‘Transformations – Theology and Experience of Women’s Ministry’ Executive Summary Report

‘Transformations – Theology and Experience of Women’s Ministry’

Executive Summary Report


A day conference entitled ‘Transformations – Theology and Experience of Women’s Ministry’ was held at the invitation of Archbishop Rowan Williams at Lambeth Palace on 19th Sept 2011. The day was intended to allow the opportunity for honest reflection on the experience of 17 years of women’s ordained ministry and to celebrate all that this ministry has brought to the Church of England.

The conference was addressed by a number of speakers:  Dr Paula Gooder, Rev’d Lucy Winkett, Rev’d Professor Sarah Coakley, Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves (who gave the keynote address), Bishop Kay Goldsworthy and Archbishop Rowan. In the afternoon the conference split into discussion groups and fed back to plenary. The Archbishop closed the day with some concluding reflections.


This summary report seeks to signpost the key messages of the conference speakers , highlight the feed back to the House of Bishops from the group discussions  and draw out the themes that recur throughout the full report and make recommendations


You can read the full Executive Summary Report here

What is Transformations and how is it different from WATCH?

The Transformations Steering Group was established by Archbishop Rowan Williams to support the Church of England in changing its gender culture. It reports regularly to the College of Bishops, who are responsible for progress in culture change in their dioceses. WATCH is represented on it, and it is a good way to feed suggestions for change into the national Church. Here is a brief Introduction to its multi-faceted work.

Transformations Steering Group (TSG) – a brief introduction

In 2010, in response to the slow progress of the women bishops legislation through Synod, a group of women was invited by then Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to discuss the situation. They were tasked with convening a conference, ‘Transformations: Theology and Experience of Women’s Ministry’ at Lambeth Palace in September 2011 to celebrate and explore the experience of ordained women.

The conference was celebratory, but also acknowledged where the church is failing its women. Over 60 people – women and men, lay and ordained – met to explore a range of issues, including synodical processes, liturgical language, the deployment of women clergy and the interpretation of scripture. Each group was invited to feed back suggestions for action. A detailed report, including group feedback and recommendations to the House of Bishops, was written and circulated.

The conference planning group emerged as the ‘Transformations Steering Group’, to take forward this agenda. The TSG meets at Lambeth Palace three times a year, and is constituted of two members from each of the following groups:

  • WATCH (Women and the Church), a national group working for the full inclusion of women (lay and ordained) at every level of the church
  • NADAWM (the National Association of Diocesan Advisors in Women’s Ministry), who act as advocates for and representatives of women clergy in each diocese
  • the Church of England; from 2015 this group, BDARC, includes bishops
  • AWESOME, a network of Evangelical women clergy in the Church of England
  • Black and Minority Ethnic representatives since 2014; formally from CMEAC from 2015
  • the Archbishop of York’s researcher and chaplain, both to redress a geographical bias towards the south and to keep Bishopthorpe in touch with the work of the group.

The TSG regularly reports back to the College of Bishops. In September 2012, they focussed on statistics about women’s ministry, highlighting both some significant differences between the typical vocational pathways of women and men, and the need to further research these differences and their causes. In September 2013, the TSG held a day event for the College of Bishops. Each Bishop was requested to invite a woman he works with in his diocese, resulting in a real critical mass of women meeting with the College as senior colleagues. Attendees were presented with initial research findings and explored ways to address some of the issues raised at a Diocesan level, including sharing best practice.

The Transformations agenda is largely being taken forward through sub-groups of TSG:

  • The 2012 presentation highlighted the need for further research, which began within Ministry Division, and from 2014 by a half-time Transformations researcher. Work initially focused on vocations and larger church leadership. The HR department are taking on issues such as maternity leave and flexible working. This work is overseen by the Transformations Research and Implementation Group (TRIG).
  • A sub-group of the Development and Appointments Group (DAG), the Senior Women Clergy Working Group, was set up to work with those who were helping women to be ready to step into senior posts. After the initial work to help those women first appointed to the episcopate, the group now exists to ensure a flow of information to/from those making appointments to senior posts.
  • Another area emerging from the original conference was gender in liturgy, and representatives are discussing this with the Liturgical Commission in terms of both language and inhabiting liturgical roles.
  • A Theological Working Group has been established to explore theological issues surrounding the flourishing in ministry of ordained women. It is in discussion with the Faith and Order Commission.

It is envisaged that the TSG will exist for as long as it takes to see through progress in the Church on the areas identified in the 2011 conference. Further information can be found here on the Church of England Website

New research on Gender and Ministry available online

The Transformations Agenda is about changing the gender culture of the Church of England, and WATCH is a part of the Steering Group for this work.  This new website reports vital research on ordained women’s ministry, and more will be added as more research is done.  So far, the key papers are on the reasons why there are so few young female vocations, and the ways in which the Church of England is years behind most other organisations in terms of its gender parity.

Explore the website here:

Transformations – Theology and Experience of Women’s Ministry 19th September 2011


On 19 September 2011 I invited over sixty members of the Church of England – ordained and lay, women and men – to a conference at Lambeth Palace entitled ‘Transformations – Theology and Experience of Women’s Ministry’. Whilst one aim of this event was to review experiences of women’s ordained ministry in the context of current consideration of moves to appoint women to the episcopate, the intention was always to look beyond – to consider what women’s experience could tell us about the inherited models of ordained ministry in both theology and practice and how these might be changed for the better. I was not disappointed.

Throughout the day there was a constructive atmosphere of considering how women and men, working together, could bring different contributions to the process of what I chose to call ‘humanising’ ordained ministry. By this I meant, as I said in my closing remarks, that there is something toxic about the way in which we currently expect the clergy to work: we need, together, to liberate clergy not only from bureaucratic processes but also from inappropriate business models of completing tasks as opposed to engaging prayerfully both with God and with God’s people.

I am grateful to all those who contributed to the day, whether they made formal presentations or participated in the discussion groups.

There was much in the set-piece contributions and in the ensuing discussions and their conclusions, well summarised in this document, that I found both thought-provoking and encouraging. The recommendations made in the process deserve careful reflection. The issues touched on here transcend questions of gender and go to the heart of what it means to be an ordained minister of the Gospel in the Church of England today and in the future. I commend this report of the day’s proceedings to anyone genuinely concerned with the future of ordained ministry in the Church of England.

+Rowan Cantuar:

Lambeth Palace
November 2011