Expert Comment: A new era for the Church of EnglandThursday 18 December 2014
As the Reverend Libby Lane is announced as the first female bishop in the Church of England, Jenny Daggers, Associate Professor in Christian Theology at Liverpool Hope, reflects on the Church's journey to this point.
For those who have been watching developments in the Church of England (C of E), the announcement this week that the Reverend Libby Lane has been appointed as the suffragan bishop of Stockport will come as no surprise. The C of E in a recent Synod achieved a positive vote to ordain women as bishops, from bishops, clergy and lay representatives, and this has enabled an historic change in the canon law that governs the C of E.
This move towards full ministry of women and men in the senior leadership of the church lags behind appointment of women as bishops elsewhere in the Anglican Communion: in 1989 Barbara Harris was appointed as first woman bishop in the Episcopal Church USA and in the same year Penny Jamieson was ordained as bishop in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. Ordination of women as bishops has been enabled following the earlier decision to ordain women as priests. Here too the C of E lagged behind developments elsewhere in the Anglican Communion – and in other denominational churches.
The question of women’s ordination in the C of E was first raised in the years just before World War I, and debate was opened within the church by the founding of the League of the Church Militant, in 1919. The debate was continued by the Anglican Group for the Ordination of Women during the interwar years, and revived in the 1970s by Una Kroll’s Christian Parity Group, and then the Movement for the Ordination of Women (MOW). MOW campaigned from 1978 until 1992, when the C of E eventually decided to ordain women as priests. It is fitting the Libby Lane was among the first group of women to be ordained as priests within the C of E in 1994. She has played her part in the embedding of women’s ministry across the churches of the C of E.
The decision to ordain women as bishops and priests is supported by a large majority in the C of E, though there are parishes where the congregation does not receive women’s ministry. The church has made pastoral provision to enable this minority to remain within the C of E.
Jenny Daggers is Associate Professor in Christian Theology at Liverpool Hope