Women bishops now a reality not a pipe dream

thisisoxfordshire: The Rev Dr Emma Percy, Chaplain and Welfare Dean at Trinity College, Oxford Buy this photo » The Rev Dr Emma Percy, Chaplain and Welfare Dean at Trinity College, Oxford

The Church of England witnessed a change of heart last month when the General Synod debated legislation to allow women to be consecrated as Bishops. With the closest indication yet that there could be a change in the law in 2014, Debbie Waite spoke to some of the county’s female clergy about life in a man’s world

ALMOST exactly a year since it failed to agree on legislation, the Church of England’s ruling body, the General Synod, has voted 378-8 in favour of proposals which could allow the ordination of women as Bishops.

Mediation with traditionalists, who oppose the move, has resulted in a possible way of approving Bishops for supportive parishes as early as 2014.

Chaplain and Welfare Dean at Trinity College, Oxford, the Rev Dr Emma Percy said: “I think that last year a lot of female clergy expressed how hurt and rejected they felt by the church, for which they work so hard.

“But I think a lot of senior clergy had become so busy with looking at the legislation that this outpouring of hurt and disappointment came as a bit of a wake-up call – particularly to the House of Bishops. ”

Dr Percy received her ‘calling’ from God after meeting an ‘inspirational’ female deaconess, at Cambridge University in the 1980s.

She was ordained as a deacon in 1990, but then had to wait four years until the ordination of women was legalised.

thisisoxfordshire:

  • Dawn French as The Vicar of Dibley

In 1994 she was among the first women to be ordained as Church of England priests.

She added: “Going into 2014 I am very excited – it is the 20th anniversary of the ordination of women and if this were to be ‘topped off’ by the opening up of the House of Bishops to women, it would make that occasion even richer.”

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  • Helen Kendrick

Helen Kendrick, 47, is the priest in charge for Sutton Courtenay with Appleford.

She said: “With regard to women bishops – a miracle of sorts has happened.

“It is very important this happens – although becoming a Bishop is not for me.

“All I’ve ever wanted is to be a parish priest – and the best parish priest I can be.”

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  • The Rev Dr Amanda Bloor with the Bishop of Oxford, Rt Rev John Pritchard, and the Bishop of Buckingham, Rt Rev Dr Alan Wilson, in May's Bishops' bake-off

Married to university lecturer Chris, and a mum-of-two, it was a calling from God – and to some extent The Vicar of Dibley– which took Helen Kendrick away from a career in scientific publishing and into the ministry.

She added: “In the mid-1990s when The Vicar of Dibley was very popular, I had a career in publishing, but was helping out in my local church and people kept saying to me: ‘Seen The Vicar of Dibley? You could do that!’ “I had always thought about it, but never acted on it and so I suppose it was partly people talking about the series which led to me actually listening to God’s voice and finding out more.”

Ordained in 1999, Rev Kendrick spent her curacy in Watlington before moving into her current parish of Sutton Courtenay with Appleford.

She said: “The Vicar of Dibley is a highly exaggerated version of the role of a vicar, but there is a lot of humanity in it and like real ministry, many funny events, which I could not possibly repeat.

“What I liked about it too, is that it doesn’t mock the church, but says to people: ‘Actually women can be priests too’ – and that gets people talking.

“Being in ministry is a 24/7 role – you are always ‘on call’ and since adopting our son and daughter (in 1999) the role has become even busier.

“Weekends are seldom without commitments, of course, but what people might not realise it that ministry can be adapted to family life – particularly when the children were younger, I would try to be available for them for a couple of hours each day.

“And our community is so supportive and welcoming – there has been no shortage of offers of babysitting and the children have basically been welcomed into a huge, extended family.”

The Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Rev John Pritchard, said: “A very positive debate at General Synod and an overwhelming vote in favour (378 in favour, 8 against and 25 abstentions) has led to an open door and a clear path.

“We still need to work with conservative evangelicals on the finer points of detail, but I believe we now have much better, simpler legislation.”

He added: “I hope we can move on confidently so that we can all flourish.”

FACT FILE

WRANGLINGS over women Bishops stretche back over 100 years:

  • In 1920, no fewer than nine motions concerning the position of women in ministrations of the church went before the Lambeth Conference, the international gathering of Anglican leaders.
  • It was only 20 years ago, in 1994, that women were granted ordination as priests in the Church of England.
  • More women are now joining the priesthood then men.
  • Most recent figures showed 290 women were ordained in 2010, compared to 273 the same year.
  • There are 74 female parochial ministers and chaplains in the Oxford Archdeaconry. This includes associate clergy, curates in training, chaplains, priests in charge, team vicars, and rectors.

WOMEN BRINGING SOMETHING GODLY

The Rev Dr Amanda Bloor is the Director of Ordinands and Diocesan Advisor in Women’s Ministry.


The mother of two grown-up daughters said: “I use my daughters as a ‘sounding board’ on all sorts of issues and, as they have grown-up, I have found it fascinating to see and hear through them, both people’s acceptance and discrimination of women.

"My role as Director of Ordinands (trainee clergy) is extremely enjoyable in that I get to ‘walk alongside’ people who have probably worked in the Church for some time and now want to be ordained into ministry.


“These are people who are full of enthusiasm.


“While I think the media can often paint a very negative view of the clergy, I am lucky to see the very real and relevant work being done, from people working with street pastors, to those running foodbanks, those working in schools, with young people and in prisons.”

She added: “The Diocese of Oxford has always been an extremely friendly and supportive place for women, with supportive bishops – albeit with the inevitable restrictions.

"We have two female archdeacons, which are very senior positions, as well as area deans who each look after groups of parishes.


“But there are still little pockets of places where people, for their own good reasons, can’t agree on either the ordination of women or women as bishops.


“Sometimes it is because of the way they interpret the Bible.

“Sometimes it is because of their views on the roles of men and women, and while I don’t necessarily agree with them I respect that and think we need to look at the gifts and skills women are bringing to the church and see something Godly in that.”

'Stop pigeon-holing people'

The Rev Skye Denno, team Vicar of Cowley Parish and Vicar of St Francis Church, is no stranger to discrimination.


In her early days of ministry, her tattoos and piercings saw her branded a “punk, lager-loving vicar” by the tabloids.


“I wouldn’t mind, but I don’t like lager,” she says with a smile.


Mum to Sophia, 11, Phoenix, eight, and Casper, two, Ms Denno favours ‘alternative’ or ‘goth’ clothing.


She also has a ‘house-husband’ Joel, 36.


“On occasions I am criticised for both these things,” she explains.


“But it just makes me even more determined that one day, all people, including bishops, are not identified by their gender, or their sexuality for that matter, but as people, who are the image of God.”


Ms Denno grew up in a religious, but mixed denomination household, and quickly realised she was ‘different’.


She said: “There have been times when I have been angry with God and wished he’d made me happy wearing a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, but as I get older, I have realised this is just me, and accepted that.


“Of course there are people who don’t understand it.


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  • Skye, second right, and her family, from left,  Casper, husband Joel, Phoenix and Sophia

Some people, even clergy, ask when I am going to start “dressing properly”.


“Other people seem to think I can’t be a good mum if I am not at home with my children – even though I have a brilliant stay-at-home husband.


“And even he comes in for criticism sometimes, because they say he can’t possibly be as a good a mum as me!


“I think this kind of sums up a lot of the problems with society and the church in that we are all obsessed with pigeon-holing people, whether it be by their job, their gender, or who they love. We need to let this go if we want to move forward.


“We also need to start working less hours and spending more time looking out for the ones we love.”


She added: “It makes me angry that it is still is difficult for women to go up the ladder in all walks of life — particularly as there are so many women out there who are ready to be bishops.”
“Me, at the moment, I don’t want to be a bishop — I don’t feel that calling.”

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