Twenty years ago the first cohort of female priests were ordained by the Church of England. It was on 12 March 1994, to be exact. This Saturday, May 3rd, a landmark procession and service will be held in London to celebrate twenty years of women priests in the C of E.
I spoke with Revd Rosemary Lain-Priestley about this. Rosemary is a highly respected, senior woman in the Church of England. She has been part of the planning team for Saturday’s event. Ordained in 1996, Rosemary is now Dean of Women’s Ministry for the central area of the London Diocese and the Chair of NADAWM (National Association of Diocesan Advisors in Women’s Ministry).
VB: Tell me about Saturday’s event…
RLP: It’s really significant as it’s the first time the Church of England will unequivocally affirm the ministry of female priests in a liturgical way – in such a public demonstration. The question mark over the ministry of ordained women has been there for decades; it didn’t quite disappear when women became priests as women are still not able to become Bishops. This is a way for the Church to erase that question mark a bit more.VB: So this service will be a time to celebrate and mark the contributions that women have made to the priesthood so far?
RLP: Absolutely. We’ve had 20 years of women priests and they’ve brought new gifts, insights and perspectives. This is the Church saying “we’re glad that we’ve done it”.
VB: Will the initial group of female priests from 1994 be attending?
RLP: Yes, they are a really central part of the day. There were about 1200 ordained that year and 700 of them will be attending. They are travelling from far and wide to London – it’ll be an amazing reunion for them!
VB: Tell us about the schedule for the day…
RLP: Anyone is welcome. We’ll all meet at 1pm in Dean’s Yard, Westminster Abbey for a bring-your-own picnic. At 2pm there will be several welcome speeches, from myself and others.
VB: Then the procession?
RLP: Yes, with a marching band, from Dean’s Yard all the way to St. Paul’s. Anyone who wants to is very welcome to join in. The walk should take about 50 minutes.
VB: Then what happens?
RLP: We’ll arrive at St Paul’s with time to spare – for coffee and milling around. Then at 4.15pm on the steps of St Paul’s the women from the 1994 cohort will have their photograph taken with Archbishop Justin who will say a few words.
VB: That’ll be a great moment.
RLP: Yes. Next is the service, which is ticketed and is now full. But for those who can’t get a ticket it will be broadcast on a giant screen outside in Paternoster Square. Archbishop Justin will preach at the service, and has requested to act as a deacon.
VB: That means the Archbishop will be taking the ‘second in command’ role at the service. Who will be leading/presiding over the service?
RLP: Canon Philippa Boardman, the Canon Treasurer at St Paul’s.
VB: So a female priest will lead the service and preside over the eucharist, with the Archbishop in a ‘servant leadership’ role? That’s a really beautiful picture of what this event is all about – affirming the ministry of women.
RLP: Yes. Also, The Very Revd June Osborne, Dean of Salisbury, will offer some reflections on behalf of the 1994 cohort. Then there will be a younger female priest sharing a few words during the service, to represent the more recently ordained women.
VB: Who has been chosen for that?
RLP: The Revd Kate Boardman, who is a curate from the Durham diocese. She’s on Twitter, here.
VB: So anyone wanting to come along, give us a reminder of the important details..
RLP: So it’s this Saturday, May 3rd. Meet at Dean’s Yard outside Westminster Abbey at 1pm for a picnic, 2pm for speeches and the procession, or 4.30pm for the St Paul’s gathering. Also, there will be a similar event in the North for those who can’t travel down to London – that will be on Saturday 17th May at York Minster.
VB: I’ll be there, so I look forward to hearing your speech and enjoying the afternoon. One final question – do you think the lack of a definite “yes” vote on women Bishops legislation will cast a shadow over the event? Will that be the elephant in the room?
RLP: Perhaps a little. I’ll be touching on it in my contribution to the speeches in Dean’s Yard. There is a quiet hope that the vote in July might be a yes. And when that happens we’ll need to celebrate all over again as that really will mark a major moment in the Church’s affirmation of women in all levels of ministry. But Saturday is a good start towards that!