Marking the 25th anniversary of the Church of England's vote in favour of women's ordination, David Grant meets the first female Anglican priest.
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# I once was lost... #
In the week that the Church of England
has been debating gay marriage, we mark the 25th anniversary of
a vote that ended another controversial issue - women priests.
In 1992, the General Synod of the Church of England narrowly
approved legislation that allowed for the ordination of women.
It was a decision that produced strong emotions -
euphoria for some, deep hurt for others.
We will have the doctrine tested in every court in the land
and in Europe, Your Grace.
Just two years later, history was made here at Bristol Cathedral.
I'll be meeting the first woman ordained that day,
who recalls the difficulties women faced in being accepted.
A friend of mine had her hand quite badly bitten at the communion
rail when she was a deaconess giving communion.
At Trinity College in Bristol, I meet the next generation of
women priests preparing for ordination.
THEY SAY THE LORD'S PRAYER
I definitely feel that I'm kind of standing on the shoulders
of other female priests and now we get to reap the benefits, don't we?
Which is amazing.
And I will be meeting the musicians expressing their Christian faith
Women have given the church some of its greatest hits.
All Things Bright And Beautiful, Just As I Am, To God Be The Glory -
all written by great Victorian hymn writers.
But we start our Songs Of Praise with a modern classic, written by
acclaimed female singer-songwriter Darlene Zschech.
I've left the city for the stunning scenery of Somerset,
to meet the first woman ordained into the Church of England in 1994.
She is now rector of six parish churches...
..including St George's in Bicknoller,
which dates back to the 12th century.
Angela, what do you remember about the day of the vote in 1992?
Tell us where you were.
I'd come up from Bristol to London because I wanted to be there,
outside Church House, to hear the results.
The night before, we had
a vigil outside Lambeth Palace,
right through the night, and I remember someone bringing out
a very smart tray with fine bone china tea for us,
which was very nice because it was cold.
And then, on the day itself, I remember standing next to
a friend who had been a mathematician
before he got ordained.
He'd worked out how many votes we needed in all three Houses
because there had to be a two-thirds majority.
I was desperately trying to, on my fingers,
count, but it was too close to call.
The motion having received a two-thirds majority in each of
the three Houses of the Synod is carried.
And it was just wonderful. Incredible feeling.
Huge relief, great jubilation.
-It would have been a long journey.
-Oh, yes. People felt it was wrong.
A friend of mine had her hand quite badly bitten at the
communion rail when she was a deaconess giving communion.
Wow. And when did you first recognise your own vocation?
Did you have a Christian background?
My father was a rector so I grew up, if you like,
with the Church in my blood.
I have to say, going to see my headmistress about what
A levels to do, she said to me,
"Have you thought about studying theology?"
I actually said, and I blush to say this to you now, but I said,
"Funny subject for a girl." Because in the 1960s,
that's what it seemed!
She must have seen something in me, even back then when I was only 15.
After years of campaigning and longing and hoping,
finally the day of your ordination as a priest came.
-Can you tell us what that felt like?
-It was really amazing.
Of course, there were masses of media, absolutely everywhere.
Just a couple of hours ago, the 32 women who today will make
history, arrived at the Cathedral following a two-day retreat.
I was a bit nervous. I knew that because my name began with B,
I was technically the first.
The first one to have hands laid on will be...
..the Reverend Angela Berners-Wilson.
It was very exciting and we all felt we were where we were meant to be.
It had been a very long struggle.
Upon your servant Angela,
for the office and work of a priest in your church.
What was it like celebrating your first Eucharist as a priest?
Did you know what to expect?
It must have been nerve-racking.
It was really amazing and I had sort of practised it.
We had over 300 people packed into St Paul's, Clifton.
Literally hundreds of pictures on that occasion that were in
the media. The only one that got it really right was Paris Match.
They showed me framed by my two male colleagues,
whereas everyone else just showed me.
That was so right to have men and women together.
There are probably as many different styles of music as there are
expressions of Christian faith.
A married couple in Birmingham are so in love with one
particular style of music, they're even opening a new church around it.
Josie has paid them a visit.
Now, a Methodist church like this might normally be the place to hear
some traditional hymns by Wesley.
But on Sunday afternoons, they do their music differently here.
# Thine be the glory... #
This is the newly-formed Jazz Community Church,
led by husband and wife team Adam and Steph Sanders.
With band members from across Birmingham,
they are hoping it will attract new people to church.
I think a lot of people can feel alienated by traditional forms
of church, or haven't felt that they've found their home.
I feel we can offer something slightly different
that people find kind of accessible.
Jazz is about improvisation, spontaneity and in a world that
is complex and confusing sometimes and is forever changing, we need
to be improvising life and following Jesus within that context.
Jazz is often associated with dimly-lit nightclubs and in its
early days was even labelled the "devil's music".
But Adam believes it can be inspirational.
We believe in a God who has created so many different types of music
and we want to celebrate that and so, for me, there's
no contradiction there at all.
So when you are making this music in this setting, how does it feel?
Kind of invigorating.
The freshness of it because it is different every time because
there's a lot of improvisation.
# Thine be the glory... #
I feel most free to express myself and I really enjoy it.
As this is the group's first service,
they had no idea who would come.
But there has been a healthy turnout.
I really like the fact they used some traditional hymns that
everybody knew, but with the jazz twist.
Obviously you have got that improvisation in jazz,
but the improvising life as a community, together...
Yeah, I like bringing that out.
Adam, how do you make sure people leave here talking about Christ,
talking about God and not about the music?
People might come for the music, but hopefully they will go away
transformed and ready to live that life of following Jesus.
# How great thou art
# How great thou art. #
# When love was king
# Do you remember when love was king?
# He ruled the land
# With his fist unfurled
# With open arms for the world
# Of hungry children, first he'd think
# To pull their lives from the brink
# He rescued souls
# That were lost in the sea
# In drifting vessels He would hear their plea
# Beside him stood his mighty queen
# An equal force, wise and keen
# He lifted up
# The underneath
# And all his wealth he did bequeath
# To those who toiled without a gain
# So they would remember his reign
# So seek some place to call your own
# Right beside this mighty shining throne
# When love was king
# When love
# King. #
Our next hymn is one of the most ancient in the Christian church
that's still sung today.
Veni Creator Spiritus is believed to date from the ninth century
and has been used in the consecration of bishops,
the election of Popes and the coronation of monarchs.
This 1627 English translation has also been sung at the
ordination of countless generations of priests.
Though we live in a busy, crowded world,
isolation and loneliness is common,
but in a male domain, usually found at the bottom of the garden,
Claire meets a group of men who've forged strong ties.
Lots of men love pottering about in their garden sheds
on a Sunday afternoon.
But here at St Thomas' church hall in Kirkby in Ashfield,
some of the male congregation are using their tools not just to
build woodwork in their shed.
They're using it to help build their confidence, too.
The idea of Men in Sheds was in response to concerns about the
high level of mental health problems and suicides in post-retirement men.
You might have to use a skew chisel now
just to get that bit down a bit further.
The idea is that it brings them together to make things
and that's a great way to socialise.
Chris Manning helped to set up the workshop at his church.
You can hold a coffee morning and the women will come and drink
a cup of coffee and chat for an hour.
The men will come and drink a cup of coffee and go home.
But, if you put a tool in somebody's hand, it's very different.
It gives you a relationship where you feel safe to talk about
things that you wouldn't maybe in any other circumstance to the fella
who's working alongside you.
Men in Sheds has really helped their members
through some very tough times.
We look at a community like ours
and what's the role of the church?
The church's role is what Jesus did
and where would Jesus be?
Well, he'd be looking after these fellas who've retired.
We, as the church, should be there.
15 years ago, 69-year-old Pete was forced to retire early after
having a stroke and it hit him hard.
There are days when I get depressed.
You feel as though the world's finished.
It's difficult to describe, to be honest,
you know, unless you've experienced depression.
It's part of the baggage of having a stroke,
but this takes my mind off things.
And how much do you look forward to coming here every Friday?
I can't wait to get back here on a Friday,
have a banter with the lads, you know.
The shed has also helped retired teacher Dai to deal with his
health problems as he was diagnosed with Parkinson's four years ago.
Sometimes it's very difficult to talk about it,
but at least in this environment you feel you can share it with
people without that fear of stigma or whatever, you know.
And it's difficult to put a price on that acceptance, you know.
Because of your condition, whatever the condition is,
you can still come along and we'll look after you.
We may come to use pieces of wood to make things,
but perhaps the most important part for us is coffee break at half ten.
After I'd been coming here for about four or five weeks, I walked
in through the door and I started having a load of abuse thrown at me.
I thought, "Oh, I finally belong!" do you know what I mean?
That's how it is, isn't it, with menfolk, you know?
25 years after the Church of England's vote to accept women's
ordination, I've come to Trinity Theological College in Bristol
where the next generation of priests are being trained for ordination.
Many of those training for the priesthood today were
children in 1992 and it's not just theological barriers that
have been overcome in the two decades since.
So, tell me about rugby.
This seems like a tough girls' theological college.
I'm actually quite sore from yesterday, playing!
Yeah, it's really, really fun.
We all really, really enjoy it.
It's really quite liberating to do it, actually.
When did you decide, all of you,
that you wanted to go into the priesthood?
I think for me it was maybe a thread that's been in my life all along.
For me, it was actually different.
My growing up in the church, I wasn't very passionate about God.
Yeah, it was just kind of a gentle process.
There wasn't any sort of lightning bolt from the Lord, you know,
"this is what you're meant to do".
I guess it kind of started with my mum's ordination
three years ago.
I stood in Winchester Cathedral and I just said,
"Oh, Lord, you're asking me to do this as well, aren't you?"
I think there's something about stepping out of kind of
normal life and coming here that is very different.
It's sort of a different rhythm of life and you're in the community.
Every morning we go to morning prayer and we have lunch together.
The world's going to throw a lot of things at us, I think,
in the next however many years left we've got of ministry,
so it's good to have a good foundation, I think.
So you are all clearly really keen and vibed up about it.
But, on the other side, what do you think are the biggest
challenges that face a female vicar and a female priest?
I think for me it's probably two-fold.
I think one is how people approach you.
So I know that in the past I've stood up and given a sermon
or I've led a service and the first thing that someone does is
comment on what I'm wearing.
The whole time I'm going, "I was talking to you about the poor.
"I was talking to you about this
"and I'd have really loved it if that's the thing you took away"
but I know that, for some reason,
as a woman, physical appearance is really important
and what I wear can be a help or a hindrance to those around me.
And I think the second thing is learning to live with those
comments with grace.
I think that's a struggle that women priests perhaps have to deal with
that male priests don't just because of our gender.
I think there are still people that don't feel that women should
be in leadership, and, actually,
if they've wrestled with it and they've come to that conclusion,
then that's fine, that's their opinion.
How do you see the future?
There are now women bishops in the Church of England.
I definitely feel that I'm standing on the shoulders of other
female priests and now we get to reap the benefits, don't we,
which is amazing.
I think I'd like to see it that we don't have to talk about
-women priests or male priests any more.
We're all just priests and it's cool.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
Next week, we're down on the farm with
a group of girls from the inner city, getting a taste of rural life.
But for our final hymn, we turn to the great
Victorian woman songwriter Frances Havergal.
Take My Life, And Let It Be is her prayer that we use all our
gifts and talents to God's glory.
Marking the 25th anniversary of the Church of England's vote in favour of women's ordination, David Grant meets the first female Anglican priest and the next generation of women preparing for the priesthood.
My Jesus, My Saviour from St Germain's Church, Birmingham Come Down, O Love Divine from St Machar's Cathedral, Aberdeen When Love Was King from St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, London Come, Holy Ghost, Our Souls Inspire from Auckland Castle, County Durham I Stand Amazed from William Booth College, London We Believe from Orangefield Presbyterian Church Take My Life and Let It Be from Romsey Abbey.