The National Celebration to mark the 20th anniversary of women’s ordination to the priesthood was a day filled with laughter, friendship, solidarity and warmth. Literally warmth as the sun was shining gloriously. It was a day for prayer, for reflection and for song. It was a day for the “women of ‘94”, the first to be ordained, it was a day for those who supported them and those who followed and it was a day for those whose church has changed so much for the better because of those ordinations.
The day began with a picnic lunch in Dean’s Yard at Westminster Abbey. There was a sea of happy faces, many old friendships rekindled and new ones formed. There was food, there were a few bottles of champagne, well, it was a celebration after all! There were some wonderful speeches including one by Canon Jane Hedges who included a reference from the message of congratulations from ++Desmond Tutu and we all echoed his resounding “yippee!” We also all shouted three cheers to the General Synod of 1992 which voted to enable women to be ordained.
Then we began the procession from the Abbey to St Pauls. The route took us through Parliament Square and up alongside the Thames. The numbers of us on the walk did make it feel like the procession spanned miles. Certainly from my viewpoint , about halfway down the procession, by Embankment Station, I couldn’t see where we began or ended. The sun was shining brightly and we had so many shouts of support from passing traffic and people watching us.
On arrival at St Pauls there was a band playing and the “women of 94” amassed on the steps of St Pauls. It was simply a breathtaking sight and the atmosphere there was one of huge joy. People who had tickets for the service gradually made their way in to the Cathedral and others made their way to Paternoster Square where a special screen had been erected to relay the service.
One of the most moving moments of the day came when the first women to be ordained were to process up the aisle. There were many hundreds and the procession took some time. But from the moment they began processing up, the congregation stood and gave them a standing ovation until the last had taken their seats. It was hugely powerful especially as some of the women are now quite frail.
The service was presided over by Canon Philippa Boardman with Archbishop Justin Welby as her deacon. The hymns were rousing, the testimonies given by June Osborne and Kate Boardman were powerful and inspiring and the address by ABC Justin encompassed the feelings of many.
All in all it was a day to truly celebrate and it gave so much hope for the future of the Church, especially this year when we hope even more progress might be made.