MASSED on the steps of St Paul's Cathedral, they stood smiling
and waving in glorious sunshine, as friends, husbands, children,
and grandchildren strained to spot their own in the Class of
The 20th anniversary of the first ordination of women as priests
in the Church of England on Saturday was, the Archbishop of
Canterbury confirmed, "party time". About 700 of those ordained in
1994 attended the service at St Paul's. Many arriving after taking
part in a walk of witness from Westminster Abbey.
For 15 minutes, as they processed into the cathedral through the
west doors, the congregation applauded.
"It was a very charged atmosphere," said the Revd Alison Morris,
a non-stipendiary minister at St Michael and All Angels', Pelsall,
who was ordained five years ago. "As they entered, they were
clapping those who were clapping and affirming them. Some had tears
in their eyes."
The service was presided over by the Canon Treasurer of St
Paul's, Canon Philippa Boardman, assisted by Archbishop Welby, who
had chosen to serve her. Her introduction of Archbishop Welby as
deacon prompted an affectionate laugh from the congregation. He
was, he said, "deeply grateful and immensely privileged".
His sermon reflected the tone of the service - celebratory but
wary of complacency. The first hymn, "The Church's one foundation",
spoke of a body "sore opprest, by schisms rent asunder", and there
were references throughout the proceedings to the difficult journey
to 1994, and the challenges still ahead.
There were testimonies from the Dean of Salisbury, the Very Revd
June Osborne, and the Revd Kate Boardman, assistant curate at St
Mary's, Heworth, Gateshead.
Dean Osborne's ordination in 1994 was "no different from other
ordinations", she said. "The challenge was to express Christ's
ministry in this world; so what we did in 43 dioceses was utterly
familiar. For a very long time, the Church has sent out priests,
and we simply did it again in 1994. Yet what happened that year . .
. was also of cosmic significance. Men told us that they recognised
a greater fulfilment of ministry in our ordination. Women told us
how their sense of dignity and spiritual authority felt
Miss Boardman reminded the congregation of the atmosphere before
1994. She said that she remembered a sign on the parish noticeboard
of the church she had attended as an undergraduate: "This parish
plays no part in the apostasy of women." Some laughed, particularly
when she admitted that, "truthfully, I had to look up apostasy."
But there was silence as she spoke of being "told in public that I
imperil the human race by going against nature to be ordained and
not staying at home".
There was a note of defiance in her testimony: "Today, I rejoice
in being the head who 'tainted' the hands of our Archbishop of
Later, during intercessions, the Archdeacon of Westminster, the
Ven. Dr Jane Hedges, prayed for "those who are unable to accept the
ministry of women. . . Give us the desire to understand and respect
Archbishop Welby's sermon paid tribute to those who had
campaigned for women's ordination. The journey had required "much
risk", he said, "from those women and men who long ago stepped out
on a course which seemed unimaginable, their costly grind paving
the way for those gathered here to step forward. In our
celebrations - and let there be celebration - let us not overlook
the cost, the bitterness of disappointment and rejection, the
knee-jerk resistance of an institution facing change. . .
"I want to thank those here today whose costly loyalty, whose
scars, make this celebration possible, and I want to say personally
how I grieve that it cost so much, to apologise for my own part in
While emphasising that it was "birthday time, party time", the
Archbishop suggested that "we've got a long way to go. Today is a
time of celebration, but never of complacency."
Professor Linda Woodhead, of Lancaster University, told the BBC
on Saturday that women generally held "lower-status, lower-paid,
lower-power" positions in the Church. The latest ministry
statistics show that female clergy account for 24 per cent of
full-time stipendiary clergy, and 53 per cent of self-supporting
ministers. Eleven per cent of the senior clergy are women. There
are also fewer younger women being recommended for ordination than
young men: in 2012, 71 per cent of candidates aged under 40 were
The mood on Saturday was overwhelmingly jubilant, nevertheless.
Among the congregation was the Revd Susan Williams, a
non-stipendiary minister in the Grafoe Group in Lincoln, ordained
She remembered sitting on the floor, watching the vote on the
television in 1994, "then, getting up and cheering, and ringing my
daughter". The walk of witness on Saturday had been "lovely, very
friendly, very joyful, and occasionally people honking their
Miss Morris also recalled watching the vote on television: "It
was on a knife-edge; so we felt great anticipation, but preparation
for disappointment." Saturday's service had been "well-structured
and crafted. . . It touched on those who have gone before us and
are no longer with us, and those who might be called in the future.
The past, present, and future were held in the whole service."
She looked forward to the first woman bishop, but suggested that
it must be "the right person, at the time right, in the appropriate
place. God will indicate that."
Question of the week: Has your view of ministry been changed
through your experience of women priests?