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Celebrating 25 years of Women's Ordination

The Archbishop of Canterbury marks the 25th anniversary of the ordination of women in the Church of England with a service from the Chapel of Lambeth Palace.

On 12th March, 1994, 32 women became the first to be ordained as priests in the Church of England. Twenty-five years on the Archbishop of Canterbury leads a service from the Chapel of Lambeth Palace bringing together curates, priests and bishops from around the country to reflect on the experience of women in ministry.

With the Revd Dr Isabelle Hamley, Chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Music from St Martin's Voices and organist, Polina Sosnina, directed by Emily Dickens.

Producer: Katharine Longworth

38 minutes

Last on

Sun 3 Mar 2019 08:10


Please note:

This script cannot exactly reflect the transmission, as it was prepared before the service was broadcast. It may include editorial notes prepared by the producer, and minor spelling and other errors that were corrected before the radio broadcast.

It may contain gaps to be filled in at the time so that prayers may reflect the needs of the world, and changes may also be made at the last minute for timing reasons, or to reflect current events.

BBC RADIO 4 and now time for Sunday Worship which was recorded on Friday at a special service in the Chapel at Lambeth Palace to mark the 25th anniversary of women’s ordination as priests in the Church of England. The preacher is the Revd. Isabelle Hamley and it’s introduced by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.

Archbishop Justin
25 years ago this month, Bishop Barry Rogerson ordained the first group of women as priests in the Church of England.

Since then, ordained women have made a significant contribution to the life of the Church – as parish priests, chaplains, Archdeacons, Deans of cathedrals and – praise God – now bishops too.

Many of those here today have been pioneers as they worked out what it means to be an ordained woman in the Church of England – not just for themselves and their communities, but for the whole of the Body of Christ.
Today we bear witness to those who paved the way in 1994, as well as upholding those whose way into ministry has been opened up since.

Women are part of the priestly ministry that Jesus Christ shares with all His people. I thank God for their courage, strength and faithfulness as we mark this occasion together.

In a few moments one of those women, the Revd. Rose Hudson-Wilkin will lead us in prayer, but first we join our voices together to sing Catherine Winkworth’s translation of the 17th Century German hymn, Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation.

Opening Hymn: Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation
Joachim Neander (1650-1680), Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878)

First prayers
Rose Hudson-Wilkin

God, we gather to give thanks for the 25th anniversary of women ordained to serve in your church. You created us beautifully and wonderfully in your image and called us to serve you, to be your witnesses. We remember and give thanks especially for those women and men who faithfully prayed for women's ordination to become a reality; for the many women who remained obedient to your call even when they were turned away. You called us beyond our imagining and empowered us for service.
ALL: We remember and give thanks.

Precious Lord, you set aside men and women to be servant leaders in your church. May we always recognize your presence alongside us on this journey, as our guide. Help us to travel light and in good faith, to be brave and kind companions to one another. When we are weak, be to us a strong support; give us courage and diligence to serve you and all those who are vulnerable in our world.
ALL: Rekindle your Spirit within us.

God of surprises, today we are filled with joy for all that has been. Renew us by your spirit that we may love all those whom we are called to serve. Deepen our compassion for your world and make us ready and willing to be instruments of your peace, and give us hope to face all that lies ahead.
ALL: Lord, here I am, send me.

Archbishop Justin

Our ancient chapel at Lambeth Palace is packed with ordained women today.
It’s wonderful to see so many of these varied occupations - priests, chaplains, Archdeacons, Deans and now bishops  - represented here.

Angela Berners-Wilson – technically the first woman to be ordained into the Church of England since they do these things alphabetically – is here.
Hannah Barr, a first year ordinand, will share her reflections as someone just starting out on the journey.

These two voices alone will have very different stories to tell. And even among those of similar ages, your experience will be unique. You’re not one homogenous group of women priests! You’re each known, loved and chosen by God to live out your own distinct calling.
Praise God for that diversity.

There is also the question of how long we carry on ‘celebrating’ anniversaries like this. In a sense, you want the ministry of women to become something unremarkable. Something which is just part of the normal fabric of the life of the Church.
We need to recognise that we are not there yet. As well as the high points and moments of celebration, I know that many of you still face huge challenges, During this service we’re going to be hearing many experiences of women in ordained ministry as you yourselves tell the story.

First Reading
A reading from the prophet Isaiah, Chapter 40, verses 28-31.
 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
     the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
      his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
      and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
      and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
      they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
      they shall walk and not faint.

St Martin’s Voices  All things Bright and Beautiful – Philip Stopford

Reflection 1
Revd Canon Dr Emma Percy
Chaplain and Welfare Dean Trinity College Oxford

My name is Emma Percy, and I’m currently Chaplain and Welfare Dean at a university college.
Exploring my vocation at University I went forward to be a deaconess in my early 20’s. I started training the year women were first ordained deacon in the Church of England, being ordained deacon myself in 1990 alongside the student I’d met and married at Theological college. We were curates in the same church and a year later he was ordained priest and I, as a woman, was not. This was very hard for us placing an inequality in our marriage that we did not want. It was hard for many in the church we served; they wanted to rejoice with Martyn yet shared my pain. Our training had been the same and it seemed so illogical to limit my ministry simply because I was female.

Three years later, with the legislation passed, I was ordained priest with 61 other women in a glorious service at St Alban’s Abbey, 23rd April 1994. Many had given years of service as deaconesses, parish workers and deacons. I was one of the youngsters.

As the service ended we processed out passed the rows of male priests who had participated in ordaining us, my husband amongst them. They broke in to rapturous applause. We left the building to find crowds of people cheering and clapping. It was a joyful day for those of us present; a momentous and long overdue change to the face of ministry and the life of the church.

Prayer chant (sung by St Martin’s Voices)  I give my work to you, Lord,
Margaret Rizza

Reflection 2
Hannah Barr
Wycliffe Hall

My name is Hannah Barr and I’m undergoing training as an ordinand at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford.

My fellow ordinand, Laura, and I spent a lot of time going back-and-forth over what to say today. Finally, Laura said, ‘what would you say if your vicar you grew up with, your sending church vicar, and your theological college tutor – all women – were the only ones in the room?’ I would say this: thank you.

Thank you for teaching me that being a woman is not a barrier to God’s call.
I had only recently turned two years old when the first women were ordained to the priesthood in the Church of England, so I have grown up believing that of course God calls women – even me! – to being priests. It is such a privilege to be training at a time when I have so many women to look up to and be inspired by. Women who have faithfully followed God’s call, even when it seemed impossible or absurd; women who have not been afraid to fight for justice, take risks, and make sacrifices; women who have shown such grace; women who when I spend time with them or read their work or listen to their teaching and their stories, make me think you are fully who God has called you to be and that gives me the freedom to be fully who God has called me to be.

I look at my fellow female ordinands at college and I feel profoundly hopeful. We are a diverse group of women, we recognise the work and witness of all those trailblazing women who went before us and we are not afraid to carry on with the work still to be done, whatever the cost might be.
So, to Josie, Rachel, and Jenni and to all of you: thank you. I cannot wait to join you in telling the story of God’s love and showing the girls in the next generation that being a woman is not a barrier to God’s call.

Prayer chant (sung by St Martin’s Voices)  I give my work to you, Lord,
Margaret Rizza

The Reverend Sally Hitchiner
From ‘All Desires Known’ by Janet Morley. Published in 1988 by the Movement for the Ordination of Women and Women in Theology.  SPCK

 For the darkness of waiting
 of not knowing what is to come
 of staying ready and quiet and attentive
 we praise you O God:

 for the darkness and the light
 are both alike to you.
 For the darkness of staying silent
 for the terror of having nothing to say
 and for the greater terror
 of needing to say nothing
 we praise you O God:

 for the darkness and the light
 are both alike to you.

For the darkness of loving
 in which it is safe to surrender
 to let go of our self-protection
 and to stop holding back our desire,
 we praise you O God:

 for the darkness and the light
 are both alike to you.

 For the darkness of choosing
 when you give us the moment
 to speak, and act, and change,
 and we cannot know what we have set in motion,
 but we still have to take the risk,
 we praise you O God:

 for the darkness and the light
 are both alike to you.

 For in the darkness of hoping
 in a world which longs for you,
 for the wrestling and the labouring of all creation
 for wholeness and justice and freedom,
 we praise you O God:

 for the darkness and the light
 are both alike to you.
First written for the Women in Theology liturgy group, Advent Sunday 1985

Hymn: Longing for light, we wait in Darkness
Bernadette Farrell (b. 1957)

Reflection 3
Rev Zoe Hemming

My calling to be ordained had to be so vivid that I couldn't ignore it because I just didn't see myself, or womanhood as I now know God sees me and us.  If we don't see those like us in all parts of church and society then we find it much harder to find our place.  .. It has to be seen to be believed.  I, Zoe Hemming, a young mum of 3 with a disability, I didn't see it.

I vividly remember the first time I saw a young woman at the front of church, preaching.  I wondered how on earth she could do it - I could no more do that than fly to the moon!  My world had taught me that women should focus on supporting their men, on working on their appearance and on mothering. This was less than 20 years ago.

That sense of being judged as a ‘bossy’ woman with rather too much to say for herself can be hard to shake off.  My own calling had to be affirmed by so many men, for me to even dare to begin the journey.

Where I saw myself in the world was and is more than cultural, it’s spiritual too. I simply didn’t see myself as God saw me.

This revelation is now at the core of my vocation. It’s never been about power - I’m uneasy with power in anyone’s hands. But there is an urgent need for the church to tell the story of God’s love to all people who have yet to see themselves as God does - fully known and fully loved - not eye rolled at or silenced but liberated into becoming who we were created to be.

This life changing truth is often costly because the eyes still roll at this woman with rather too much to say for herself.

I am so grateful to those women who have been brave enough to bare the eye rolls, rejections & much more besides, so that I could discover that I am fully known and fully loved and lead others to descover this truth for themselves too...

Prayer chant (sung by St Martin’s Voices)  I give my work to you, Lord,
Margaret Rizza

Reflection 4
Bishop Libby Lane

I became a Christian 40 years ago because I discovered that Jesus lived and died and rose again for me. My whole life has been lived in response to that love: Jesus gave His life for me – what can I, Libby Lane, do but give my life in return?

Being an ordained minister in the Church of England is the way Jesus asks me to follow Him. When I began training for ministry, women were not ordained priests never mind bishops, but I did it anyway, because it was better to be faithful, and perhaps frustrated, than ignore God’s call.

Being consecrated Bishop was extraordinary. I felt woven into history, and upheld by the prayers and goodwill of the tens of thousands of people, (of all faiths and none) who had written, emailed and spoken directly to me, rejoicing that this time had come.

My becoming a Bishop was good news for so many people - a sign of hope.

And my hope was that I could point people beyond me, to the best news of all: that God loves us whoever we are, because God’s love has no limits.
I honour the countless women, and men, who worked and prayed and struggled over decades, centuries indeed, challenging and transforming the church to hear and recognise Christ in the excluded and marginalised. And I thank God - in whose image my sisters and I are gloriously and wonderfully made - that the gifts showered upon us by the Holy Spirit are now, finally, beginning to be used more fully.
Prayer chant (sung by St Martin’s Voices)  I give my work to you, Lord,
Margaret Rizza

read by the Reverend Angela Berners-Wilson
 A reading from the Gospel of St Luke, chapter 2, verses 22-38.
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
       according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
       and for glory to your people Israel.”

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Rev Dr Isabelle Hamley

May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit.
There are few images in Scripture that show a scene of such intimacy, and such public exposure at the same time. Public exposure, of course, because they were in the temple courts, with people milling about, some paying attention, some not. In the temple courts with two prophets who were known for their faithfulness and life of prayer, and maybe known for being a little strange as well. And yet, an intimate scene. Simeon and Anna gathered around the little family, admiring a newborn, sharing thoughts and wisdom. In many ways, a perfect picture for Christian life, and ministry, poised between the seen and the unseen, the public and the private, between earth and heaven.
A picture of strange togetherness, too. Simeon and Anna, in their eighties, having had a life of waiting; a young couple surprised by calling and vocation, and a baby, yet to become, another life within which to recognise and nurture the presence of God. All different, and all needed. Simeon the faithful, who prayed and prayed, and generously hands down ministry to the next generation, with his blessing, advice and health warning. Anna the trail blazer, who rushes out and spreads the Good News, as soon as her long wait is over, setting an example of joyful response and engagement. We give thanks for Simeons and Annas over the years, for those who have prayed and waited, supported and come alongside, opened up news ways and set examples. Many are here today. We give thanks that ministry comes in all shapes and sizes, just like people, and in our difference, we make up the people of God. In our differences, we respond to God’s call and reach out to the world around us.
Mary and Joseph, in contrast, are only setting out on their vocation journey, tentatively and obediently. They follow the patterns set by generations before them for responding to God: coming into the temple, offering their child to God. I often wonder what they thought of Simeon and Anna. I supposed they had had plenty of strange encounters already, from shepherds to wise men from afar. Anna doesn’t seem overly interested in them, only in the gift of God they are carrying. Simeon has words for them as persons, but the words are hardly reassuring. He blesses them first. No prophecy, no hard words, expresses before first and foremost, an assurance of the love and presence of God in their life. Then, words of prophecy, maybe guidance, imparting a little understanding of the extraordinary gift they have been entrusted with. And finally, a warning – ‘a sword will pierce your own soul also’. If there ever was a time to turn back, now would be the perfect time. Run away from the risk, run away from the crushing responsibility to nurture this child into the person Simeon predicts he will become. But there is no running away, of course. The gift has been given.
A gift full of potential, a gift that stirs, and demands attention, and cannot be ignored. A gift at once blindingly obvious to those who pay attention, and a gift hidden and sometimes ignored, even denied.
Let us cherish and nurture this gift of God in one another’s lives as we cherish and nurture this gift in others, in our shared ministry, in our shared prayers, in our shared journeys. Let us cherish this gift where it is public and obvious, and where it is hidden, private and yet equally powerful. Together, may we witness to the gift that lives in us, and the God who has called us to follow him. Amen.
St Martin’s Voices   Hymn: All for Thee  Frances R Havergal (1836–1879)

Second prayers
Steadfast God, we give thanks for those like Simeon whose patience, prayerfulness and perseverance have brought great promise to birth. Equip us with the same watchful determination and unswerving hope as we continue to work out your Kingdom here on earth. Sustain, we pray, those whose life of waiting seems fruitless
Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

Transforming God, we give thanks for those like Anna who are unafraid to blaze a trail and to name painful truths. Give us wisdom and courage to discern the right moment and the right words when you call us to speak out in justice and in truth, in private or in public.  We pray for those whose voices have been silenced, whose own struggles make it hard to stand.
Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

Surprising God, we give thanks for those like Mary and Joseph who take a risk and open their lives to surprise. We pray for those embarking on adventure – in bearing a child, in moving to a new place, in responding to your call. Especially we pray for all whom you are calling to the adventure of ministry  in your church and world. Grant that our hearts may ever be young and willing to respond to you and to step out, on paths of which we cannot see the ending, in confidence that you bear us as your children in your strong and loving arms
Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

Lord’s Prayer

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen

St Martin’s Voices  A Grateful Heart - Mary Plumstead
Thou that hast given so much to me, give one thing more, a grateful heart.

Words: George Herbert

Archbishop Justin
Blessing for women in ministry
Everlasting God,
whose Son offered himself on the cross
for us and our salvation,
we give you thanks for the women in every generation
who offer themselves to be priests in your Church:
strengthen them in your service
that they may have grace
to tell afresh the story of your love,
celebrate the sacraments of our redemption,
and lead your flock in the steps
of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

All Amen.

May God, who gives patience and encouragement,
give you a spirit of unity
to live in harmony as you follow Jesus Christ,
so that with one voice
you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ;
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be upon you and remain with you always.
All Amen.

 Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.
All In the name of Christ, Amen.

Closing hymn: Now thank we all our God

Nun danket alle Gott Martin Rinkart (1586-1649) translated by Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878)

Organ Voluntary



  • Sun 3 Mar 2019 08:10

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