OF THE three most recently appointed women bishops, two are the
first in their respective Churches of the Anglican Communion. One
is the fourth generation of her family to be an ordained minister;
one was dedicated to Christian service before she was born; and one
comes from a family with no history of churchgoing at all. Their
lives and the sphere of their ministries are as different as their
backgrounds, and none of the three expected to become a bishop.
Least likely to rise to the top might have been Eggoni
Pushpalalitha, now the Bishop of Nandyal, in the Church of South
India, simply for the fact that she comes from the Dalit community,
formerly known as "untouchables", regarded as the lowest caste in
That was no barrier to her devout parents, who, having lost
twins at birth, promised God that the next child would be dedicated
to Christian service: "Right from the beginning, I was brought up
with that knowledge," the Bishop says. She attributes her spiritual
character to the missionary schools and college in which she was
Her father is literate; her mother is not. Her family comes from
an agricultural background in Diguvapadu, in Andhra Pradesh.
"Although we come from an 'untouchable' class, our parents spent
beyond their resources to give us a good-quality education," she
says. "[They determined that], with God's grace, the committed and
continued prayers of my family members, and abundant faith in Lord
Jesus, we could come up in life and be a model to others."
Although she wanted to study theology, it was not with the
particular intention of becoming a priest. It was her parents who
pressed the late Bishop of Rayalaseema, the Rt Revd L. V.
Hajaraiah, for her to train for ordination.
"They told him: 'That alone will satisfy our family desire,'"
she says. "He was a great visionary, and promised my family that he
would fulfil our long-cherished wish. So, having an Anglican
background, I became one of the first women priests in the Church
of South India."
She says that she encountered no opposition in any congregation
in which she subsequently ministered. "They did not differentiate
me from male priests, maybe because of my approach, my rapport with
them, and my service. I have worked in many capacities for the past
30 years, and there was virtually no hitch or problem with the
people, only some grumblings here and there among priests."
SHE describes her election as the first woman bishop in India as
"a pure act of God", after "a bitter battle to be elected on to the
panel, in a stiff contest where 11 male priests fought against me.
Once elected to the panel, we relentlessly prayed, and put our
hopes at the altar of God. God does wonders, and led the Moderator
and selection -committee members with his Holy Spirit. It is a
marvellous thing to have happened in our family life.
"I believe that God has blessed me with this as a recognition
and reward for my ministry, and to make use of me as an instrument
to manifest to the world that men and women are equal before him,
and he does not distinguish between them."
The majority of church members in her rural diocese are
agricultural labourers from Dalit families, most of them with
meagre financial resources. Health care, education, and evangelism
to unreached people are declared priorities that, within the
Church, include instilling a sense of discipline and order,
particularly among the clergy. Christians, she says, are regarded
as pious, honest, and loving people, who give equal respect to
other religions; so the Church of South India commands considerable
All eyes are on her, as the country's first woman bishop. Good
wishes have poured in from people all over the world, including the
Roman Catholic community, and she concludes: "Not only the
community of Churches, but people belonging to other religions are
eagerly watching how I will be able to lead the Church."
PATRICIA STOREY, now the Bishop-elect of Meath & Kildare, in
Ireland, grew up in Belfast during the Troubles. But, aside from
the death of her father's cousin in a bomb blast, she describes her
upbringing as normal. "It's like people living anywhere with
conflict - you just get on with it," she says. "You didn't really
think about it unless anything cropped up near by. We had bomb
scares every week, if not every day, at school, but of course you
loved that, because it got you out of class."
She reflects, though, that the conflict moulded the congregation
of St Augustine's, Londonderry, whose Rector she has been since
2003. As the city's west bank became increasingly Roman Catholic in
the late 1970s, Protestants crossed the River Foyle in droves to
live on the other side. But a committed congregation continued to
worship at St Augustine's, a lively, family church by the city
The congregation would have had to cross the heavily militarised
bridge. "Coming to church in the 1970s could have taken two hours,
because they and their cars would be stopped and searched. You'd
have to have been committed to stay a member of the church," she
"I think there's still a flavour of that at St Augustine's, in a
very faithful, committed core of people. It's an amazing place, and
I have been very happy here with my husband and children."
WHEN people see a clerical collar, they assume that you have
always been religious, she says. But this was not true in her case.
"We were a family who didn't have a faith. I was hardly ever in a
church until I came to faith when I was 19, through Christian
friends at Dublin University. The personality of Jesus leaped out
at me, and I thought: 'I really like this guy.'"
She was reading French and English. "I had a very glamorous aunt
who was an air hostess, and I did languages so that I could travel
and do that," she says. "But the moment I came to faith, that
changed, and I really wanted to do some sort of Christian
She went into Church of Ireland youth-work, married a clergyman,
had children, and did various part-time jobs, "but working all
along on some call to Christian leadership".
After training at the Church of Ireland Theological College (now
Institute), she was ordained priest in 1998. Being a woman priest
has hardly ever been an issue for her. "I genuinely don't think of
myself as a female minister, but a minister who happens to be
female. I don't make gender a big issue, and, because I don't, I
didn't get a lot of opposition," she says, adding with a laugh,
"unless there's stuff going on over my head, which is perfectly
Her appointment came as "a huge shock" to her. "I don't think
anyone was expecting it just yet," she says. "The response has been
99-per-cent positive, which makes me think the time is right. There
is a collegiality about waiting for the right time, and I think
that is the right thing to do. I have to trust this is God's call
on my life, and, if it is, God will smooth the way."
The time for the Church of England will be very soon, she
believes. "There will always be people who may never be there; you
just have to accept that you can't win them all."
She will be ministering to a largely rural, commuter diocese of
18 parishes, half an hour from Dublin. She is used to being asked
whether women bring any unique gifts to the episcopacy, and says:
"The honest answer is, I don't know. It's often said that women are
empathetic and pastoral; but I know a lot of men who are, and a lot
of women who aren't.
"Possibly what a woman brings is being a mother. That is unique.
I understand family life and domestic life, and I wonder how many
bishops have gone and put a wash on and done the ironing before
they go out. That's going to be my life."
HELEN-ANN HARTLEY, now the Bishop-elect of Waikato, in the diocese
of Waikato & Taranaki, has the distinction of being the first
woman priest who was ordained in the Church of England to become a
bishop. Her diocese in Aotearoa, New Zealand, was the first to
suggest that women could be ordained to the priesthood, and the
province has had women bishops since 1989, when the Rt Revd Penny
Jamieson was selected as the Bishop of Dunedin.
Consequently, her appointment has caused interest, but is no
real talking-point. Pockets of conservatism do exist, but are not a
block on women's episcopal authority and, she says, after decades
of living with the reality of women bishops, people are far more
interested in the sexuality debate. Christianity is comparatively
recent in New Zealand, and the country's prevailing culture has
enabled the progression of women in the Church to be less of an
"The UK has far more layers of history, and the Church isn't
burdened with the same sort of history and traditions as the Church
of England," she says. "New Zealand society is, in many ways, built
on fairness. Society here is rooted in its indigenous and Maori
culture - there's a great striving for justice, and equality among
the Maori people, and that seeps into the whole Church."
Her father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all
Presbyterian ministers in the Church of Scotland. The family became
Anglicans when her father was ordained (and she was confirmed) in
Durham diocese by Bishop David Jenkins. Educated at the
universities of St Andrews, Princeton, and Oxford, she came to New
Zealand with her husband in 2011 after a curacy in Oxford, and
tutorship at Ripon College, Cuddesdon, to take up the post of Dean
of St John's Theological College, Auckland.
SHE is 40 years of age, and reflects that her age is "probably
more of an advantage than a disadvantage. They are really keen here
to grow vocations in younger people, and reach out and connect with
the younger generation; so you could say that appointing a bishop
my age might make that more accessible." The previous three bishops
of the diocese have all been in their late thirties or forties.
Waikato is a place to which she feels strongly called at this
time, although, she says, "It's all been most unexpected." The
bicultural diocese, affected by the 19th-century colonial wars, and
engaged in ongoing reconciliation, is unusual in having two
co-equal diocesan bishops and two cathedrals, one in New Plymouth
(Taranaki) and one in Hamilton (Waikato).
A vast, predominantly rural area with a big hydro-electric
station, it embraces the film location for The Lord of the
Rings: the Bishop of Waikato has been dubbed "the Bishop of
The blend of Maori, Polynesian, and European bishops in a Church
constitutionally divided into three, and with distinct measures to
respect the different ethnicities, "works on a good day, but has
its challenges as well", she says. "The liturgy is recognisably
Anglican, and other things, too, have that DNA of what it is to be
Anglican. And Fresh Expressions has just started to become really
important here, in the New Zealand context."
She is watching, with some anguish, the ongoing debate in the
Church of England. In 2008, before the Lambeth Conference, she took
part in a three-day conference, Transfiguring Episcopacy, and
remembers being dispatched to Heathrow to pick up the Presiding
Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, Dr Katharine
All 14 women bishops were present. "Just being surrounded by the
other women bishops was an experience in itself. I never thought
I'd end up joining the ranks," she says.
"I hope the other appointments, happening in such a short space
of time, will be an encouragement to others. There is pain and
frustration following the November vote, but I think it's important
that the Church looks forward as much as it can, and doesn't feel
burdened by the past. The Church of England will be there. It will
have to appreciate its very different history and context."