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World News

‘Women are accepted up to a point’: Calls for more diversity as C of E celebrates 30 years of female priests

by Heather Preston

Female leaders in the Church of England are calling for a more diverse Church as they celebrate 30 years since the first woman was ordained as a priest.

Berners-Wilson was the first of 32 women to be ordained to the priesthood at a ceremony at Bristol Cathedral on 12th March, 1994.

In response to this historic milestone, the Church of England has released a series of videos celebrating its female leaders.

Reflecting on a recent meeting with some 170 female priests, The Bishop of London, Rt Rev Sarah Mullally said she was encouraged by the diversity on display across the Church.

Speaking of her vision for the future, she said: “I hope we will see a leadership that properly represents the diversity of God”.

Rev Christina Rees, from the Diocese of Norwich, was part of the original campaign for women's ordination and a founder member of the Archbishops’ Council.

Speaking to Premier, she recalls the significance of the first female ordination: “When women started taking services, some people were breaking down and crying. Women were saying, for the first time, ‘I felt different about myself’. And even some men were saying, ‘I saw things different about my faith’.”

Currently there are some 6,500 serving women clergy within the Church of England which makes up just over a third of those in ordained ministry within the Church.

Rees, who is the former chair of Women and the Church (WATCH), which led the campaign for women’s ordination, adds that while significant progress has been made, patriarchy is still a problem within the Church of England and across society:

“There are still pockets in the church that are less accepting of women's leadership. There are pockets that except perhaps women preaching and teaching, but they don't like women at the altar. And then there are places where they let women take services, but they don't like them to be in charge of the whole church.

"We're seeing that women are accepted up to a point... Where there is patriarchy, there is an understanding somehow still, among some people, that women can do this, but should they? Or will they be as good as a man? And that's really sad."

Rees was a member of General Synod for 25 years and awarded the CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in the 2015 Queen's Birthday Honours List for her services to the Church of England.


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