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Consecration of first woman bishop in Wales marks ‘end of a long journey’

27 January 2017


Together: left to right: the Bishop of Waikato & Taranaki, Dr Helen-Ann Hartley; Bishop Penberthy; the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek; and the Bishop of Stockholm, the Rt Revd Eva Brunne

Together: left to right: the Bishop of Waikato & Taranaki, Dr Helen-Ann Hartley; Bishop Penberthy; the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Tr...

THE Church in Wales has its first woman bishop. Her consecration marks the end of a journey that, the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, said, had been “long and hard” for the women of the Church — “first to be made deacon, then priest, and now bishop”.

Canon Joanna Penberthy, formerly the Rector of Glan Ithon, Llandrindnod Wells, was consecrated for the see of St Davids in Llandaff Cathedral on Saturday.

The Church in Wales had started debating women in the episcopate in 2005. After a setback in 2008, a Bill carried in 2013 was endorsed the next year; and a Code of Practice made provision for those who remained opposed.

Bishop Penberthy’s election had been determined by her gifts and not her gender, Dr Morgan told the 500-strong congregation. He suggested that the liturgical confession might spur collective reflection on how the Church had impeded women’s ministry.

His address drew parallels with the “cold coming” of T. S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi”, and praised the women for “daring to trust and daring to hope”, and for not allowing themselves to become cynical or bitter.

Bishops present included the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, the Church of England’s first woman diocesan; the Bishop of Waikato & Taranaki, New Zealand, Dr Helen-Ann Hartley; and the Bishop of Stockholm, the Rt Revd Eva Brunne. The rite took place beneath Epstein’s Majestas, the towering figure of Christ on the great concrete wishbone that straddles the nave.

Dr Morgan spoke in Welsh and English throughout the eucharist. The Beatitudes were spoken in Welsh, as was the Ordination Charge; the Examination and Ordination were in alternating Welsh and English.

But it was the singing of the hymns that gave the service its passion. “Hills of the North rejoice”, sung in English, was a rousing introit, but it was the singing in Welsh of two of the country’s best-loved hymns which raised the roof.

The hymn “Tydi a wnaeth y wyrth, O! Grist, Fab Duw” (“You did this mighty deed, O! Christ God’s Son”), was sung to Pantyfedwen. Increasing fervour was poured into the repeated lines “Mae’r Haleliwia yn fy enaid i, A rhoddaf, Iesu, fy mawrhad i Ti” (“The Hallelujah has possessed my soul, To you, O Christ, I give my praises all”). And the congregation sang their hearts out to “Dyma gariad fel y moroedd” (“Here is love vast as the ocean”).

The Celtic influence of the service was further affirmed with hymns by John Bell and Kathy Galloway.

Bishop Penberthy, who trained at St John’s College, Nottingham, and Cranmer Hall, Durham, and who is studying for a Ph.D. in quantum physics, became a deaconess in 1984, was made deacon in 1987, and in 1997 was among the first women to be ordained priest. In 2007, she became the first woman Canon of St Davids Cathedral. She will be enthroned there on 11 February. After the service she said: “I didn’t think, at the beginning of my ministry, that I would ever see women in the episcopate, but you had to keep on believing.

“What was important was living out the calling that we had at that time, and, by doing so, opening people’s eyes to the fact that God doesn’t call just men: God calls us all to his ministry in a way which fits our own particular gifts and talents.”

Dr Morgan was assisted in the consecration by the five other Welsh bishops. There was applause when Bishop Penberthy was presented with the symbols of office, the episcopal ring, pectoral cross, and mitre; and cheers and a standing ovation accompanied her exit from the cathedral.

Dr Morgan, who retires on 31 January, and has been a campaigner for women’s ordination, said: “The Church in Wales can now claim to be a universal Church.”

He concluded his address: “Remember that bishops, too, are human, with all the quirks and foibles that belong to the human race. We, too, need to be ministered to by you. Don’t let the episcopal office so overawe you that you feel you cannot offer that ministry; for, after all, gifts for ministry are given to all God’s people, not just the ordained.

“And, wherever you are, and whatever office we hold, we are, in the end, no different from any other human being: a child of God, made in his image.”

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