'God is good' - Durham diocese celebrates 20 years of women priests

Durham Cathedral was a sea of colour when a congregation of all ages, both male and female, came together on Saturday (19 July 2014) to celebrate 20 years of women’s priestly ministry in the Diocese of Durham.

In the same week that the Church of England General Synod voted to allow women to become Bishops, Durham Diocese celebrated alongside women from the Methodist Church who were also celebrating 40 years of their own women's priestly ministry.

The service led by Revd Caroline Worsfold – Chaplain at St Benedicts Hospice and one of the first 38 ordained Priest in Durham Cathedral back in 1994. She was supported by Deacon Revd Rebecca Tobin, who was ordained Deacon in Durham Cathedral last month, and by Revd Canon Rosalind Brown, Commissioners’ Canon at Durham Cathedral.

During the service, reflections on the last 20 years of Anglican Women’s ministry and 40 years for Methodists was given by a small group including mother and daughter Revd Helen and Revd Susie Thorp, The Revd Raymond Dick, husband of Revd Caroline Dick – one of those ordained back in 1994 and Revd Alison Wilson – from the Methodists.

In her reflection, Susie Thorpe spoke about the day back in 1992 that she and mum Helen learned of the news of another vote at general synod to allow women to become priests; she said: “Mum, you started to cry, we were in the car together waiting for my brother to come out of orchestra in Broadway Junior School in Sunderland. And it was my ninth birthday. I remember thinking that this was a very important day, not just for you but for me, but I am not sure I realised just how significant it was really going to be. News that changed your life, my life, the life of our family.”

Mum Helen said: “Not that either of us had much understanding of the journey ahead. But here we are. Celebrating!”

Susie added: ”There is so much to celebrate. God is good. I remember six years ago washing up as a curate and realising that not many people’s dreams come true – that I had the best job and the best boss in Church of England. In fact, I have always been incredibly blessed in working with colleagues who have recognised and released my gifts enabling me to flourish.”

Helen added: “Flourishing of women in ministry matters to me too. I did not have Susie’s positive experience in early years of ministry; there were some times of real struggle. But the example of Jesus kept me going.”

Methodist minister the Revd Alison Wilson said: “From the beginning, women have always been in the forefront of the Methodist movement. Women have blazed a trail, called and prompted by God to serve him in all kinds of places and ways. Today we celebrate the contribution of women to the ordained ministry in the past 40 years in the British Methodist church.”

Responding to the reflections The Right Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham said: “This is a very special service – not just recognising the magnificent contributions of Women’s Priestly Ministry in the Church of England over the last 20 years and 40 year in the Methodist Church – but because this is the very first service of its kind in the Church of England to occur in this celebration year since the General Synod vote.

"In the services up and down the country that occurred before the Synod vote, there must have been an element of concern, but not today. Today we celebrate that 20 years after the first women became priests we will now see women bishops very soon also.”

To support the 20 Years of Women’s Priestly Ministry in the Diocese of Durham a touring exhibition and website were launched back in June – find out more at http://newsroom.durhamdiocese.net/celebration20/

Photos by Keith Blundy / Aegies Associates


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