Jean Mayland


When I was asked to write Jean’s obituary, I decided, in order to make it inclusive as Jean was, it should contain the voices of those who knew, loved and admired her. In this way it would be a fitting tribute to a remarkable woman who influenced so many and changed the direction of our lives and that of the Church of England.

I have leant heavily, with their permission and thanks, on the eulogies of her daughters Sarah and Alex and granddaughters Lauren, Rachel and Isabel, given so lovingly at her funeral and those who knew her in the very early days of her pioneering. I am grateful to the Revd Rosalind Rutherford, WATCH Trustee, and The Rt Revd David Hawtin, for filling in the gaps of Jeans early pioneering work and making sure the sequencing of many events were correct. Thank you.

Alongside this, but separate from it, there will be  a number of short cameo comments sent in from those who  worked with her supporting specific groups and projects.

When the news of Jean Mayland’s death was announced on Dec 7th 2021,  within an hour social media was full of responses from those who knew her, as well as those who had not met her but had been influenced by her life. Well over 100 responses were received from those sending in messages expressing their profound thanks, tributes of admiration, memories of all she had done as a pioneer. They came not only from those in the Church of England, but from the Catholic Women’s Organisation (CWO), from Methodists, from those who belonged to Modern Church, Inclusive Church and Changing Attitude, and demonstrated Jean’s wholehearted commitment to ecumenism, women’s ministry and inclusiveness for which we give thanks and for being in the long line of faithful servants whose name will go down in herstory.

All the tributes talked of how she had been a figure of hope and inspiration throughout her long life. She reached out widely to those, so often on the edge of the Church, about whom she felt keenly, and particularly, to women, who she recognised were so frequently overlooked and unheard by those making decisions in the Church of England.  Jean believed firmly, as did all of us, that in God “We are all one”. Frequent mention was made about how privileged each had been to work alongside her with her fierce passion and determination for justice and equality. There were many comments such as this from Sarah Lamming: “ Jean was a wonderful person, so encouraging, inspiring, and passionate about equality and justice. It was an honour and privilege to spend a short time spent with her on the WATCH committee”.  Each spoke of her gracious activism so vital in the campaign for the ordination of women. She was seen as a prophetic, fierce and gentle advocate for justice. From comments, it is clear that large numbers of women, ordained and lay, became who they are because of Jean’s strength, challenge and deep faith to ensure the Church recognized the full worth, gifts and insights of women.

Many women may not be fully aware of the complete story of how they became ordained or the years of campaigning, persuading, writing pamphlets and articles, and reports for various Church of England institutions that laid the foundations for the legislation which allowed women to be ordained deacon, priest and finally bishop, nor the length of time this took.

For many, the story of how the Church of England finally accepted that women could be called to ordination and passed the legislation to make this a reality, is still hidden history yet to be fully written. It is one in which Jean, with others, women and men together, played a powerful, campaigning and determined role. Mention was made by more than one of how she embodied the parable of the widow and the unjust judge – she went on and on and wouldn’t let the issue go. They talked of how we need such people today as we still have a long way to go.

When Jean went to Oxford in 1954, there was still a quota limiting the number of female undergraduates and, as her daughter Sarah reminded us in her eulogy, Jean originally wanted to read Theology but was told that “women were not “mature enough” to read Theology for a first degree”. So instead she obtained a Degree in Modern History. However, showing the determination that marked her life, she was not deterred from her first plan, and   went on to study for a Theology Diploma with David Jenkins as her Doctrine Tutor, laying the foundations for a lifelong friendship of mutual respect and support.

In 1965 Jean was elected to the Church Assembly as a lay member for Southwell Diocese. The Church Assembly was the organization that became General Synod five years later. She was elected to the first General Synod and  served as a member until 1990. In 1965, when she first became a member of the Church Assembly, the process of legislating for the ordination of women was just beginning. In 1966 the report “Women and Holy Orders” was published and debated in Church Assembly in 1967. Jean’s area of deep concern was the fact that women could not be ordained to the priesthood. It was during a debate on this report in the Church Assembly in 1967 that she made her first speeches supporting the ordination of women. She spoke many times in Synod debates advocating for change so that women could be ordained, predictably facing hostility and criticism from some.

Jean joined the Anglican Group for the Ordination of Women (AGOW) which had been working since 1930 within church structures for the ordination of women. In 1979 she became a founder member of the Movement for the Ordination of Women (MOW), the new campaigning group formed after a motion to start the process of legislating for the ordination of women was voted down in Synod by the House of Clergy in 1978. One of the aims of MOW was to widen the base of support for women’s ordination from Synod into parishes and the whole church. Jean was soon travelling round the Northern Province persuading each Diocese to appoint a representative to the organisation. Charlotte Methuen remembers this time, writing:

“I knew Jean from my days in York, when she and Christian Howard were an indomitable act in our branch of MOW – and in the whole diocese. She was so powerful that some local clergymen snidely referred to ‘Jean and Chapter’ – what  is it about the male resentment of strong women? Jean was also kind and encouraging, and a great model. Jean was an amazing figure of hope and inspiration to me.”

For many years, Jean’s activism went beyond the debates and discussions in synod.   She was part of the group of MOW members who silently carried the banner, “Waiting”, before every meeting of General Synod. This group had to endure muttering, innuendo and downright hostility, but, understanding genuine frailty she treated those who were aggressive with patience and a good deal of generosity.

In the MOW Synod Steering Group, for which Jean was Moderator, she encouraged those MOW supporters on General Synod to speak on a wide range of matters, so that MOW members were not dismissed as “one issue” enthusiasts, which she and they certainly were not.  Many of her contemporaries remember her for her determination, her utterly strategic and relentless ability, for her ability to uphold unpopular views in the Synods in the 80s, and of being a great ally who brooked no nonsense.

She was known and valued for the support she gave in her affirmation of lay people, especially in the General Synod Report highlighting the role of the laity, “All Are Called”. She was particularly supportive of lay people in their world-facing role, rather than just within the Church. As a liturgist, Jean played a creative role in bringing together revised Services into the 1980 Alternative Service Book. She was ahead of others in seeing the importance of inclusive language and influenced many of us in the way we thought about the language used in liturgies, but this was not the majority view and something the Church still struggles with today to the regret of many.

In 1981 she and Ralph, her beloved husband, with her daughters Sarah and Alex moved to York when Ralph was appointed Canon Treasurer of York Minster. In 1983 she became a tutor on the Northern Ordination Course and in 1985 took over the running of MOW’s Steering Group and, with others, did much hard work planning for Synod Debates. At this time Jean put herself forward to a selection committee and was recommended for training as a deacon. In June 1991 she was ordained deacon in York Minster and worked there in a non-stipendiary capacity while she continued teaching on the Northern Ordination Course.

During these years Jean’s ministry and involvement extended beyond the UK, and the Church of England, and her skills and gifts were recognised in many outstanding appointments. In December 1975 she attended the Nairobi Assembly of the World Council of Churches where she was elected to the Central Committee which was a life transforming occasion for her, especially in the work of the Conference of European Churches. Her wise counsel was very much appreciated. She served on the Central Committee from 1975 to 1991, attended Assemblies in Vancouver and Canberra and was heavily involved in the Study of the Community of Women and Men in the Church. She represented the Church of England on both the British and the World Council of Churches. She was President of the Ecumenical Forum of European Christian Women from 1986 to 1990. She represented the Conference of European Churches at team visits to the then Czech and Slovak republics, Romania and the Ukraine trying to achieve reconciliation between Churches. She was also invited to Russia and attended a banquet at the Kremlin.

When, in November 1992, legislation was finally passed by the General Synod of the Church of England to allow the ordination of women, Jean was no longer a member of Synod but she was there, following the debate. She wrote, “In the morning I observed from the gallery and I was called upon to comment for the BBC when the result was declared. I then went outside and joined in the singing.” She did not remark on the great responsibility she carried, first waiting in the BBC synod studio for the result of the vote, and then being the first woman whose reflection on the significance of the vote was heard by the whole country.

However, the 1992 legislation still had to be passed by Parliament to become law, and it was during this process that the bishops created the 1993 Act of Synod. The Act of Synod went beyond the provisions of the legislation by creating three more bishops to minister specifically and separately to those who did not accept women as priests. MOW reluctantly accepted this as an act of graciousness; Jean saw that it contained the seeds of continuing separation and pain within the church, and wrote: “It was a kind but misguided afterthought on the part of the bishops which would have disastrous results….The Act of Synod has developed in ways worse even than many of us feared.”  (p69, p75 ‘Act of Synod, Act of Folly’)

In 1993 Jean began working in the Durham Diocese as the Ecumenical Officer. She was licensed at the Diocesan Synod where she was welcomed by the now Right Reverend David Jenkins, the Bishop of Durham.  In May 1994 Jean was amongst the first women to be ordained to the priesthood. She was ordained in Durham Cathedral by Bishop David. It was the 40th Anniversary of his own ordination and to mark the occasion he was given 40 red roses after the service and he joined in the laughter and the tears.

Jean became a founder member of WATCH (Women and the Church) in 1996.  WATCH was and remains dedicated to equality and diversity by affirming, challenging and transforming the Church of England.  She served on the National Committee for a good number of years. Those of us, women and men, who served alongside her, all speak of what a privilege it was and how much that was valuable was learnt from her. Jean continued to give support until her death. She also played a key role supporting Modern Church, Inclusive Church, Changing Attitude, and including a successful grassroots movement against the Church of England’s adoption of an Anglican Covenant (2010-12) which might have stalled progress on LGBT+ inclusion for a further generation.

In 1996 when Ralph retired, Jean went to work for Churches Together in Britain and Ireland. A dear colleague of hers, Anne van Staveren, recalled a time she and Jean hired an enormous van and drove a newly created icon of St Hilda from London to Durham for it to be installed in the Cathedral. In 2000 Jean was appointed Co-ordinating Secretary for Church Life and then Assistant General Secretary until 2003 when she retired.

It would be true to say, as for anyone who followed her past, Jean was not beloved of, or captive, to the Church of England’s ecclesiastical establishment. For that reason, it was thought by many that she did not get the recognition which came the way of others. For any of those who campaigned so openly and vigorously for the ordination of women this did not come as a surprise, nor did it go unnoticed, but much comment was made that without women like her it was to be wondered if we would, even now, have women priests.

What a wonderful person she was, a huge inspiration who never gave up even when things were looking difficult in the early days of MOW and then later on when we all became WATCH. She persevered and encouraged all of us to keep on keeping on. The parable of the widow and the unjust judge never once dimmed.

While there was much sadness at her passing, memories of her life and work were met with huge gratitude. What an incredible legacy she leaves. She was an inspiration to so many: determined, fearless, passionate and full of love. Histories written about women’s ordination will make Jean’s memory last for a long time. May she rest in peace and rise in glory. Thanks for everything Jean; you were greatly loved.

Compiled by Sally Barnes January 2022 (for WATCH and Modern Church)

Jean at Lambeth Conference on MCU stall 2008

Photos from Jonathan Clatworthy


Individual Memories of Jean:

“a really a great tree has fallen – the forest lies silent in deep respect for her transilience which supported so many of us.”                                                 Carrie Pemberton Ford

 Jean the Campaigner for Women’s place in the Church

Looking back on the years of MOW, Jean now appears as the prophetic voice. At our Central Council meetings her sharp mind could suddenly alert us to some other aspect of whatever we had just decided on that made us go back and look at it from a different angle.

She could see right through as to what the result might mean – particularly from the opposition she was experienced in York.  She also knew a great deal about women struggling with the Church in the past and suggested that we ran a series of remarkable women in OUTLOOK which I edited for WATCH. She suggested people like Maude Royden, Christian Howard, Diana McClatchey – and I either wrote or got people to write these which went on to the WATCH website.

Jenny Standage

Jean was one of the very first people I met when I was elected onto General Synod in 1990. From then on, I realised I could turn to Jean as a wise mentor with a deep knowledge of the workings of the Church of England and of many of the people in crucial positions in the Church. She was savvy but never cynical, and always crystal clear about the goal of having the priesthood and episcopate opened to women on the same basis as men. Jean’s advice and perspective was invaluable and she became a most trusted friend.

Christina Rees

I was involved in MOW and CWO (Catholic Women’s Ordination) and remember Jean’s voice from the 1992 BBC recordings! I met her through WATCH gatherings and read her chapter in “In Good Company” and realised what a remarkable woman she was. I have been part of CWO for over 25 years, and was the Leeds rep when Jean would join us at Holy Rood house for events. She always commented on minutes of meetings and sent lovely thank you messages, which meant a lot to me. She was also so important in acknowledging the work of lay women in the campaigning, and it was only years later when I became a Licensed Lay Minister that I realised what a lot of pioneering she had done as a Reader, and I feel proud as a Reader to stand on her shoulders.

She recognised how tough campaigning was, and always lent her support when she could. Before one of the Lambeth meetings in 2005, she organised a wonderful meeting in York with the women bishops who had travelled from around the world. It was an inspiring day. I was about to represent the UK at Women’s Ordination worldwide, and I can still remember being sent out from that meeting with hugs from Jean and several women bishops- who all seemed to share my name albeit spelled differently! Little did I know that journey to the Women’s Ordination Conference would lead to my subsequent excommunication and back into the C of E!   Jean continued to be a friend and we emailed until this got too much for her, and I kept in touch with her in Hexham.

Katherine Salmon CWO

 Jean, the campaigner and encourager of women internationally

So sad to hear the news. I had many good contacts with Jean in ecumenical matters. My memory, especially in the work of the Conference of European Churches. Her wise  counsel was very much appreciated. A blessed memory.

Jaakko Rusama– Co-moderator Anglican-Lutheran Society 

Such sadness together with huge gratitude. Histories written about women’s ordination will make Jean’s memory last for a long time. Sit ei terra levis.

Bishop Emerita Jāna Jēruma-Grīnberga – Lutheran Co-President of the Anglican-Lutheran Society

We went to the women’s synod before the World Council of Churches in Harare. Our return plane had developed a computer fault in Lusaka, which meant a whole day in Harare waiting for it to be repaired. The Rev Jean Mayland (to whom I owe so much) in charge of our group sallied forth to the customer service desk ‘like a ship in full sail’.

Most of Harare’s accommodation was full because of the World Council itself. Jean’s efforts produced a day in the Harare Hilton. It was amazing. We had all the available therapies – massage, hair dressing, manicure and pedicure. It cost five pounds in English money; but the Shona women were so glad of our trade. Because I had a broken arm, my feet had got really sore. The temperature rose to a certain level and then there was a thunderstorm, but the heavy rain on the sandy soil meant that sharp sand cut into my toes.

The beautiful Shona pedicurist spent an hour and a half on them; the love and gentleness of her touch has stayed with me forever. When I hear, in the Scriptures, stories involving washing feet, I always think of that affirming comfort expressed through a gentle touch with olive oil. All of this would not have been possible without Jean’s fierce protection of her group of women.

Professor June Boyce-Tillman

Jean, the Campaigner for the inclusion of all

As an activist Jean worked with a wide variety of people and organisations, always a bundle of energy. She was fully involved in the work of Modern Church, not only on the campaigns for women priests and bishops, but also on other issues like opposition to the Anglican Covenant. I imagine her in heaven now, campaigning for equality for women saints.

Jonathan Clatworthy – Modern Church

They say that you cannot judge a book by its cover, and in Jean Mayland’s  case this is certainly true. On meeting Jean, you were faced with a rather small, bespectacled, smiling and grey-haired lady; in many ways like everyone’s Grandmother. Yet behind that gentle exterior was a giant, and a tenacious one at that. I met Jean initially in the context of a Yorkshire Regional Changing Attitude gathering, and soon found myself travelling down to London at Jean’s request to determine if I could bring anything to the Board of Trustees of Changing Attitude. There then followed a decade of campaigning with CA as a Board member I used to joke with Jean quoting from the Laurel and Hardy film…..” Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!”

From the early days of Changing Attitude, Jean was happy to boldly add her name to an illustrious list of Patrons, including Desmond Tutu, Trevor Dennis, Richard Holloway and John Packer to name but a few.  This was to give the nascent campaigning organisation some recognition.

I served as a trustee of Changing Attitude alongside Jean for quite a few years and saw first-hand her passionate vision for a truly inclusive church. She was fearless in pursuing this vision, and in Changing Attitude she worked tirelessly for the full inclusion of LGBTI+ folk into the life and ministry of The Church of England. Her prophetic vision for inclusion I know, was rooted in a deep, experiential faith in the unconditional, intimate love of God that we constantly explored and sought to live out as a Board of Trustees.

As I write these few inadequate words, I sense her passionate presence as she gifted me many of her feminist theology books which rest on the shelf at my shoulder. The work she selflessly gave herself to, campaigning for a church which could really be described as diverse and inclusive is far from over ….. But we stand on the shoulders of giants, like Jean, and the work goes on.

Jeremy Timm, Changing Attitude