Celebrating Priesthood

Published: 15th May 2014

It is the 20th anniversary of womens ordination to the priesthood, and there are national celebrations, including a service at St Pauls Cathedral on May 3rd. At Lichfield Cathedral, Reverend Prebendary Pippa Thorneycroft will be preaching at a Thanksgiving Service at midday on May 17th. Download a poster for the event here.

Pippa was licensed as a reader in 1982 and ordained deacon in 1988. By 1992, she was Lichfields Diocesan Advisor for Women in Ministry. She remembers going to Church House, Westminster, to hear the debate on the ordination of women. We were in the overflow in the Methodist Central Hall. It was nail-biting, as a series of excellent speeches on both sides of the argument increased the tension. It was so close no one could work out if the vote had been passed. It was, by two votes, in the House of Laity. The place erupted.

Fifty-one women were ordained priest over 23 and 24 April 1994 at Lichfield Cathedral. As Diocesan Advisor for Women in Ministry, Pippa was much involved with the organisation of those ordinations and the retreat at Hawkestone. The difficulty was that ordinations can only happen on a red letter day, and to find two saints next door to each other, we had to conscript St George! By then, Pippas husband, John, was the Diocesan Registrar, giving his wife her letters of orders of priest.

The early years were not easy. Several people at my first church simply left. Repeatedly people said at baptisms and funerals if I had known it was a woman taking the service I would not have come - but then sometimes said I have changed my mind. There were difficulties for some women who found their priestly role not accepted or respected.

We were pioneering, pushing doors and boundaries all the time, and facing setbacks from people who were intransigent or even rude. It was a heady time and I did have to get involved in frontline stuff, but now I have been able to get away from all the politics.

In the end, if you do a good job, people do change their minds.

In 2001, Pippa became Chaplain to the Queen, preaching in the Royal Chapels and attending many Royal Garden Parties. Although officially retired, she is still busy in the diocese, most recently as Interim Team Rector at Central Telford Parish.

I think we have mostly cracked it. Women bishops will happen at some stage, and it will become normal, as it did years ago when women became doctors.

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