My ordination took place in Bangor Cathedral, in the north-west corner of
, on a grey and wintry Saturday just after Epiphany. My entire family had made immense efforts to be there, with DH and our two children, my four sisters, DH’s two brothers, my mother-in-law, and as many assorted partners and children as could make it, coming from all over the UK to support me and rejoice with me. By my reckoning there were 24 of us around the restaurant table for the celebration lunch after the service! In addition, an entire coach-load of local friends and parishioners had travelled almost 100 miles along slow and winding Welsh roads to be there too. Wales
|The Famous Five|
That service, and the new ministry which it opened for me and my female colleagues, was the culmination of a long and, at times, very painful process. The Church in
Wales had been the pioneer of the ordained ministry of women in the Anglican Church in , having ordained women as deacons as early as 1980. Sadly, that pioneer spirit seemed to have been lost over the years, and on April 6th 1994, only weeks after the first women had been ordained to the priesthood in the Church of England, the Bill to ordain women to the priesthood in Wales was defeated in the Church’s Governing Body by a narrow margin in the House of Clergy, having been passed overwhelmingly by the laity and unanimously by the Bishops. Great Britain
What no-one could have foreseen was the upset this would cause throughout
, both inside the church and far beyond. It was headline news for days on Welsh TV and radio and in Welsh newspapers. Letters of protest poured in to the Bishops’ offices. Within a couple of weeks a meeting was held in my own parish in Mid-Wales, at which Anglicans from all over Wales decided to set up a campaigning organisation called Women Priests for Wales, of which I somehow found myself the Secretary! Things moved rapidly after that, and only a couple of weeks later I was being interviewed live by Jenni Murray on the BBC radio programme Woman’s Hour. Wales
This was the beginning of two and a half years of very hard work, over and above my full-time work as a librarian and my parish responsibilities. Meetings were held and a petition organised, which garnered thousands of signatures and was presented to the Bishops. People (lay and clergy) joined, wore badges, wrote letters and produced publications, raised funds, held vigils and services and prayed hard, and simply refused to let the issue fade into obscurity.
Supporters of the campaign (including me) stood for election to the Church’s Governing Body and took part in its debates for the next few years. Finally, on September 19th 1996 (the date is engraved on my heart) the reintroduced Bill to allow the ordination of women to the priesthood passed its third and final reading in all three houses and the way was finally open.
By the time I and my eight fellow deacons (our ages ranging from 27 to 68) entered Bangor Cathedral on that historic morning, we had been waiting for that day for between 2 and 14 years. In my case I was 50 and had been a deacon for eight and a half years. Now, at last, the vocation we had all been aware of for so long was to be fulfilled and I cannot find the words to describe just how that felt. Perhaps the expressions on our faces in the photographs taken during and after the service say it all for us, without the need for words.
As if the ordination day itself were not gift enough, the next day found us all back in our home parishes, presiding for the first time at the church’s central service, the Eucharist or Holy Communion. My vicar had cancelled the other morning services, so that my first Eucharist could be a joint celebration for the congregations from both our churches. The church was full and the atmosphere almost electric with excitement and joy. I had been allowed to chose the hymns and songs, and the vicar, vested that day as a deacon to assist me, as I for so long had assisted him, preached for me.
It sounds like the most hackneyed of clichés, but I truly can remember just about every detail of that morning, even to the butterflies in my stomach as I sang the priest’s part of the service for the very first time. There were so many communicants that administering communion took much longer than usual, and the music group had time to sing all the songs I had so happily chosen.
After the service came the photographs and then the party in the adjacent church hall. A parishioner who is a gifted cake-maker had made and decorated the most beautiful ordination cake, and cake and wine circulated merrily for some time, amid animated conversation and much laughter.
Then, for me, came the crowning moment when my broadly-smiling vicar presented me with the beautiful silver home-communion set which was the parishes’ gift to me to mark the occasion. It has had much use over the years since then and I treasure it still, both as a reminder of an unforgettable weekend and as a tangible sign of the loving friendship which supported and encouraged me though all the years of my ministry in those parishes. It is the most immense privilege to be a priest, and I thank God for that privilege and the deep and abiding joy it has brought me.
This post is dedicated to the memory of Alistair (died November 2011) good friend and staunch supporter of the ordination of women, who sat next to me throughout that crucial debate and unprotestingly allowed me to crush his fingers, as we waited on tenterhooks for the result of the vote.