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First English woman priest dies, aged 92

17 July 2015

ST CATHARINE'S SCHOOL

THE first English woman to be ordained in the Anglican Communion, the Revd Joyce Bennett, has died, aged 92. Her death was announced at the General Synod in York on Saturday afternoon, and prayers were said.

Born in 1923, Ms Bennett was ordained on 28 November 1971 by the Bishop of Hong Kong, the Rt Revd Gilbert Baker. Before this, the only woman to be ordained in an Anglican diocese had been the Revd Florence Li Tim-Oi in 1944, also in Hong Kong, during the Japanese occupation in the Second World War.

Miss Bennett came to Hong Kong in 1949 as a CMS missionary, and was ordained deacon in 1962. She was Principal of St Catharine’s School for Girls in Hong Kong from 1968 until she left in 1983. After this, she served the Chinese community at St Martin-in-the-Fields. She preached in both Chinese and English. She was awarded the OBE in 1978.

In a chapter of Women Priests? Yes — now! (Denham House Press), published in 1975, she reflected on what her status might be on her return to England. Her ordination had been approved by the “overwhelming majority” in the diocese of Hong Kong & Macao, she wrote. “Our Chinese friends smile indulgently at the gasps of joy and delight of our overseas visitors who have unexpectedly found themselves at the clergy celebration to be receiving communion from the hands of a woman priest who has just consecrated the elements. . .”

On her return to England, she declined invitations to celebrate communion by congregations. But in October 1986, it was reported that she had caused “dismay” by celebrating communion at Church House, prompting a ban on the use of the building by the Movement for the Ordination of Women, at whose meeting it had taken place.

Hilary Cotton, who chairs WATCH, said: “Joyce proved in her very being that . . . English women could be priests. Many held fast to her example of generous and ordinary service whilst working for the Church of England to recognise their own calling to be priests. They stand on her shoulders.”

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