Ministers’ Page

From Revd Rosemary Fletcher

Messengers

It suddenly strikes me
With overwhelming force:
It was women who were first to spread the message of Easter –
the unheard of!
It was women who rushed to the disciples,
who breathless and bewildered
passed on the greatest message of all:
He is alive!
Think if women had kept silence
In the churches.

Maria Wilhelmsson

There are always many anniversaries in any given year and this year some of them are about women’ s ministry.

This year Methodism celebrates the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women to the presbyterate (priesthood). Whilst earlier Methodist groupings such as the Primitive Methodist Church and the Bible Christians had ordained women, it was not until 1974 that the Methodist Conference ordained the first women presbyters following Methodist Union in 1932.

And this year the Church of England celebrates 30 years of ordination of women to the priesthood. Both Churches had had women deaconesses and deacons before these dates. And not forgetting that this year is 10 years since the July 2014 General Synod voted to allow Church of England women priests to become bishops.

In the 1950 the Methodist Conference had declared that there were no theological reasons why women could not be ordained to the presbyterate but at the time there were conversations taking place with the Church of England about re-union and women priests were a stumbling block to the then Church of England. So, the Methodist Church kept their decision on hold (the Congregational and Baptist churches in England already had women ministers ordained to preside at the Sacrament of Holy Communion). So many women who felt a call to a priestly ministry within the Methodist Church had a long wait. And an even longer one within the Church of England. When the Anglican/Methodist Covenant talks failed, the 1972 Methodist Conference voted to allow women to be trained as presbyters. So, on 2nd July 1974 the first women were ordained presbyter in the Methodist Church at the Bristol Conference. In November 1992 the Church of England synod voted to allow women to be priests, so 1994 was a year of great joy as I attended ordinations in cathedrals in Bristol Cathedral in March (the first one of colleagues in the Bristol Diocese (I was working in ecumenical parishes in Swindon at the time) and the next month in St Albans Cathedral of friends I had trained with at Queen’s Theological College. Interesting that both firsts happened in Bristol.

On Saturday 15 June 2024 Salisbury will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the first women’s ordinations in the Church of England with a special service held at Salisbury Cathedral. The Bishop of Sherborne, The Rt Revd Karen Gorham will preside, and Bishop June Osborne, former Dean of Salisbury, will preach at this service as one of the first woman to be ordained in 1994. Other female priests ordained in Salisbury at this time, as well as those currently living in the diocese, will  be personally invited by the Bishop of Salisbury.

All are welcome to come and join this special service at 11:00am on 15 June in Salisbury Cathedral and enjoy hearing the girls’ choir sing!

It is worth noting that within the worldwide Anglican communion the Reverend Florence Li ministered in Hong Kong and Macau during the chaos of the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II. She was ordained first as deacon (1941) and then as priest (1944), which was very controversial at the time. So, 80 years since her priesting!

As some of you know, James and I worked as Mission Partners in Sri Lanka (2005- 2010) teaching in the Theological College of Lanka where Anglicans, Methodists and Baptists trained for the Ministry, and we were privileged to be present in the Cathedral of Christ the Living Saviour in Colombo in September 2006, when the first women deacons were priested there. Shame it does not end in a 4!

I had a Roman Catholic colleague once who was very committed to the ordination of women to the priesthood in the RC Church and he rejoiced in the ministry of women and said that the Risen Christ was neither male nor female and transcended all human barriers.

Charles Wesley wrote a hymn about the first Easter that has not found its way into any hymn books, reflecting that it was the women who stayed at the foot of the cross who were first at the empty tomb.

More courageous than the men,
When Christ his breath resigned,
Women first the grace obtain
Their living Lord to find;
Women first the news proclaim,
Know the resurrection’s power,
Teach the apostles of the Lamb
Who lives to die no more.

“Women first” – a bold statement for Wesley’s day, and even more striking for Jesus’ time. Dorothy L Sayers wrote, “No wonder that women were first at the cradle and last at the cross. They had never met a man like this man”, a man who treated them as totally human. Not only last at the cross but first to know of the resurrection, and the first witnesses to the life changing news. At first their testimony was discounted as an idle tale, but they soon became “apostles to the apostles.”

Remembering that we are called to be Easter people throughout the whole year, we give thanks for this fuller expression of the truth glimpsed on that first Easter
morning and that we are all called to be witnesses to the risen Christ, and work for his Kingdom here on earth.

Every Blessing

The Reverend Rosemary Fletcher

Acting Superintendent April 1st – July 8th, 2024