“FREEDOM for women is not freedom to be done to or for — but freedom to be and do ourselves,” the Bishop of Stockport, the Rt Revd Libby Lane, has said at a service to mark 100 years of women’s suffrage.
Bishop Lane, who was the first woman to be consecrated bishop in the Church of England, in 2015 (News, 30 January 2015), was addressing the congregation at a choral evensong at Chester Cathedral — where she had been installed on International Women’s Day, 8 March 2015 — as part of the Vote100 celebrations during UK Parliament Week, on Saturday.
The suffragette movement brought about both the Representation of the People Act 1918, which paved the way for women to vote in a General Election, and the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918, which allowed women to be elected to the House of Commons.
Bishop Lane said: “We are fearfully and wonderfully made, women and girls, in the image of God. . . We are ‘God’s chosen ones, holy, and beloved’. Not at the expense of men and boys, this is not either/or, but for equal and mutual flourishing.
“Women’s rights are human rights. Everyone benefits if women and girls are free.”
Diocese of ChesterChildren hold placards during a service to celebrate 100 years of suffrage, on Saturday, held in the woods of Boggart Hole Clough, in Manchester, where suffragettes in Chester once held open-air meetings
Besides celebrating the legacy of suffrage, Bishop Lane launched the Big #Freeto Conversation: a social-media campaign which invites the public to consider two questions: What are women free to do today, thanks to the sacrifices of women in the past? What freedoms have yet to be secured for women today?
“I have very publicly had my life transformed by freedoms newly open to women not available previously,” she told the congregation, referring to changes to canon law in the past decade that had allowed women to be ordained priests and bishops.
Moreover, she continued, changes in UK law since her birth in 1966 had meant that she and other women could “attend the college I chose at university; keep my own bank account when I got married — or take out a loan, or buy a house; that I could legally and freely plan the shape of my family; that I can say no to sex in marriage; that I can expect equal pay”.
She pointed to strong women in the Bible, including Sarah, the Hebrew midwives Shiphrah and Puah, the prostitute Rahab, and St Mary Magdalene, to honour the “central and vital contribution and place” of women across the world.
“We have rightly honoured women who have changed politics and the social environment. . . We commit ourselves to continue the struggle for women, and all who are disenfranchised, excluded, oppressed, or discriminated against, in our own communities and nation, and across the world.
“We do this not because it is ‘political correctness’ or succumbing to societal pressure, but because this is the embodiment of the gospel of freedom in Christ: life in all its fullness, for all.”
Before the service, Bishop Lane joined people, some in costume, on a march round the city centre, carrying placards with significant dates in the history of women’s rights. The group, including Mothers’ Union representatives, had travelled that morning from the woodlands of Boggart Hole Clough, in Manchester, where suffragettes in Chester once held open-air meetings.
The Archdeacon of Manchester, the Ven. Karen Lund, led a short open-air service of thanksgiving, in which skeins of the suffragette colours were handed out as the focus for prayers. Bishop Lane gave the blessing.
The Rector of St Nicholas’s, Burnage, Canon Rachel Mann, who compiled the order of service, explained: “I decided to use the suffragette colours — green for hope, purple for dignity, and white for purity, which I interpreted as justice — as the themes to shape the words. Ultimately, the service reminded us of the ongoing need for hope, dignity, and justice for all in God’s troubled world.”
The congregation also sang a commissioned hymn written by the Revd Dr Jan Berry, a United Reformed Church minister. Each verse represents a colour.
Chester diocese is due to release #Freeto resources to schools in the New Year, when it will also mark the 50th anniversary of women Readers with #Freeto conversations: www.chester.anglican.org/social-responsibility/freeto.