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Obituary: The Revd Jo Stevinson

25 June 2021

A correspondent writes:

THE Revd Jo Stevinson was at the very forefront of the crusade for women’s ordination. She was an early member of the Newcastle branch of the Movement for the Ordination of Women (MOW), before helping to set up the Durham group.

This group memorably organised an all-night vigil outside Durham Cathedral on Palace Green at the time of the Petertide ordinations in 1982 — somewhat emotively referred to as a “picket”. This peaceful gathering had nothing in common with the protests led by Arthur Scargill in the region at about the same time; and history will suggest that Jo’s vigil was rather more successful.

It is to the cathedral authorities’ credit that in subsequent years the group were invited to spend the night of this annual Petertide vigil inside the Galilee Chapel.

Jo was in the first vanguard of women priests, and her ordination at Coventry Cathedral on 23 April 1994 was the culmination of many years’ hard work and dedication.

Jo’s ministry had started many years previously. Between 1955 and 1962, she taught religious knowledge (RK) at Colston’s Girls’ School, in Bristol; one of her pupils was Mary Tanner, whom she persuaded to switch from PE to RK. She also took on responsibility for the large Sunday school at St Mary Redcliffe. It was at Redcliffe that she met and became engaged to one of the curates, John Stevinson. They were married for 59 years, and, by a remarkable coincidence, she died on the 60th anniversary of their engagement.

In 1963, Jo moved to Reading, after John had been appointed Priest-in-Charge of St John’s, Caversham. Here, not only was Jo a mother to two young sons: she became a traditional clergy wife, prepared services, wrote some of John’s sermons, started a fellowship group for young mothers, ran parish holidays, undertook meals on wheels, and organised a series of Good Friday services in Reading Town Hall.

In 1974, the family moved to the north-east after John’s appointment as Sunderland’s Social Responsibility Officer. This marked a colossal change for Jo. The move and change from the south-east to the north-east was challenging in many ways. Within a relatively short time, both her sons were away at boarding schools in Durham; and John’s peripatetic role meant that her position as a clergy wife no longer existed.

With resilience, fortitude, and determination, she fashioned a new post for herself, which included training to become a lay Reader (while attached to St Michael’s Bishopwearmouth), becoming a marriage-guidance counsellor, and helping to set up a refuge for what were then called “battered wives”. She was an enthusiastic supporter of Amnesty International, writing countless letters on their behalf. She led courses on bereavement, was secretary to the Sunderland Borough Council of Churches, and a lay member of the deanery synod.

In 1982, John was appointed Priest-in-Charge of Croxdale, a small village just outside Durham, which which post he held other diocesan responsibilities. Jo took the lead pastorally in the parish.

After she preached at one service, an unlikely source said: “You should be a deaconess.” Jo was 59 at the time, and there was concern in some quarters that there would not be an adequate return on the Church’s investment. Such fears proved to be misplaced, as Jo continued to provide ministry well into her nineties, more than 30 years later. She was admitted to the order of deaconesses in Durham Cathedral in June 1986.

Two years later, John was appointed Priest-in-Charge of Leamington Hastings and Birdingbury in Warwickshire. Again, John had responsibilities outside the parish; and so Jo once more took the leading pastoral duties. She was also appointed part-time assistant to the Rural Dean of Rugby. It was while at Leamington Hastings that Jo was ordained priest.

In 1996, John and Jo retired to Winchcombe, in the Cotswolds. Jo remained very active, frequently taking services in some of the outlying churches, and writing booklets about St Peter’s Winchcombe, Winchcombe Abbey, and some of the historical figures connected to Winchcombe, including Catherine Parr. She organised and led pilgrimages for 20 years to numerous places including Northumberland, Iona, and Oberammergau.

Jo Stevinson died peacefully in Gloucester Royal Hospital on 27 May 2021, aged 96. She is survived by her husband, John, and their two sons, Richard and David. A service of thanksgiving will be held at St Peter’s, Winchcombe, on 21 August.

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