Manchester schoolgirl is the UK's first female bishop

Keith Blundy

The Church of England can relax at last, and be confident that it has made the right decision to consecrate women bishops. Because the UK's first female bishop has declared that women are "just as good as boys."

This was not the Rev Libby Lane, soon to be consecrated Bishop of Stockport, but 11-year-old Rebecca Howarth, the country's first "girl bishop", a few weeks into the job.

In a custom that reaches back to the Middle Ages, cathedrals such as Hereford choose a boy, usually a chorister, as the cathedral's bishop for a month during Advent. The tradition is an exercise in humility and innocence in keeping with the Christmas season.

Rebecca, elected girl bishop at Oldham Parish Church, became the first girl to be chosen under this custom after the Church of England finally approved the legislation to consecrate women in November.

She told the Daily Telegraph: "I was really excited ever since I found out I was going to be girl bishop. Really women are just as good as boys I think, they're both equal to each other. If a boy can be bishop, I don't see why girls can't. I just believe that girls have a right to be as good as boys."

She said she loves going to church and is interested in the Bible. "I've been going to church for as long as I can remember and I really enjoy Sunday School. We just have fun." She also told the Telegraph she loves being a Christian. "I really like going to church. Sometimes before I became girl bishop I had a short prayer to read out. I like learning about God and Jesus and stuff. I think it's really cool that there's someone there watching us. It sort of reassures me. If you think about it when you're feeling sad, it makes you feel better."

At her primary school, she noticed that boys sometimes seemed to feel superior.

"If we get put into groups and they're the only boy in the group, they have a bit of a huff and a sigh," she explained. "Sometimes they think they're more important than us."

She will act as the church's bishop until after epiphany, when the Bishop of Manchester David Walker will resume his authority in the parish. Oldham's former child bishops were all boys. Last year it was Josh Harvey from Higginshaw.

Rebecca, of St Agnes Primary School in Lees, told the Oldham Chronicle: "It's a really big honour. I'm really excited. I've been introduced to the bishop — I really like him. Josh has given some advice, he said 'don't panic!'"

The Bishop of Manchester said: "This is a fabulous development to a great Christian tradition. I'm really pleased for Rebecca, we're delighted that she has agreed to take on this role and pray that God will bless her as she fulfils her responsibilities."