THE Cheshire village of Hale is more like a town than a village.
Its main high street certainly has more banks than many smaller
towns - albeit very small branches; and the Tesco, Sainsbury's, and
Co-op superstores would, elsewhere, be considered convenience
stores, going by their relative sizes. But there is bustle.
A hundred yards from the end of the High Street, however, the
bustle stops as you reach St Peter's. The vicarage, next door, is
in a quiet side street that has the atmosphere of a tranquil rural
village in Middle England rather than one of the overspill
conurbations in Greater Manchester.
The poster on the church noticeboard encouraging people to pray
for their - now former - Vicar is the only outward sign that this
is the parish whose priest was chosen to be the first female bishop
in the Church of England.
Two days after Monday's consecration in York Minster, the Rt
Revd Libby Lane is back at what will remain her home for just a few
more weeks. And, in the relative calmness of village life, she has
had the opportunity to reflect on the enormity of Monday's
"It was a really wonderful occasion. I mean, genuinely, I really
enjoyed it," she says, "I felt in very safe hands. The Minster have
been remarkable in pulling that service to- gether in the timescale
they had, and the pressure they had with numbers, and expectation.
They have been so helpful, gracious, and enthusiastic about
Unlike, perhaps, most candidates for consecration, the new
Bishop had the benefit of being familiar with many of those whose
job it was to put the service together. She even knew, at least to
some extent, most of the bishops involved in her consecration,
because of the part she played as a "participant observer" at the
House of Bishops, a part also played by the Dean of York, the Very
Revd Vivienne Faull.
The Precentor, Canon Peter Moger, is in Bishop Lane's cell
group; and the Archdeacon of York, the Ven. Sarah Bullock, who
preached the sermon, trained alongside her, and the two are
godparents to each other's children.
"IT FELT like the Minster was on my side, and I had no anxieties
at all about the service," she says. "We drove in on Monday morning
to York, and, from a mile out, as we were driving through, we saw
the people we knew heading towards the Minster, which was just
lovely, seeing all those people coming together.
"Consecrations are both very profound and remarkable, and yet,
actually, really very simple. They are wrapped up in a lot of pomp
and circumstance, which I quite enjoy, but they are, at heart,
"Does the Church believe you are called to this? Do you believe
you are called to this? We consecrate you to do this alongside us.
And then we put all that in the context of the eucharist, which is,
actually, the good news that we're about."
Not everyone at the service was in favour of her ordination, but
Bishop Lane says that the sound of a dissenting voice made the
service more "genuine".
"I keep saying - and I don't say it because I am meant to, I say
it because I mean it - I think we are a better community for being
a place where those who have dissenting voices are heard. I think
it is more honest, and I think it is closer to the Kingdom. I think
we are better for having a place for those who say: 'This is the
place that I want to be; but I don't hold with that.'
"I'm not going to pretend that that was an easy moment, even
though it was anticipated. Actually, I think that that demonstrated
something about who we understand ourselves to be, and made clear
that we decided as a Church that this was where we were to be and
this is who we are. That all orders of ministry are equally open to
men and women, but that those who can't, in conscience, engage with
that are faithful Anglicans. They have a place.
"And so, having that articulated very publicly on Monday
manifested what we as a church institution at Synod, when we passed
the legislation with the guiding principles, we said that this is
who we were; that there is a place to voice dissent.
"Although it wasn't a comfortable moment, the occasion would
have felt like it had less integrity if there hadn't been space for
that to happen."
THERE has been controversy, because some of the bishops who took
part in the consecration are going to exercise "generous restraint"
at next week's ordination of the Revd Philip North CMP, an
Anglo-Catholic, as the new Bishop of Burnley. Bishop Lane says that
she will be attending the service, and will do so at the invitation
of Fr North.
"There were bishops present at my consecration on Monday for
whom that is their position. They were very clear that they wanted
to be there, if that wasn't going to cause difficulty for me, and I
am honoured that that is where they wanted to be. Their presence
was as much a kind of affirmation, and a delight. That's a sign of
the Church's strength, and commitment to mutual flourishing.
"I will be at Philip's consecration on Monday, at his
invitation. I've met Philip, and, as those bishops who were present
at my consecration - although they didn't participate in the
consecration -were able to say with integrity, when they were
asked, it is their will that I was consecrated, I will say with
integrity next Monday it is my will that Philip is consecrated. I
believe him to be called to this ministry. We don't agree on
everything, but this is the Church that we have both been called to
BISHOP LANE's call to ministry came in her teens, and was
"intertwined" with her journey of faith "for as long as I can
remember". But, at the time, the idea that women could serve in the
ordained ministry was not one that was widely held.
When she was at the Keswick Convention, at the age of 15, she
responded to an invitation to those who felt called to full-time
Christian service to come forward for prayer. What she had in mind
was to follow the family tradition of working as a civil engineer,
helping to build roads, bridges, and infrastructure in the
developing world, as part of a missionary calling.
From very early on, she says, she felt that the least she could
do with her life was "to offer it back to Christ in response to
what he has given for me. . .
"My own Christian faith has always had in it that sense of - if
this is what I believe of Jesus, that he took my flesh and lived
our life, and gave himself for me on the cross; and that sacrifice
has made me new, and forgiven my sins, and given me the hope of
eternity by the power of the resurrection - what else can I do but
give everything that I am and have in his service?
"As a child, and as a teenager, I was never quite clear what
shape that would have, but that has always been part of my
relationship with God."
During her sixth-form years, it became apparent, she says, that
it was not her vocation to be a civil engineer. She studied
theology at university, still not considering ordination as a
calling. It was while she was at university that the Church of
England decided to ordain women as priests, and a female deacon was
appointed chaplain of the neighbouring college.
In that context, she felt that ordination might be something
that was "integral to my identity. God's call on my life began to
She was ordained, alongside her husband, in 1994, in the first
wave of ordinations of women priests. And now she has become the
first woman to be ordained a bishop. "My own journey has coincided
with the Church's journey," she says.
More than 20 years since that ordination, she describes the
"twin joy" of being called to exercise her ministry in diverse
contexts, alongside the "much more intimate delight of the joy of
being with individual people as they explore, discern, and become
aware of the presence of Christ in and around their lives.
"Whether it's a tiny child being caught up in prayer, and
worship, and wonder, or somebody towards the very end of their life
discovering Christ in their final footsteps, is an equal delight. .
. Being able to be alongside individuals at moments of
transformation in their lives is an astonishing privilege."