While President Barack Obama sat down to dinner at Cardiff Castle after the first day of the NATO summit, a co-patriot of his made history just a mile away at Llandaff Cathedral.
Bishop Geralyn Wolf, retired Bishop of Rhode Island, become the first woman Anglican bishop to lead a service at Llandaff Cathedral last night (Sept 4). The public service was part of an event called Crossing The Threshold, held to mark the start of new legislation in Wales allowing women to be ordained as bishops.
She was joined by another bishop from the United States – Bishop Gayle Harris, the Suffragan Bishop of Massachusetts, who made history on Sunday by becoming the first woman Anglican bishop to preside at a service in the whole of Wales when she visited St Asaph Cathedral.
The legislation to ordain women as bishops in Wales comes into effect on September 12, exactly one year after it was passed by the Governing Body of the Church in Wales. The delay was built in to allow the Welsh bishops time to prepare a Code of Practice to accompany the new law.
Canon Mary Stallard, chaplain of St Joseph’s Anglican and Catholic School, preached at the service. She said the new legislation a threshold moment, “It’s an important opening of a doorway. There’s a very long way to go, but this month our church at least offers the possibility of a more inclusive ordained leadership.”
She paid tribute to the conference speakers and also to women who had paved the way. “These amazing women have been an inspirational presence, helping us in thinking and learning about what it might mean for women to have a fuller share in our church’s work of shepherding.
“As we gather in celebration we are also conscious of so many great women – lay and ordained – whose costly witness and service have enabled our church to reach this moment, and we thank God for their part in this journey.”
Canon Mary warned that the church had to work as one body in order to carry out its true ministry: “Too often in the endless debates about women and ministry the focus has been upon offence given and taken within the body of Christ – the church.
“There is frequently an unholy scramble to claim the status of victim inside the church, which completely misses the point of Jesus’ message. The lost, according to Jesus, are not the insiders or the privileged but the genuinely vulnerable, the poor, the dependent, the young and the frail.
“In a world where more than 200 Nigerian school girls are still missing, months after their kidnapping, where ordinary people are living in daily fear of persecution, hunger and war, the focus of our shepherding concern has to be outwards, not inward.
“And in order to make this ministry possible there needs to be a community which works as a body.”
The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, who also attended the conference and took a seat in the congregation during the service at Llandaff Cathedral, said, “At this momentous time – when the Church in Wales is a week away from legislation coming into effect to allow women to be ordained as bishops – I am delighted to support this conference and to welcome in particular Bishop Geralyn Wolf to share her experience and ministry with us.”
The Crossing The Threshold conference took place earlier at St Michael’s College, Cardiff, and Bishop Geralyn was a keynote speaker. She said, “I am delighted to be here and it is an honour to be leading the service at Llandaff Cathedral. This is an exciting time for women – they have many gifts and talents that will excite the church and allow it to minister in new ways.
“Any step which crosses a transition is difficult to make and I hope that the changes ahead are seen as opportunities and that the gifts of the many women I have met here will be utilized.”
She warned about the prejudices that face women bishops, “There is always going to be differentiation between men and women bishops. But I hope we can lift it up so that people can see that many times it is plain and simply unfair.
“A man walks into a church and he receives trust, admiration and acceptance. He has authority. We walk into a church and we have to gain that trust, gain that authority and that is a totally different starting point. I still believe that a strong woman is still called bitchy, difficult, unsympathetic – we still get those tags placed on us.”.
Bishop Gayle said, “As has been said, we are not ‘women bishops’ but bishops first who happen to be women. I am honoured to be here to share this moment with the Church in Wales. There will be starts and stops, times of disappointment and joy, those who are against and those very much in favour. But the spirit behind you is greater than the path in front. God is in this moment and although we may not feel comfortable with it, God takes us to uncomfortable places and leads us forward. God’s power will be with those who are called to this ministry.”
One of the conference organisers was the Revd Jan Gould, priest-in-charge of Glan Ely benefice in Cardiff. She said, “This conference is about how we ‘cross the threshold’ to a transformed leadership with the Church in Wales.
“Anglican women bishops in the USA have a huge amount to share and this is a unique opportunity to engage with their experience and to see together what that might mean for the future of the Church in Wales. People will have the chance to share their hopes, fears and expectations in small groups as the Church in Wales responds to this great change.”
Watch messages from Bishops Geralyn & Gayle:
Listen to Revd Preb Dr Jane Tillier’s conference address here:
Listen to Bishop Geralyn’s conference address here: