AS celebrations of the 25th anniversary of the ordination of women as priests took place across the country, we had the privilege of joining a gathering at Dorchester Abbey in Oxfordshire.
The event was arranged by the Revd Felicity Scroggie, our Bishop’s Advisor in Women’s Ministry on Tuesday 12 March, exactly a quarter of a century after the first group of women were ordained priests in 1994 in Bristol Cathedral.
A group of 18 people, lay and ordained, gathered around a candle and shared moving stories of the campaign for women to be ordained priests and what the ministry of women had meant to them. The stories were followed by prayers and worship before a bring-and-share lunch including a celebratory cake made by Felicity and cut by the Revd Canon Barbara Doubtfire, who was one of the first women to be ordained a priest.
The Revd Christopher Hall and his wife Viviane were at the gathering. Christopher described how his father, the then Bishop of Hong Kong had ordained The Revd Dr Florence LI Tim-Oi 75 years ago in China. She was the first Anglican female priest.
“I was involved in the campaign for women priests right from the start. I spoke in the debate in July 1975 when the ‘no fundamental objection’ motion was passed,” says Christopher. Viviane added: “I was on the Movement for the Ordination of Women (MOW) committee for Oxfordshire and I was outside Church House Westminster, standing next to the Guardian correspondent who kept asking me questions when the motion was passed.”
Women now make up nearly a third of the 20,000-active clergy in the Church of England according to the latest figures which also show a 38% increase in the number of women starting training for ordained ministry in the past two years.
Speaking at a national service held at Lambeth Palace on Tuesday, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby 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.”
The anniversary was marked by a #JustAPriest25 social media campaign, calling for female priests to be known simply as priests, not ‘women priests’.
The hashtag became popular and the reason for it was summed up in a tweet by the Revd Dr Miranda Threlfall Holmes from the Liverpool Diocese: “25 years since the first women were ordained in the Church of England today. Time to stop calling us ‘women priests’ (unless you routinely refer to male priests as ‘men priests’?) #JustAPriest25”