A PARISH priest, the Revd Libby Lane, is to be the first woman
bishop in the Church of England, it was announced on Wednesday, one
month to the day after the passing of legislation to enable women's
Ms Lane, Vicar of St Peter's, Hale, and St Elizabeth's, Ashley,
will become the Bishop of Stockport, a suffragan post in the
diocese of Chester, when she is consecrated in York Minister on 26
"This is unexpected and very exciting," she said, after the
announcement was made in Stockport Town Hall. "I am very conscious
of all those who have gone before me, women and men, who for
decades have looked forward to this moment. But most of all I am
thankful to God."
The Archbishop of Canterbury said that he was "absolutely
delighted. . . Her Christ-centred life, calmness, and clear
determination to serve the Church and the community make her a
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, said it was "an historic
appointment and important day for equality".
Described by the Bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster, as a
"first-rate parish priest" with a "varied and distinguished
ministry", Ms Lane was among the first women ordained priest in
1994, having trained at Cranmer Hall, Durham.
After serving in both Blackburn and York dioceses, she moved to
Chester in 2000, holding several posts, including that of Assistant
Diocesan Director of Ordinands. Although she was among the eight
women elected last year as Participant Observers in the House of
Bishops, she was not among the women often mentioned as likely
candidates for the first appointment.
Archbishop Welby told the BBC on Wednesday that Ms Lane was
"very unconcerned about herself. . . Her lack of self-importance
means that she will cope with being the first woman bishop
brilliantly, and will be a hugely powerful contribution to the
College of Bishops."
As a young mother of two small children when she was starting
out as a priest, Ms Lane had been "enormously blessed", she said,
to have "ministered in places that have honoured and appreciated my
ministry. . .
"I have never encountered aggression or unpleasantness." But she
knew of women who "carry the hurt and scars of the journey".
She went on: "There are many very real discriminations and
injustices that women face in the UK and across the world, and, if
just in a smallest way, my nomination as Bishop of Stockport is an
encouragement and a challenge for the flourishing of women
everywhere, then that, I think, will be a blessing."
Her appointment was welcomed by those who have campaigned for
decades to open the episcopate to women. Hilary Cotton, who chairs
WATCH, said that it was "a great day of rejoicing and a momentous
day of change".
Statements from traditionalists and conservative Evangelicals
both promised prayers for her, although they expressed concern
about the consequences of her appointment. "Naturally, we regret
the implications for the wider unity of the worldwide Church," said
Canon Simon Killwick, chairman of the Catholic Group in the General
Forward in Faith sent her "good wishes". The chairman of Reform,
the Revd Rod Thomas, said that her appointment was "against the
biblical model of good church leadership".
"The Church is a better place for having the space for
dissenting voices to be heard and honoured," Ms Lane said. "I am
committed to the Church's principles in the current legislation of
"I take very seriously the calling for bishops to be a sign of
unity, and I will be wanting to exercise my ministry in ways that
draw people together and enable us to work together for the good of
On Thursday, the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, a
traditionalist, welcomed the appointmnt, which would "bring great
joy and affirmation to those within the diocese of Chichester and
across the nation who have prayed and waited so long for this
He paid tribute to her "commitment to finding a place for
everyone within the Church of England to flourish, irrespective of
their theological convictions on the matter of women's
While rebutting the suggestion at the press conference in
Stockport that her appointment was a "gesture", she was clear that
the work to see women in the Church reach their potential is not
yet complete. She pointed to the fact that, while about half of
those entering ordination were women, they were under-represented
among incumbents and ordinands under 30: "We have to look at how we
can encourage young women to the ministry."
Asked whether she would describe herself as a feminist, she
said: "I would describe myself as a woman who has expected, and
been blessed to receive, all the opportunity that my male
colleagues have. I am conscious that, for many around the world,
being a woman is a huge disadvantage. . . Globally, poverty has a
In a week in which the Archbishop of Canterbury warned: "We
can't simply go on as we are if we are to flourish and grow as the
Church of England" (News,
19 December), she offered a hopeful prognosis: "If the Church
continues to adapt, as it has done through the centuries, and be
faithful to its call to proclaim afresh in each generation the
gospel, then the Church will grow and flourish in this generation
as it has done in the past."
Christians needed to be "pro-active and confident about our
continuing place in the life of the country and to trust in Christ
that the Spirit will do their work".
Born in Glossop, Derbyshire, and educated privately at
Manchester High School for Girls, Ms Lane studied theology at St
Peter's College, Oxford. She was ordained priest in 1994, alongside
her husband, George, who is Chaplain of Manchester Airport. They
have two children in higher education.
Her interests are listed as: "Being a school governor,
encouraging social action initiatives, learning to play the
saxophone, supporting Manchester United, reading, and doing cryptic
crosswords." A former colleague from Blackburn, Canon Arun John,
said that she had a penchant for tap dancing.
Fast-track plan unveiled. On Thursday, Sam
Gyimah, the Conservative MP for East Surrey, on behalf of the
Cabinet Office, will introduce a Bill to fasttrack women bishops
into the House of Lords. All three main party leaders have given
their backing to the proposals.
If passed, the Bill will mean that, for a period of ten years,
the most senior eligible female bishop at any time will fill a
vacancy that arises on the Bishops Bench, in preference to the most
senior eligible male bishop.
An explanatory note said: "Male bishops would continue to enter
the Lords, in accordance with the arrangements under the Bishoprics
Act 1878 for determining seniority of precedence, if there were no
eligible female bishops at the time a vacancy arose."
The Bishop of Lincoln, the Rt Revd Christopher Lowson, is
currently the most senior bishop awaiting the formal demand to take
a seat in the House of Lords. If the Bill is passed, that could be
postponed indefinitely, depending on how many women are made
"On the one hand, this is quite frustrating," he said on
Thursday, "because greater Lincolnshire is under-represented in the
House of Lords, and I saw this as an excellent opportunity to raise
in the highest national stage the issues which, as a Diocese and a
community, we are facing in trying to make our part of the country
a better place for everyone. That representation may now have to
wait some time.
"However, far more frustrating has been the wait for women to be
able to be ordained bishop, and for an anachronism to be consigned
to history. For that to happen completely, it is absolutely right
that women bishops are fully represented in all levels of society,
parliament and the Church, and I look forward very much to seeing
A statement from WATCH issued on Thursday said that it had
"always campaigned for women and men to be bishops on equal terms,
including as members of the House of Lords. Sometimes, however,
equality is so far distant that some speeding up is necessary to
make it happen within a reasonable time frame."
It went on: "The Bill recognizes the fact that for the first
Diocesan bishops who are women, this hasn't been a level playing
field and they will not have had the same opportunities
historically to be able to fulfill their full and true
The Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Tim Stevens, convenor of
the bishops in the House of Lords, said that the presence of women
bishops would "enrich and strengthen our voice in the House of