It is a quarter-century since women were first ordained as priests in the Church of England. More than 120 women came to the Bishop’s Palace to celebrate and remember the ordination of women in Bath and Wells.
Among those who came were some of the first group of 30 women ordained in the Diocese 25 years ago, including Anglea Berners-Wilson, the very first woman ordained in the Church of England. Like many of those ordained that day, Angela had previously served 15 years as a deaconess and deacon.
“I joined the campaign for the ordination of women when it started in 1978 and really fought for this. I had a 15 year probationary period. Every time I celebrate the Eucharist I am grateful I can, because for so long I couldn’t”
“On the day of the vote in November 1992 we had no idea whether it would pass. I spent the day up in the attic at the Old Deanery with the Bishop of Taunton, Richard Lewis and John Andrews our Press Officer watching the televised debate all through the day and we still did not know what would happen with the vote.” Liz Cross Dean of women’s ministry in Bath and Wells at the time of the vote
Since that day 25 years ago the number of women clergy has continued to rise. Figures for 2017 show that 28% of clergy are women. Nationally 23% of senior leadership positions are held by women. Some of those newly ordained in Bath and Wells were among those who attended the celebrations.
“It’s been absolutely incredible to be able to be here as a woman and celebrate with women the acceptance of the call and the ministry that God has given us.” Michelle Taylor has been a priest for one month.Revd Susan Ison-Stierer echoes those sentiments.
“To be part of this celebration and listen to the women that were ordained 25 years ago, hear the challenges they’ve faced and the strength of staying true to their calling despite the hurdles and the powers that were against them is just an amazing thing.”
In 2014 the General Synod voted in favour of removing the legal obstacles preventing women from becoming bishops. Bishop Ruth, who was ordained in 1996, two years after the very first ordinations, was the fifth woman in the Church of England to become a Bishop.
“For some of those women it’s not just been 25 years ago because they’ve had hopes and dreams over the years; they’ve been lay ministers, deaconesses, deacons. It has been a lifetime of feeling that sense of call to God and to point others to Christ. So I think for them it was a very important mark of that occasion and a reminder for those of us who have followed on that actually they’ve broken the ground and paved the way for us.”