Mary was one of the first women in this country to be ordained priest in the Church of England along with others in 1994. She began her walk with Jesus at St George’s in 1955, leaving Leeds 2 years later but now, in her retirement, she is part of the St George’s family again. Mary shares her story with us to mark the 20th anniversary of the ordination of women in the Church of England.
"God had other ideas when He called me into ministry."
Tell us about yourself...
I became a Christian when I was a student, worshipping at St George’s. After graduation I spent a year in France as part of my training to teach French. In Soissans God led me to a little house church which has now grown into a good-sized Baptist church and where I’ve been blessed to be an honorary member for all these years. I taught for 20 years then found that God had other ideas when He called me into ministry. In the late 1970s that meant the role of deaconess. After my training at Cranmer Hall my first parish was in Harrogate and then a next appointment to Leeds was fairly inevitable; because we couldn’t take Communion services, a post in the country was unlikely as the vicar would have several villages and need another priest. I joined the Armley Deanery where I enjoyed serving in 3 parishes. Already 9 years into retirement, I came back to St George’s in 2004 to be, as I put it, a bit more retired. The SHAPE seminar helped me to see my role as one of ‘availability’; visiting, prayer ministry, being an active member of the church family and of my Holt Park Small Group. As well as taking services when needed in the Armley Deanery where I still live and belong to the clergy chapter.
Tell us about the journey of women’s ministry...
It’s been a very historical time since 1980 when I began. There had been deaconesses in England for over 100 years and when I started training there were only around 200 in the whole country, plus a small number of parish workers and Church Armey sisters. The only other deaconess in the Ripon diocese was Judy Rose here at St George’s, but things were on the move and our bishop along with others, was keen to have more women in ministry.
1987 saw the first women ordained deacon then in 1994 came the opportunity to be ordained to the priesthood. It’s probably true to say that the measure for that ordination would have been further delayed if it had included what seemed to us the logical acceptance of eventual women bishops. As it is, we’ve seen since then a gentle but steady progression – the first area deans, then archdeacons, even now, several deans of cathedrals, and the way is looking clear, after some tussling, towards the slow process of bringing in a successful bishops’ measure.
Why is it good for the rest of the Church to celebrate the ordination of women?
The role of women in our society has moved on at quite a pace - it’s now generally recognised that we have our full part to play in all professions and areas of life, but discrimination is still there in our country, so encouragement and affirmation are always needed.
It’s good to recognise that in general women have particular gifts and contributions, as men have theirs, so a partnership is ideal – every church, where possible, having a male and female minister with either of them bring the actual leader.
"God’s word emphasises so much, every kind of support for one another in our ministries within the body of Christ."
There is quite a history of women in ministry here at St George’s. I’ve already mentioned Judy Rose, who I’m sure wasn’t the first and there’s been a steady flow since, up to Joanna. The ministry of women in general is seen as valuable here; church wardens; interns; musicians; group leaders and so on. The times we plan just for our own sex, as for the men too, are helpful in many ways, especially for the less confident and bring a greater richness to other relationships and so to church life as a whole; such as our Men’s and Women’s Ministries. God’s word emphasises so much, every kind of support for one another in our ministries within the body of Christ.
What should the church be praying for?
Please pray for those few women still experiencing difficulty in the church, but be thankful that many now don’t face opposition. Also pray for final acceptance that having women Bishops is the natural follow-on of having ordained us in the first place.
Tell us more about the celebration day in London...
"It was a very moving experience for us and a very joyous occasion, with a tremendous sense of thanksgiving."
It was 20 years ago that the ordination of women to the priesthood became a reality and, to celebrate, all who were ordained in 1994 were invited to St Pauls Cathedral on 3rd May 2014 for a very special service. Those who could, walked from Westminster Abbey to St Paul’s with our diocesan banners – almost certainly the first occasion that our new name as the ‘Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales’ was used in this way. The 2 mile walk was a vibrant witness and so many people clapped and waved along the route – even from the open tops of tourist buses! It was a great time – the sight of women mounted police holding back the traffic and of others on foot seemed appropriate and encouraging and maybe not a coincidence?
"We are all so grateful for this recognition and encouragement and give God the glory..."
Once we’d arrived, and robed, all 700 or so had our photo taken with the Archbishop of Canterbury on the steps of St Paul’s before streaming into the cathedral to overwhelming applause, everyone on their feet beaming at us! It was a very moving experience for us and a very joyous occasion, with a tremendous sense of thanksgiving. We are all so grateful for this recognition and encouragement and give God the glory for how women’s ministry has developed so significantly over the years; so much has happened for the Church of England in a relatively short time and I’ve been so privileged to be part of it.