It hardly seems possible that almost a quarter of a century has elapsed since that golden moment when General Synod finally passed the necessary legislation allowing women to be Ordained into the Priesthood in England, in November 1992. Even then it took another 16 months for all the formalities to be gone through and the first Ordination to take place in Bristol Cathedral on 12th March 1994.
I can well remember the vigil that many of us kept outside Lambeth Palace all night before the vote was taken, and standing outside Church House, Westminster watching on a huge BBC outside broadcast screen in Dean’s Yard as Archbishop George Carey, in a very dead pan voice, gave out the numbers in all 3 houses of General Synod, each one of which had to obtain a two thirds majority for this momentous change. The male colleague I was standing next to, a former mathematician, had worked out how many votes were needed in advance. So when the Archbishop gave out the numbers, Bill, whose wife was a woman Deacon like me at the time, thought it had failed – that was because he had not taken abstensions into consideration. The vote HAD got through – although only just in the House of Clergy.
As the members of Synod filed out, I rushed up to hug one of the lay members from our then Church in Bristol, and she whispered to me “don’t be too jubilant, someone from the other side is just behind me.” Even in our jubilation we still had a care for those who were bitterly upset by what had just happened.
How the world has changed, we now have I believe 11 women Bishops in England, and only last month I went to the Enthronement of the first Welsh woman Bishop, of St David’s.
To all who think they might have a calling to some form of Ministry in the Church of England, do pursue it and seek guidance about the way forward. We need more young vocations from both women and men.
Revd Angela Berners-Wilson
Rector of the Quantock Towers Benefice and Honorary Prebendary at Wells Cathedral.
(One of the first 32 women to be ordained in March 1994)