The Church of England consecrated its first female bishop at a ceremony in York Minster yesterday. The Reverend Libby Lane has been ordained as Bishop of Stockport in front of around 1,000 people. The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu led the ceremony and said he had been “praying and waiting for this day”.
Bishop Libby Lane and her husband, George, were one of the first married couples to be ordained together. Ordained as a deacon in 1993, as a priest in 1994 and became Vicar of St Peter’s Hale and St Elizabeth’s Ashley in April 2007. Since January 2010, she has been Dean of Women in Ministry for the Diocese of Chester until the announcement of her consecration as the first female bishop last month. Whilst there are other female bishops in the Anglican Church worldwide Bishop Lane is the first within the Church of England.
An important first step on the path to the naming of female bishops was in 1985 when the general synod voted to allow women to be able to become deacons. This was followed by a vote in 1992, which allowed women to be ordained into the priesthood. The vote to allow women to be bishops, in July 2014, changed a 2,000 year tradition of the position only being available to men. According to the Church of England, out of 7,798 full-time Church of England priests there are 1,791 female members. These figures highlight the disparity that the Church may aim to change through the creation of more opportunities for women.
The consecration might display the changing attitudes of the Church of England and the way in which it is attempting to further female advancement within the Church. Equally, the support of the Archbishops of both Canterbury and York highlight the backing that these changes receive from the highest levels within the Church of England. Some believe that the ordination of women as bishops in the Church of England might also boost the cause within the Roman Catholic Church, where there are also people calling for female bishops.
Gender equality within the Church of England appears to be gradually happening although there are still improvements to be made, which may well be more likely following the inclusion of females as bishops. The ordination of women as bishops by the Church of England aims to bring in more females into the Church and bring another perspective to the leadership of the congregation. Potentially, this might lead to more of the clergy entering the Church of England and possibly reducing the gap between the number of males in the Church and females.
The Church of England appears to have aimed to make the Church more inclusive to both genders. This may be important as the Church of England is often accessed as the ‘default’ religion for many official services such as weddings, funerals and other important life events. The presence of women in the capacity of bishops adds to the diversity of the Church and might go some way to increasing the numbers of women taking an active role within the organisation. Furthermore, it might be seen as the Church of England subscribing to the modern thought that males and females are equal in their capabilities and, therefore, may be given the same opportunities and rights.
The Church of England may be aiming to provide the same opportunities to females as it affords to males and therefore change perspectives within the upper echelons of the organisation. Twenty-one years after women were first allowed to become priests it seems that the Church of England is determined to involve females in the higher levels of the Church.
How might the Church of England’s consecration of its first female bishop bring productive change to the role of women in religion?