25 years of women priests celebrated across Church of England

The Archbishop of Canterbury hosted a celebration at Lambeth Palace marking 25 years of women's ordinations in the Church of England.

It's been 25 years since the first women in the Church of England were ordained as priests and events are taking place across the country to mark the major milestone.

Bristol Cathedral was the scene of the first women's ordinations on Saturday 12 March 1994 when 32 women entered the priesthood.

Since that time, the number of ordained women has grown to 5,950, accounting for nearly a third of the 20,000 active clergy in the Church of England.

Nearly a quarter of clergy in senior posts - bishops, deans and archdeacons - in 2017 were women, which is almost double the number five years ago.

And women are continuing to show an interest in the priesthood, with the Church of England seeing a 38 per cent rise in the number of women entering training for ordained ministry in the past two years, now standing at 319.

The last quarter of a century has also seen the consecration of the first female bishop, Libby Lane, in 2015, while this year marks another milestone for women in the Church of England as the 50th anniversary of the first female lay readers.

The Archbishop of Canterbury led the celebrations with a service attended by over 80 priests at Lambeth Palace. Guests included women bishops and women training for ordained ministry. The sermon was given by the Rev Dr Isabelle Hamley, the Archbishop of Canterbury's chaplain.

Speaking at the service, the Most Rev 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.'

Dr Mandy Ford, director of the Church of England's Ministry Division, said: 'As we celebrate this anniversary, it is wonderful to see how increasing numbers of women are hearing God's call to ministry and bringing their varied gifts and life experiences to serve God in the Church.

'We are encouraging more women to follow in their footsteps and consider the call to ordained ministry.'

Cathedrals and churches around the country have also been holding their own events to mark the anniversary.

A celebratory Eucharist is to take place at Bristol Cathedral on Sunday, with the Bishop of Bristol, Vivenne Faull, preaching.

In addition to a celebratory service, Manchester is running a one-day conference called 'Knowing our place?' while Southwark Cathedral is hosting a series of events on the ordination of women called 'Visible Signs'.

The first women priests were ordained 25 years ago by the then Bishop of Bristol Barry Rogerson.

Commenting on the anniversary he said: 'Over the last twenty five years I have observed and received the ministry of women in parishes, but also in chaplaincies; hospitals and hospices, schools, universities and prisons and know what an innovative and positive contribution women have made to the priesthood.

'Perhaps today we might give a thought for all those women worldwide whose vocations to the priesthood have still been neither recognised nor tested.'

Final legislation for women priests was passed by General Synod on 11 November 1992. The following year, the 'Manchester Statement' from the House of Bishops paved the way for approval in the Houses of Parliament before on 5 November 1993 the measure received Royal Assent.

A few months later, Angela Berners-Wilson stepped forward to be ordained to the priesthood, having the honour of being first woman priest as the candidates were presented in alphabetical order.

She said: 'It was an amazing thing to be – by a few seconds – the first woman to be ordained to the priesthood in the Church of England.

'I've been reflecting with great gratitude on those other women who were priested alongside me, and the many hundreds of others since.

'For 25 years it has been the greatest privilege to finally be able to live out my calling, after a 15-year probationary period first as a deaconess then as a deacon.

'Today is a day to celebrate all the women priests who have been enabled to grow into the fullness of who God has called them to be as bearers of Christ's good news for the world.'