Ordination on St. Georges Day 1994, St Alban’s Abbey
We had debated in the diocese whether to have a number of ordination services for the women deacons in the spring of 1994 or to have one very large event. The decision was for one event in which 62 women would be ordained priest. We ranged in age and experience, some had years of church service as deaconesses or parish workers, others like myself and my friend Maggie, were young. I had been ordained deacon 4 years earlier in the Abbey. Martyn, my husband, and I, were both ordained then and went off to work together as curates at St. Andrew’s Bedford. The following Petertide he was ordained as a priest and I, as a woman, could not be. His ordination service was a painful occasion, not made any easier by the overwhelming silence about those of us excluded. Anger and frustration, I was reminded were not appropriate reactions for a young woman deacon to express!
In November 1992 we were at Church House Westminster to hear the joyful news when the vote was passed. Jubilation and affirmation at the news was followed by a strange waiting period. I continued to work as a deacon and was now and then reminded by those in authority that women must guard against triumphalism. In September 1993 I had my first child, Ben. He was 7 months old by the time he attended the ordination retreat. We took over a boarding school for the retreat and Martyn came too, looking after Ben.
The morning of the ordination came and the women gathered in the Abbey. The choreography of the service was carefully planned and rehearsed. The Abbey was packed and we were to process around at various points to give those sitting far from the nave a chance to see us. This was made more complex because two of the women were in wheelchairs! Screens were set up so that all could see the ordination and we could take home a video of the event.
The service was one of overwhelming joy and affirmation. We were ordained in reverse alphabetical order of our title parishes. This meant that those who worked together were next to each other. Maggie and I, both from Bedford were 60 and 61. The sheer numbers meant that we could each invite only two priests to lay hands on us alongside the Bishops and senior clergy. These priests were sitting on the north side of the aisle and as we processed past them, at the end of the service, they broke into applause. We left the Abbey with the sound of their clapping only to find a large crowd outside laughing and cheering with joy.
There was an incredible sense that this was about so much more than each of us being ordained. This was a church at last, and somewhat cautiously, saying yes to women. It was an endorsement of the ministries we represented but also in some way the roles that women had played in ministry down the ages. It meant something to women and men, who were not themselves seeking ordination, but hoped for a more inclusive and healthy church.
Emma Percy April 2014