13th March 1994. Women Priests.
In the Old Testament there were many doughty women leaders and prophets of Israel: Miriam in Exodus 15.20; Deborah in Judges 4.4-5 and Esther 4.15-17, but never assumed priestly caste.
Today The Independent on Sunday in 1994 reported the ordination of the first women priests into the Church of England.
It was the previous night in Bristol Cathedral at 5.47 pm that history was made when Bishop Barry Rogerson intoned: ‘Send down your Holy Spirit upon your servant Angela’.
So Angela Berners-Wilson became the first of 32 women ordained in England, but not all were joyful as a nearby hoarding, declared the Church of England had been ‘murdered’, and bells of S Phillip and Jacob tolled a dirge by order of the priest Rev. Malcolm Widdecombe, brother of the then Social Security Minister Ann, who had converted to Rome.
Bishop Gore, latterly of Oxford, was the first to license women back in 1917, as the Diocesan Band of Women Messengers.(1)
However few British male bastions have taken so long to be conquered as with women priests: 125 years after Elizabeth Garrett Anderson qualified as a doctor; 96 years after the first female stockbroker; 80 years after the first woman police-officer; the first judge came in 1956; professor 1910 and Ambassador in 1976.
The saga of women priests: 1975 saw a Synod motion that there was no fundamental objection and a motion to prepare legislation; 1981 permitted Deacons and 1987 the first were ordained.
Then in 1984 women priests were to be permitted; 1988 saw the Synod give the go-ahead, prompting the panic institution of ‘Flying Bishops’, of Ebbsfleet (where Augustine made his first landfall) and Beverley, to minister to congregations where conflict might arise. Many Anglican clergy now ‘crossed the Tiber’, being allowed to move to Rome despite being married.
Thus was confounded Dr. Johnson who likened ‘a woman’s preaching to a dog walking on its hind legs. It is not done well, but you are surprised to find it done at all’.
What does the Bible say?: well women are ‘not to speak in church, they are to be submissive and any inquiries to be asked of husbands at home’. (NIV Corinthians 14.33-35).
Or: ‘I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over men… they are to be silent’ (NIV I Timothy 2.11-12).
Then confusion: all believers are equal in God’s sight…there is neither slave nor free; male nor female, neither Jew nor Greek. (NIV Galations 3.26-29).
But what about the 12 Apostles, all men? (Mark 3.13-19). The early Church had women disciples but it was men’s work to go out and spread the Gospel.
In Britain women are now legally on par with men and natural justice, not dogma now awards them equal rights in a modern society.
Of the thirty-two Ordinands in 1994, the oldest was sixty-nine; ten years later one had died and fourteen retired.
(1) On 28th September 1917.
Ref: Andrew Brown. Religious Affairs Correspondent. Independent. 13 March 1994.