An estimated 3,000 people marched in early May from Westminster Abbey to St Paul’s Cathedral to celebrate 20 years since the ordination of women.
North Swindon vicar Venerable Caroline Baston was amongst the first in 1994 and describes the occasion.
Twenty years ago I was ordained as a priest – one of the first group of women to be so ordained in the Church of England.
The ceremony took place at Romsey Abbey which was founded in Norman times by an eccentric Benedictine abbess who would have rejoiced at the moving and exciting occasion in 1994, as the gifts of women were finally allowed to be exercised within the priesthood of the church.
I had only waited five years, having begun my ministry in 1989, but I will never forget the woman of 66 who stood alongside me.
She had first felt called by God to be a priest when she was 18 years old.
On 3 May I was part of the national celebrations at St Paul’s Cathedral, along with all the women still alive and able, who had been ordained as priest back in 1994.
There was a march from Westminster Abbey to St Paul’s where we gathered with Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, to celebrate the contribution of women priests.
It was an amazing occasion. The congregation clapped for 14 minutes as we all entered through the vast west doors. The service was uplifting, humbling, tear-jerking and joyful – all at the same time.
This last month has been a time to reflect on what it all means. I give thanks for all those – living and dead – who sowed, watered and nurtured the gift of faith in me: parents, grandmothers, family, clergy, religious communities and those near and far who have inspired my own journey of faith across the years.
I give thanks too for the communities I have served at Thornhill, Winchester, Chilcomb, Chesil, the Isle of Wight and now here in the parish of St Andrew, North Swindon.
I give thanks to the bishops who saw potential within me, gave me responsibility and then encouraged me in the exercising of that responsibility.
Our ordinations back in 1994 were significant, not just for the church – as important as that was and is still today, as the Church of England debates whether women can be bishops.
But it’s important for all women, and especially for those who are denied education, exploited or trafficked, those girls who are left to die on street corners, and those women who have no access to basic maternity or health care.