By Lucy Davis
There are days when words cease, when the only possible response to what we see is to stand and weep for joy. Concelebrating at the Eucharist in one of England’s ancient cathedrals in the company of a female Bishop was for me one of those times.
Saturday saw the annual pilgrimage of St Alban, a spectacle of carnival costumes and giant puppets which brings the city to a standstill. And this year, at the rear of the procession stretching almost the length of the High street, in the midst of several mitres, a female figure, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States. I was expecting to be excited; I was taken aback by just how moved I was.
At the Eucharist, packed with pilgrims from all over the country, all over the world, the Most Revd Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori preached about heroes, true heroes. Those who, like Alban, spend themselves for Christ. She spoke about passion, of finding our passion and living it. Then we came to Christ’s altar and celebrated, priests and bishops, male and female, ministering with and for God’s people. The really moving thing was that it didn’t feel peculiar to be in the presence of a female bishop. To see her there, in mitre and purple, was as ordinary and extraordinary as seeing anyone who is living out their vocation with God. Bishop Katharine, a trailblazer for women Bishops and women Primates, wears her own iconic status lightly, yet understands the impact she has by simply being a woman.
The Presiding Bishop made time in a packed day to accept an invitation from the St Albans branch of WATCH to meet with members and women in lay and ordained ministry in the Diocese. Christina Rees chaired a Q and A for us, as Bishop Katharine generously shared something of her experience and ministry. She spoke of the highs and lows of being a Bishop, of the experience of being the only female Primate, of how we might encourage a higher proportion of women in senior posts in the church, of how far we have travelled and how far we still have to go. Bishop Katharine spoke of the Synod vote in July, of how we must hope, and whatever the outcome not be destabilised; God is still God.
In her sermon, Bishop Katharine talked about heroes, and I think I have found a new one. A woman who has been prepared to take on headship, vulnerably exposing herself to all that has meant. A woman who is wise, passionate and measured. A Bishop who defines herself as a bridge builder. We give thanks to God for raising up Presiding Bishop Katharine, and pray that it might not be long before we see another female bishop in an ancient English Cathedral, an inheritor of the legacy of all who have paved the way.