Church of England marks 25 years since first women were ordained to priesthood

A service marking 25 years of the ordination of women to the priesthood in the Church of England was held at Lambeth Palace today.

The guests included many women who were among the first to be ordained in 1994, some laypeople that were active in the campaign for the ordination of women, as well as ordinands and a range of other female clergy.

The very first woman to be ordained, Rev Prebendary Angela Berners-Wilson, was in attendance.

A service was held at Lambeth Palace today, March 1, 2019, marking 25 years since women were ordained to the priesthood in the Church of England.Lambeth Palace

Women participating in the service ranged from bishops to ordinands. Rev Dr Isabelle Hamley, the Archbishop of Canterbury's chaplain, preached the sermon.

Six women bishops attended the service: the Bishop of Derby, Rt Rev Libby Lane; the Bishop of Sherborne, Rt Rev Karen Gorham; the Bishop of Ripon, Rt Rev Dr Helen-Ann Hartley; the Bishop of Penrith, Rt Rev Dr Emma Ineson, the Bishop of Dorking, Rt Rev Dr Jo Bailey Wells, and the Bishop of Aston, Rt Rev Anne Hollinghurst.

Archbishop Justin Welby welcomed guests to the service and gave the blessing.

The service, which featured music from St Martin's Voices, was recorded by BBC Radio 4 and will be broadcast at 8:10 am on Sunday March 3.

In her sermon, Dr Hamley, reflected on the gift of Jesus that Mary and Joseph were given, and the risks and responsibilities of nurturing it. 'Let us cherish this gift where it is public and obvious, and where it is hidden, private and yet equally powerful. Together, may we witness to the gift that lives in us, and the God who has called us to follow him,' she said.

Speaking at the service, 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 first group of women were ordained to the priesthood in Bristol Cathedral on March 12, 1994. Bishop Barry Rogerson, who presided at the ordination, sent this message today, which was read out at a reception after the service: 'Over the last 25 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 priests have made. Perhaps today we might give a thought for all those women, worldwide whose vocations to the priesthood have still been neither recognised nor tested.'

Berners-Wilson 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. Today 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 has been 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.'