30th anniversary of Women first being Ordained

12th March 2024

It was on this day thirty years ago at Bristol Cathedral that the first women were ordained as priests in the Church of England.

30 years ago, 12 March 1994 – first women ordained

Throughout the year all our cathedrals will be marking this milestone giving thanks to God for the priestly ministry of women with events and services.

Today the Bishops of London and Gloucester have taken to Instagram to call for a church that reflects the diversity of God.

In the series of videos to mark the occasion, they talk openly about their wish to see increasing diversity in church leadership. The Bishop of London, Sarah Mullaly, said her recent meeting with 170 women priests in London was an encouraging moment.

The writer and theologian Chine McDonald said she “loved the fact that black women today represented the face of the Church of England globally.

And in The Times newspaper today five women who were part of the first group of 32 women ordained at Bristol Cathedral in 1994 share what it was like to be at the centre of such a turning point in church history.

Truro Cathedral held a service of celebration and thanksgiving last month to mark the 30th anniversary which included music composed by women sung by the Cathedral girls’ choir.

St Albans Cathedral held a special Eucharist to celebrate women’s ministry and held a women’s vocation event designed to encourage younger women to come and explore and talk further with those called to ordained ministry.

The Dean of St Albans and chair of the Association of English Cathedrals. Said: “The service of celebration served as a poignant reminder of the strides made towards gender equality within the Church of England and highlighted the ongoing commitment to fostering an inclusive and welcoming community for all.

“As clergy and congregants joined in prayer and reflection, they honoured the legacy of women in priesthood and reaffirmed their dedication to building a more equitable and compassionate society.

“The event not only commemorated past achievements but also galvanised individuals to continue advocating for gender equality and diversity within the Church and beyond. 

“Through shared fellowship and worship, attendees left the service inspired and empowered to carry forward the spirit of inclusivity and affirmation exemplified by the ordination of women as priests 30 years ago.”

Coventry Cathedral will host a celebration service on April 21st and over the next few weeks will be sharing stories of 30 women from across the Diocese of Coventry –  both lay and ordained – whose lives have been shaped by their faith and who have responded to God’s call.

The Diocese of Winchester is also sharing stories of women priested in 1994 – including that of the Dean of Winchester, the Very Revd Catherine Ogle. You can read her testimony in full here.

Bradford Cathedral has just announced it will be celebrating thirty years of women priests with a special service on May 4 – just four days shy of the thirtieth anniversary when the first women were ordained at Bradford Cathedral on 8 May 1994.

The service will commission several new Women’s Ministry Advisors for the diocese and will be led by the Revd Canon Dr Sue Penfold, who was ordained at Bradford Cathedral back in 1994 and still regularly leads services at the Cathedral.

She said:

“Being ordained priest in 1994 was an enormously joyful occasion. My strongest memory is that of the atmosphere as we entered the cathedral that day felt full of glory. 

“In the months that followed I discovered that being a priest changed ministry in ways I hadn’t expected, as though up to then I’d had one arm tied behind my back, but now could move more easily.

“It’s strange looking back 30 years – we’re much less likely to be treated as a novelty now. So much has changed, not just for those of us ordained but also for other women watching us and being encouraged to use their gifts in different ways.

“I hope the service will celebrate the many and varied ways that women serve God and others in the church and the world,” she added.

2024 also marks several other anniversaries, including the 10th anniversary of the decision to ordain women as bishops; the 80th anniversary of Florence Li Tim Oi, the first woman to be ordained to the priesthood in the Anglican Communion and 35 years since Barbara Harris became the first woman consecrated as a bishop in the Anglican Communion.