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The Class of ’94 celebrate 20 years since ordination

09 May 2014

There was a party atmosphere at St Paul's for the anniversary service, writes Madeleine Davies

GRAHAM LACADO

The congregation at St Paul's 

The congregation at St Paul's 

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 1994.

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 validated."

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 Canterbury."

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 difference."

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 that hurt."

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 male.

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 in 2007.

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 horns".

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."

Leader comment

Press

Question of the week: Has your view of ministry been changed through your experience of women priests?

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