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Obituary: The Revd Jean Mayland

14 April 2022

The Revd Christina Rees writes:

THE Revd Jean Mayland was one of the first people I met when I was first elected to the General Synod in November 1990, even though she had just stepped down at the end of the previous quinquennium. She had served for 25 years, as a lay member for Southwell diocese, on what initially had been the Church Assembly, and which, in 1970, had become the Synod.

Although I had been an active campaigner for the ordination of women in the diocese of St Albans, I had not yet joined the national campaigning group, the Movement for the Ordination of Women (MOW), which had been formed in 1979. Very quickly, I was drawn into the national campaign and invited to meetings, where I met some of the women and men who had already been working for decades for women’s ordination. Jean was among them.

Jean was a doughty woman, with an analytical approach to determining the best way of working within the synodical systems. She was savvy, down to earth, and spirited. I soon came to rely on Jean as a source of invaluable information, about how the Synod worked and about the main players on all sides involved in the campaign. I remember Jean often dressed in shades of blue, from turquoise to deeper royal blue and navy.

She was generous and wise, but could also be steely and uncompromising, especially when discussing the terms on which women would be ordained. Jean definitely did not subscribe to the notion of “ordination at any cost”, knowing that discriminatory legislation would create a disparity in status between male and female priests and make a travesty of the theological conviction of women and men’s equality in Christ.

Jean had an incisive mind and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the situation for women, not just in the Church of England, but across the Anglican Communion. One of Jean’s greatest passions was her commitment to Christian ecumenism, and she served on many national and international ecumenical bodies. She attended the Nairobi Assembly of the World Council of Churches in 1975, and was elected to the Central Committee, which she served until 1991, taking in Assemblies in both Vancouver and Canberra. She also represented the C of E on both the British and the World Council of Churches, and was President of the Ecumenical Forum of European Christian Women from 1986 to 1990. In 1993, she began working in Durham diocese, as its Ecumenical Officer.

I remember occasionally making the mistake of referring to the Revd Dr Florence Li Tim-Oi, ordained in 1944, and the women ordained in the Episcopal Church in United States in the 1970s as some of the “first ordained women”, only for Jean to correct me by saying the “first ordained Anglican women”, reminding me of women such as Constance Coltman, who had been ordained in 1917 as a minister in the Congregational Church and of other women who had been ordained in the mid-1800s in the Methodist Church.

Jean was thrilled when, in 1993, Kathleen Richardson was elected President of the Methodist Conference, making her the first woman to lead the Methodist Church in Britain. Jean’s ecumenical perspective made her acutely conscious of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion as being part of the worldwide Christian Church, which only strengthened her determination to work for women’s inclusion as priests and bishops.

One of the long-running synodical debates of which Jean had been part was that of preparing legislation to allow Anglican women ordained abroad to officiate in England. In 1986, the legislation finally came to the Synod. Two years earlier, the Catholic Group on the Synod had succeeded in slowing the passage of the legislation by requiring it to be debated in deanery and diocesan synods before being debated in the Synod. Until then, it had been assumed that it would be a simple matter of tweaking a few clauses to permit visiting ordained women to officiate in the same way as visiting ordained men; but the intervention of the Anglo-Catholics had created confusion and misunderstandings.

When it came to the vote in the Synod, the Measure failed. Jean and a Synod colleague, Diana McClatchey, wrote to bishops around the Communion, expressing their “shame and regret” at the Church of England’s treatment of legitimately ordained priests. The failed vote, however, motivated even more priests to invite women colleagues from abroad to come to England to celebrate the eucharist.

Two years later, in July 1988, the Synod was considering the package of proposed legislation for women priests prepared by the Legislative Committee. The legislation contained certain “safeguards” that supporters of women’s ordination found offensive and discriminatory. Jean spoke in the debate, reminding the Synod of the wider ecumenical context.

“In my ecumenical work I do not find the polarisation which I sometimes find in my own Church. What I do find is that the Churches throughout the world, on a whole mass of issues, are stretched out in a long line. . . of love and concern as well as difference of opinion. . . Many of us know that below the surface of the Roman Catholic Church there is an absolute ferment of opinion. In huge areas of Latin America, ministry to people, especially to the very poor, is carried on at the moment only by nuns. . . It is a burning question in those countries as to how soon those nuns can be ordained priest so that they can take the fullness of ministry to those people.”

Jean had a degree in modern history and a diploma in theology from the University of Oxford, and became a teacher; but she always had a strong calling to work for the Church of England. She supported her husband, Ralph, an incumbent in Manton, Brightside, and Ecclesfield, and became the first woman Reader in Sheffield diocese.

Years later, Jean was ordained deacon in 1991 and priested in 1994, the first year that women could be ordained as priests in the Church of England. In that same year, MOW, which had been a single-issue group campaigning for women’s ordination as priests, held a big celebration and closed, mission accomplished.

Two years later, in November 1996, National WATCH (Women and the Church) was formed. Jean was a founder member and was elected on to the national committee at the same time as I was elected as WATCH’s first Chair. Jean remained a colleague and friend for many years, someone to whom I could turn for wisdom and advice, someone whose perspective I always valued.

In 2000, she became Co-ordinating Secretary for Church Life and then Assistant General Secretary, for Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, until 2003, when she retired. In retirement, Jean never stopped. She moved to Hexham, where she continued to minister and took services in both the Abbey and surrounding churches. She was also an avid reader of the Church Times, and contributed articles and letters on matters that she felt vital to the advancement and strengthening of the Church of England

The last time I saw Jean, several years before Covid-19, she had been suffering with osteoporosis in her spine. She had lost a few inches in height and was bent over as she walked, which frustrated her immensely, but she had lost none of her fighting spirit. I am grateful for having known her.

The Revd Jean Mayland died on 7 December, aged 85. A memorial service for her and her husband, Canon Ralph Mayland, will be held in York Minster on 23 July.

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