed Readers.

In December 1961 the Bishop of Southwell, Dr F. R. Barry, asked: “If a woman can become a Minister of the Crown, the Vice-Chancellor of a university, or the Queen of England, why cannot she be a lay reader in the Church?”.

Between October 1969 and December 1970, 44 women were licenced as lay readers

2019 marks two other anniversaries in the calendar of women’s ministry in the Church. This year it is 25 years since women in the Church of England were first ordained priests and five years since legislation was passed to enable women to be appointed bishops.