There is [now no distinction in regard to salvation] neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you [who believe] are all one in Christ Jesus [no one can claim a spiritual superiority]. Galatians 3:28
These women were the very first to ever be ordained as priests by the Church of England in Bristol Cathedral.
Angela Berners-Wilson got to be the first to become an ordained priest, as the ceremony was based on alphabetical order.
List of the first 32 women ordained as Church of England priests
The 32 women ordained on the day were: (Complete list copied from the Order of Service)
Angela Berners-Wilson, a university chaplain
Carol Edwards, of St Christopher’s, Brislington
Jean Kings, part-time parish deacon who was also chaplain at University of the West of England
Karen MacKinnon, full-time parish deacon
Glenys Mills, Christ’s Church, Clifton
Susan Restall, St Mary’s, Yate
Margery Simpson
Rosemary Dawn Watling, at the time a 61-year-old Anglican nun and deacon in a vicarage in Bristol
Valerie Woods, Vicar of Wood End in Coventry
The officiating bishop believed it would take 10 years before the first woman would be ordained as a bishop. In fact, it took 21 years until Libby Lane became the first woman bishop in the Church of England as Bishop of Stockport (a suffragan see in the Diocese of Chester) in January 2015 (announced on 17 December 2014). Lane had also been ordained as a priest in 1994. The first woman to be appointed diocesan bishop was the Right Reverend Rachel Treweek, Bishop of Gloucester, appointed on March 26, 2015.
She later opened up on the experience in a 2012 interview with The Guardian.
“It was just amazing — very exciting and nerve-racking,” she recalled, “although there was great sadness, too, as my mother had Alzheimer’s and my father was with her, so they were unable to be there. But I shall never forget that service.”
“It was an amazing occasion and we were very much aware that this was a moment in history,” she adds in a Church of England podcast.
Afterward, she says it took a while for people to get used to female priests.
This means that “the first group of female priests had to prove ourselves. You do the very best you can, because if something goes wrong, then they might say, “What do you expect? She’s a woman.”
She adds, “I had to guard against that and was on my best behavior for years, which was quite exhausting. But everyone should always do the very best they can.”
However, Berners-Wilson notes that it was not all bad as some people were “absolutely thrilled” by the acceptance of women priests.
Those that were not okay with it initially, came around eventually.
In her words, “By the time I’d been there a decent length of time and hopefully done a good job, they were all very happy to accept me and appreciated my ministry.”
Female priests in today’s church
The issue of female ordination remains a controversial subject for the church.
Over the years, the Church of England has ordained more priests.
Berners-Wilson says, “It has been a process of gradual acceptance on the most part. We are making our way in many different areas of the Church.
“There are many women deans and lots of women archdeacons, there are women in cathedral posts.
“A lot of large congregations and large benefices are run by women so the longer it goes on the more accepted that we are.”
While more female priests are being embraced in this church, the
In 2016, Pope Francis said “that door is closed” regarding women’s priestly ordination.
He explained in a November 2016 informal statement on the return flight from his papal visit to Sweden to commemorate the Reformation.
“On the ordination of women in the Catholic Church, the final word is clear, it was said by St. John Paul II and this remains.
“In Catholic ecclesiology, there are two dimensions to think about. The Petrine dimension, which is from the Apostle Peter, and the Apostolic College, which is the pastoral activity of the bishops, as well as the Marian dimension, which is the feminine dimension of the Church.”
It is important to note that a commission has been authorized by Pope Francis to see if women could ever become deaconesses.