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Church celebrates 20 years of women’s ministry as priests

Bangor ordination of women 1997

Twenty years of women’s ministry as priests will be celebrated at simultaneous services in every cathedral in Wales next month.

The services at all six of Wales’ cathedrals will take place at 11am on January 7, marking 20 years since the ordination of Wales’ first women priests. The anniversary comes just weeks ahead of another milestone in women’s ministry in Wales – the consecration of the first woman bishop, Canon Joanna Penberthy, as Bishop of St Davids Diocese, on January 21.

History was made on January 11, 1997, when every cathedral in Wales held their first ordination service for women priests. Sixty-one women were ordained on that day and their names have been featured in a logo designed for the anniversary. Many of them will be taking part in the services on January 7.

Some of the first women ordained at St Asaph Cathedral in January 1997
Some of the first women ordained at St Asaph Cathedral in January 1997

The idea for a simultaneous celebration was first put forward by the St Deiniol’s Group, an informal group of senior lay and ordained women from across the Church in Wales, whose members in each diocese have been involved in the planning.  Peggy Jackson, Archdeacon of Llandaff, who convenes the group, said, “The Church in Wales has every reason to celebrate and be grateful for the ministry of these first women priests. They have brought rich and diverse gifts into the sacramental life of the Church, and have inspired many women since to offer themselves for public ministry. They have enabled the Church to represent, and therefore serve more effectively, the people of every community in Wales.”

Canon Enid Morgan was among the first women ordained and she will be giving the address at Bangor Cathedral during the anniversary service. Remembering the day she said, “It was a day of great elation, but with other emotions mixed in. We had years of  frustration behind us – I had spent 12 years as a deacon  and we all had a sense of much energy wasted. Also eventually things seemed to happen very quickly.  The Bill was passed the previous September so we hadn’t had much time to get used to the fact that it was actually going to happen. The shift from hope to expectation was a sharp one. There was also resistance from people who stayed away.

Canon Enid Morgan
Canon Enid Morgan

“Twenty years on we have every reason to celebrate and to look forward. A whole generation has grown up seeing women priests and their ministry as normal and we can start taking some things for granted. Indeed, when you see photos or film of groups of clergy with no women present, it looks odd and even rather absurd. Relics of an age gone past.

“That said, there is still a lot of work to be done. We don’t have many women in senior positions and there is still passive resistance amongst clergy and some women are reluctant to put their head above the parapet. It will take a little time to move from what law permits to a blossoming of the new potential. We would also like to see more younger women coming into ministry. I am delighted that we now pray for ‘our bishop-elect Joanna’ and I am confident that Joanna Penberthy, who was among those ordained at that first service, will be a role model to attract the next generation of women priests.”

Details of the cathedral services taking place on January 7 are as follows:

women priest anniversaryLlandaff (preacher: Canon Jenny Wigley); Bangor (preacher, Enid Morgan); Newport (Bishop Dominic Walker); St Asaph (the Bishop of Gloucester, Rachel Treweek);  Brecon (preacher, Canon Carol Wardman); St Davids (Canon Joanna Penberthy).

Collections will be taken for Welsh Women’s Aid at some of the services.

For more information about the history of women’s ministry in Wales, see the Crossing Thresholds book