2019 is a year of anniversaries for those who rejoice to see women included in all forms of ministry, ordained and lay, in the Church of England.  We are celebrating 25 years since women were ordained priest; 5 years since the legislation to enable women to be appointed bishops was passed in General Synod; fifty years since women could be licensed as Readers and also, forty years since the founding of MOW (Movement for the Ordination of Women) Jenny Standage, who was one of those whose work in the office kept MOW going through the campaigning years, and then continued campaigning with WATCH, writes about her memories of those years.

The history of the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate can be summed up in the words on a tea towel which was available at the very beginning of the formation of the Movement for the Ordination of Women (MOW).

Margaret Webster in her book A New Strength, A New Song traces the many strands that began to come together at the end of the 1970s, culminating in the single focussed campaign of MOW. This campaign  formally began on 4 July, 1979 – exactly 40 years ago this year – with Stanley Booth Clibborn, the Bishop of Manchester , as the first Moderator.

Margaret reminisced to me that idea for the tea towel began when  she and Diana Collins of the Christian Parity Group (CPG) and others from the Anglican Group for the Ordination of Women (AGOW)  thought of getting a pink tea towel made which said “ Woman’s Place is in the House of Clergy.”  However  this didn’t last long and they decided to go for the whole thing and the (Episcopal) purple tea towel went into production declaring that “A Woman’s Place is in the House of Bishops”.

The strategy of MOW was clear and simple – to work through the General Synod of the Church of England to get the legislation through to allow women to become deacons (that happened in 1987) and then priests with the ordinations  beginning in March 1994.  In August 1994 MOW closed down as we had achieved women as priests and we – the MOW staff in the Office – were exhausted.

But we found that MOW couldn’t just be closed down like that – we had over 5000 supporters in every Diocese in the country and while the joy of having women as priests was quite wonderful, we still hadn’t fulfilled the message of our tea towel.

So it became the work of WATCH – Women and The Church – to get the Church of England  to make it legal  for women to become Bishops.  This happened at the end of  2014 with the first bishop consecrated in January 2015 – Libby Lane as Bishop of Stockport.

MOW’s wider campaign

Apart from focussing on the General Synod of the C of E, MOW had a wider campaign in every Diocese through all the Parish churches and all their congregations. This aimed at raising awareness about the possibility of women being priests in every parish church in the land. And of course we met with opposition and had to learn fast how to cope with it. At MOW meetings we were urged to get on to our PCCs, then Deanery Synods, then Diocesan Synods – even on to General Synod;  to give talks/presentations on why women should be priests. This meant a lot of reading, lots of meetings for strategy, going on vigils outside male ordination services at Cathedrals, being a rep for your Diocese for  MOW.

The MOW office was in Napier Square in the parish offices of St Stephen’s, Rochester Row. Caroline Davis and Margaret Orr Deas were Executive secretaries and I volunteered on two days a week, later taking over as Secretary when Margaret Orr Deas left, working four days a week.   We had one small room that was packed full, wall to wall , with our filing cabinets, telephone and fax machine, labels, envelopes, and all our resources to be mailed out to our members in each Diocese as they needed them. We had leaflets explaining about Headship, Jesus and Gender, Priesthood and Prejudice, the Anglo Catholic viewpoint, Inclusive language and more.  The telephone was for ever busy with us answering queries, giving advice, and then posting quantities of leaflets etc. all over the country for discussion (at  meetings) and to be left out in churches for people to become aware of  the issues.

The Central Council of MOW had representatives from each Diocese and met frequently to plan, together with those MOW members  who were on General Synod.  Synod members also  had sub groups like EGGS – the Evangelical Group on General Synod.  And there was PWO – Priests for Women’s Ordination – all men of course!

We made banners, we had badges for sale saying things like “ God is an Equal Opportunity Employer – Pity about the Church. “  And “The hand that rocks the cradle rocks the boat. “ We had special MOW candles, umbrellas and tee shirts.

The Lambeth Conference is held every ten years and in 1988 we took every opportunity to make our presence felt as women priests from the USA attended. And that was the year when Florence Li Tim Oi, aged 80 , came to visit  and joined us as we marched around St Paul’s Cathedral with banners as  the Lambeth bishops and their spouses emerged from the service.

A big part of our awareness raising was around inclusive language. It was exciting to be part of creative liturgies and hymns, different ways of praising and praying, bursting out of the old fashioned male focussing way of looking at how we worshipped God.

All our endeavours built up to the momentous day Wednesday 11 November 1992 when the General Synod voted to proceed to the ordination of women as priests.

Church House was packed and so we hired the basement of the Central Methodist Hall opposite Westminster Abbey and had big TV screens set up to relay what was going on in Church House.

It was particularly memorable for me as Chris and Dilly Baker were there with their tiny baby daughter Florence – named after Florence Li Tim Oi, and Christopher Hall – son of Bishop R.O. Hall  – who  had ordained Li Tim Oi.  Chris and Dilly were both deacons then, and Chris had decided not to go ahead to being ordained priest – as all the men automatically did after being a deacon for a year –  but to wait until he and Dilly could be ordained priest together. When Archbishop George Carey made the announcement of the result of the votes   it was Christopher Hall who said “ I think we’ve done it” – and we had!  The basement erupted as we were not bound by the silence of the General Synod chamber in Church House.  I joined the crowds outside Church House in Dean’s Yard and sang Jubilate Deo in joyful thanksgiving. That amazing day ended with me taking the train back to Lewisham, getting on my bicycle, going to the nearest off licence, and buying a bottle of champagne which I took up Lewisham Hill to Elsie Baker’s house to share with her and Ros Wilkes and to hear the announcement of the day on the news on the TV.

Following that momentous day we carried on in the office in a state of euphoria, receiving messages from all over the world.  But there was more hassle to come.

Having been passed by the General Synod the legislation had to come before the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament and then go to the House of Commons and the House of Lords before the Queen gave her assent and we could go ahead and start ordaining the women deacons.

Caroline Davis and I attended every meeting of the Ecclesiastical Committee in the Houses of Parliament in April and May of 1993. John Selwyn Gummer  – and others – were fiercely opposed and as the debate went on Caroline and I realised that we were witnessing the birth of the Act of Synod, which duly arrived at the July sessions of the General Synod after much discussion and debate.  But we were landed with something we didn’t realise was going to take away such a lot of our joy and expectation for the future of the Church.   Radical MOW -ites wanted to mirror Una Kroll with her cry from the gallery – but decorum prevailed and the Act of Synod came into being.  And GRAS (the Group for the Rescinding of the Act of Synod ) was born.

For a full account of what the Act of Synod meant for the church see the  book  of articles

 “Act of Synod – Act of Folly? “  Edited by Monica Furlong  SCM Press 1998.

As women deacons began to be ordained priest Diocese by Diocese,  Flying Bishops  (or Provincial Episcopal Visitors – PEVs)  were consecrated to minister to those who didn’t want to have to meet a woman priest.

All these provisions were initially to ensure that the legislation was passed by Parliament but in reality most MPs and members of the Lords supported the ordination of women.

The next step was for the legislation to come before Parliament so on 29  October  1993  we filed into the Strangers Gallery of the House of Commons.  From the beginning of the debate it was obvious that the legislation would get through, but not before the gravelly voice of Ian Paisley had said :” Well, on this one, I’m in the Pope’s lobby!”

Then four days later we were in the House of Lords with its red covered benches with one Lord fast asleep with his feet up. The legislation sailed through easily.

And then the Queen gave her Royal Assent and we were all set for the ordinations to begin.

The first ordination service was in Bristol Cathedral on 12 March 1994.  I took a car load of happy people and I attended several more ordinations – my own Diocese of Southwark was on 25 May. I was then attending, and playing the organ at the First celebration of Holy Communion of various friends who had now become priests.

As part of our closing down MOW we decided to hold a residential conference in April 1994 to celebrate all that had been achieved and to give thanks for the position the Cof E was now in.  Caroline and I in the office were very busy – we invited women bishops from the USA and in particular Bishop Penny Jamieson  who was the first English woman diocesan bishop – she was at that time  Bishop of Dunedin in New Zealand – to be our Key note speaker and to preside at a Eucharist in Ripon Cathedral. We met April 8 – 10 and stayed in Queen Ethelburga’s School just outside York. I still have the list of all the participants and their addresses – 246 of us!  Apart from some silly ecclesiastical red tape about Bishop Penny NOT being allowed to wear her mitre legally in Ripon Cathedral and having a horrid float driving  round the streets  with anti women’s ordination posters  all over it, it was a euphoric three days of celebration and anticipation for the future of the Church.

Back in the office in mid April saw us beginning to pack everything up, with final mailings, and , most importantly, me taking a car load of material to the Fawcett Society at the London Guildhall University to become the MOW Archive.  Now that is all sorted and archived and ready for people to use in the Women’s Library on the fourth floor of the LSE  Library.

August 31 was the last day at Napier Hall.  Caroline and I, Christina Rees, Myra Poole and Ianthe Pratt with Ralph Godsell, the new vicar of St Stephen’s,  all raised glasses of champagne to the future.  I then packed the car full of everything left and drove home where I stashed it all into our attic.

We thought we’d finished – women could be ordained priest.  But NO – we hadn’t  – the message on the tea towel still hadn’t been fulfilled.

As we had no office it was my address and telephone number that was the only contact for what had been MOW with a membership of over 5000. Local MOW branches like Southwark, Manchester, Chelmsford, Bristol and so on were all left to wind themselves up (or down) as they saw fit.  Several of them had their own constitutions and collected membership fees.  But the national face of MOW was suddenly me, my phone number and address!  Plus Christina Rees as she had been the MOW Press Officer for all the media.  We continued to answer queries and give help and advice, and correspondence poured on to my doormat about how we should NOT have given up/closed down.  We in Southwark arranged a study day on 28 June 1995 in Rotherhithe led by Revd Clare Herbert and Revd June Osborne. The topic was on “Wheels within wheels – A way in for women from surviving to thriving” and it was  for the benefit of all women in ministry and dealt with church structures and how to negotiate them.

Eleven of us held a meeting in York University during the July General Synod on Monday 10 July 1995 to discuss where MOW should be headed.  We even looked ahead to the Lambeth Conference of 1998 when we knew women bishops from abroad would be coming.  NOW – the Network of Ordained Women – had been founded in an official capacity to look after ordained women but it was up to each Diocese to be in touch with their NOW representative if they need to.  At this meeting it was decided that MOW should continue in some form.  I made new headed notepaper with the MOW logo and we called ourselves the Ministry Of Women – but it wasn’t right.  I mailed (this was the post – there was no email!) all the addresses I had to ask them to come to a meeting on 4 October 1995 at St Edward’s House, Westminster.  At this meeting we discussed the five objectives that Revd Bernice Broggio had suggested for the future organisation. We decided to set up a steering committee of 6 people with one of them being a representative of NOW.

The decision  was taken  that MOW should continue as a national focus for promoting women’s ministry in the C of E. There was no mention of women bishops at this stage.  We also decided NOT to seek charitable status – that had always been refused as MOW was a campaigning organisation.  This had meant, of course, that we could never collect Gift Aid. This was something that really rankled with MOW as Forward in Faith  – set up in 1993 as the opposition to ordained women priests  – was granted charitable status because they were the Status Quo – they didn’t want any change.

The situation in London

Meanwhile  there were other obstacles to be negotiated.  Until 1992 Richard Chartres was the vicar of St Stephens where the MOW office was.  He then  became the Bishop of Stepney and in 1995  was promoted to become the Bishop of London. We knew from his time with us in his parish offices in Napier Square that he was not in favour of women priests and now, as Bishop of London it transpired that he would not ordain women as priests or deacons.

London MOW were very organised right from the beginning of September 1994 and had formed London WATCH. They invented the name. They were already receiving inquiries and people were signing up for membership. Among their various aims one of their most important tasks was to produce a pack for church wardens and PCCs for when an interregnum occurs.

The beginning of National WATCH.

We set another date for our Steering Committee – 29 November 1995 in Church House.  In my minutes from this meeting I suggested that to reactivate the old MOW at this point was a bad idea; that MOW had done its job, and in many peoples’ eyes it had already ceased to be, and could not be really continued with the same letters changed to mean Ministry of Women as people found it confusing.  Instead a new Daughter of MOW should come into being, to be called National WATCH, as opposed to London WATCH.

By February 1996 we were writing a new constitution for WATCH (National). This Constitution Listed ten Aims and Objectives of WATCH and the 5th one was “ the appointment of women as bishops.”

On Saturday 15 June 1996 we held an open meeting  at St John’s Waterloo and it was  as a result of  this meeting that WATCH officially began to operate. We had a Committee with Christina Rees as Chair, myself as Secretary, Marion Simpson as Treasurer and a  Constitution. Our address was St John’s Waterloo, thanks to the vicar Richard Truss welcoming us and we did have an office up in the roof for a while.  Frances Hiller was our Administrator.

On Saturday 10 May 1997 we held our Inaugural Eucharist at St Martin-in-the – Fields with Revd Susan Cole-King as our preacher.  At that stage Susan was the Bishop’s Adviser for Women in Ordained Ministry in the Diocese of Oxford.

Instead of an altar we had a round table with a special white round damask tablecloth.

The WATCH Logo

We got our wonderful MOW  designer  and printer  Michael Gregory to invent the WATCH logo.  We wanted to keep the oval shape of the MOW logo and Michael made it look like an eye, looking out.  Later on we put the women bishop logo from the Episcopal church of the USA into the middle of the eye.

We re-worked a lot of the MOW leaflets and added others with lots of background information, calling them all WATCH papers but kept the general look of the MOW leaflets.  Sadly Michael Gregory died in 2000 and thereafter I took the design of our WATCH papers to my friend Sue Lawes and we had them printed locally in South East London.

I also edited our magazine OUTLOOK which Sue Lawes laid out to my instructions for 14 years as the follow- on from Chrysalis.  We created a website – and gradually moved into the 21st century with email and the internet.

WATCH Merchandise

We had cartoon postcards, prayer cards, tee shirts and sweat shirts and we were there at the 1998 Lambeth Conference in Canterbury and then again in 2008. By that time we had an apron like the tea towel.  At Lambeth in the open air we offered anyone present to put on an apron and ice a biscuit.  Many bishops rose to this, icing mitres of course something easy to do! And we did a roaring trade in the tea towel which had undergone subtle but recognisable changes since its MOW days.

In 2010 I retired as Secretary, along with Christina Rees as Chair and we left the new team to complete the realisation of the message on the tea towel.  In November 2014 the General Synod passed the legislation  to allow women to be consecrated as Bishops.

On Monday 26 January 2015 I was in York Minster for the consecration of Libby Lane as Bishop of Stockport,  feeling such joy and delight that I had been part of the long process to see women called by God take their rightful place as priests and finally as bishops.


Jenny Standage. June 2019