THE Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, who took her seat as the first female bishop in the House of Lords on Monday, has said that she hopes to push for diversity and inspire younger women.
Bishop Treweek was introduced as one of 26 Lords Spiritual by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, during a ceremony in the House of Lords this week. She signed the Oath of Allegiance before taking her place on the benches as the most senior female bishop in the Church of England.
Under the Lords Spiritual (Women) Act, passed earlier this year, women diocesan bishops can jump the male queue for the Lords for the next ten years, in order to hasten the day of gender equality.
Speaking before her admission, Bishop Treweek said: “The leadership of the Church of England should reflect the diversity of the country, all nationalities and social backgrounds. When people come to church, they should see someone like themselves spreading the message that God is love.”
She went on: “I hope younger women will think, ‘Yes, I could do that’; but what matters is that people are able to live out their calling whatever that might be.”
In an interview with The Observer on Sunday, she suggested that “God is beyond gender”: she prefers to avoid using gendered pronouns. She sent back the first version of the writ of summons that described her as a “right reverend father in God” asking that she be referred to neutrally as “bishop”.
As for working with the other bishops in the Lords, she said: “As is any woman ordained in the past 20 years, I am very used to working alongside men and being the only woman in a room.
“These Bishops are my friends and colleagues, and I hope there will be more women one day, so that we get the balance right and reflect something of God, with men and women working side by side.”
When asked what she hoped to contribute, she said: “I bring who I am, and part of that is that I am a women. I will bring my experience out in the diocese where I meet people through a whole spectrum of life — urban and rural, wealth and poverty — and where I connect with the needs of people of all faiths and no faiths. I am very excited to speak on those issues.”
Priested in 1995 after studying at Wycliffe Hall, she worked for 12 years as a parish priest in London, including seven years as the Vicar of St James the Less, Bethnal Green, before becoming Archdeacon of Northolt in 2006, and Archdeacon of Hackney in 2011. Before ordination, she worked as a speech and language therapist. She is also trained in couples and family therapy.
“That you have been shaped by a job out there in the world is really important,” she said. “As a speech therapist, I was concerned about enabling people to have a voice. Looking back, I can see how poignant that is now. I will want to go on speaking out for children, on education, health, and housing issues.”
Bishop Treweek said that, although her seat in the House of Lords carried “a lot of expectation”, her intention was to listen before taking the risk of stepping in to debate.
That said, she supported the “motion of regret” tabled on Thursday by the Bishop of Portsmouth about the proposed cuts in working tax credits, which was being debated in the Lords on Monday.
“I want the Government to hear loud and clear that we are concerned about working families: we don’t want people to be worse off.
“I hope that there will be a very clear message put to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.”