Durham celebrates 20 years of women priests, looks forward to women bishops

Bishop of Durham with Rebecca Tobin, Caroline Worsfold and Rosalind Brown(Photo: Keith Blundy)

Durham Cathedral was the scene of celebration over the weekend as the diocese came together to mark 20 years of women's priestly ministry, while looking forward to the future after the Church of England voted through legislation to allow women in the episcopate.

The service on Saturday was joined by women in the Methodist Church who are celebrating forty years of women's priestly ministry within the denomination.

Leading the service was the Reverend Caroline Worsfold, one of the first 38 women to be ordained as priests in Durham Cathedral in 1994.

Deacon Reverend Rebecca Tobin, President Reverend Caroline Worsfold, Reverend Canon Rosalind Brown(Photo: Keith Blundy)

The Bishop of Durham, the Right Reverend Paul Butler, said: "This is a very special service - not just recognising the magnificent contributions of Women's Priestly Ministry in the Church of England over the last 20 years and 40 year in the Methodist Church - but because this is the very first service of its kind in the Church of England to occur in this celebration year since the General Synod vote.

"In the services up and down the country that occurred before the Synod vote - there must have been an element of concern, but not today - today we celebrate that 20 years after the first women became priests we will now see women bishops very soon also."

Mother and daughter the Reverends Helen Thorp and Susie Thorp shared their reflections about what impact the historic vote in 1992 had had on their family.

Susie Thorp was celebrating her ninth birthday at the time and remembered her mum crying as they heard the news.

Reverend Susie Thorp and mum Helen share their reflections on 20 years of priestly ministry(Photo: Keith Blundy)

"I remember thinking that this was a very important day, not just for you but for me, but I am not sure I realised just how significant it was really going to be. News that changed your life, my life, the life of our family," said Susie.

"There is so much to celebrate. God is good. I remember six years ago washing up as a curate and realising that not many people's dreams come true - that I had the best job and the best boss in Church of England.

"In fact, I have always been incredibly blessed in working with colleagues who have recognised and released my gifts enabling me to flourish."

Durham Cathedral was a sea of colour during the celebrations(Photo: Keith Blundy)

Helen Thorp noted how different the experience is now for women entering into priestly ministry within the Church of England.

"Flourishing of women in ministry matters to me too. I did not have Susie's positive experience in early years of ministry; there were some times of real struggle. But the example of Jesus kept me going," she said.

Methodist minister the Reverend Alison Wilson said: "From the beginning, women have always been in the forefront of the Methodist movement. Women have blazed a trail, called and prompted by God to serve him in all kinds of places and ways.

"Today we celebrate the contribution of women to the ordained ministry in the past forty years in the British Methodist church."