Festivals/Seasons & Holy Days

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Published on the cusp of a process to allow women to become bishops in the Church of England being agreed by General Synod, this book at one level is a little late on the scene. It is unlikely to assist people who are unsure about women bishops to come to a decision. However, it is an interesting collection of ‘potted biographies’ of women who might have been or might become more influential leaders in the Church of England.

Some of the women who are priests in the Church of England whose stories are told are: Lucy Winkett, currently vicar of St James’s, Piccadilly; Vivienne Faull, Dean of York; and Professor Sarah Coakley, who has held the Chair of Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University since 2007. Two lay women theologians were interviewed: Dr Elaine Storkey and Dr Jane Williams.

Other women who are not members of the Church of England are included in the book: Dr Alison Elliot, who was the first female Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (in 2004); and Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, in America (who was elected Bishop of Nevada in 2000 and Presiding Bishop in 2006).

Each of the stories presents different experiences and challenges of women in ministry along with experiences of hope for women in leadership in the church, particularly with reference to women as bishops in the Church of England. The two American women interviewed recognised that women have been bishops in other provinces in the Anglican communion for some time: I thought that one such story might come from another continent as there are now women who are bishops in New Zealand, Australia, India, and Swaziland, as well as in Canada and Cuba. All have been ‘pioneering’ in some sense, and their journeys would show a similarity or comparison with the situation of women in the Church of England.

It will be interesting to see if any of the women Julia Ogilvy interviewed for this book themselves become bishops, but I don’t think that the point of the book is to prophesy: it is more simply an opportunity to tell the stories of courage and compassion, of perseverance and faithfulness, of some women whose stories might have been different if an era more welcoming of ordained women had begun somewhat sooner than it did.

Maureen CSF