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Last Updated: Monday, 14 February, 2005, 16:41 GMT
A suitable job for a woman
Angela Berners-Wilson
Angela Berners-Wilson spent nine years as a parish priest
In 1994, Angela Berners-Wilson became the first woman to be ordained as a Church of England priest.

The move came after centuries of male domination and decades of debate.

More than 10 years later, as a new debate rages about whether women should become bishops, she speaks about her experiences.

Angela had wanted to become a priest since her final year of university, when she became sure of her vocation.

On graduating, she entered the Church of England and became a deaconess in 1979 and of deacon in 1987 - the highest post then available to a woman.

But until 1994, she was unable to fulfil her vocation to be come a priest - a dream she spent 15 years campaigning to achieve.


After her ordination in a ceremony along with 31 other women, Angela, now 50, was made rector of a country parish in north Wiltshire, where she initially faced some resistance from her parishioners.

She says: "It was a very traditional place and looking back now, it's amazing that they accepted me.

"Some of them found it quite strange to have a woman priest to start with - I think the Royal British Legion members were the hardest to convince.

There are so many of us now, it's no longer exceptional to find a woman priest
Angela Berners-Wilson

"But once they got used to me, they started to appreciate my work and most people accepted me. There were one or two die-hards who did not."

Things have changed considerably since Angela was ordained, with women now making up about a quarter of Church of England priests.

She said: "There are so many of us now, it's no longer exceptional to find a woman priest."


Even so, she says there are still some parishes around the country which still oppose women priests.

Angela is now in a new post as university chaplain and ecumenical team leader at the University of Bath.

Before the rules changed to allow the ordination of women, Angela became a deacon - the highest position then open to women within the Church.

She worked as a chaplain at Bristol University, where her colleagues supported of her desire to become a priest.

She said: "They were very pro-women priests, as was the Bishop of Bristol, so they were very supportive, but it has not been the same for women in many other parts of the country.

I'm looking forward to being invited to the ordination of the first woman bishop in this country - whoever she may be
Angela Berners-Wilson

"Ironically, the church which was chosen for me to have my licensing ceremony for my current job in Bath was St Mary's Bathwick, which is in benefice with another church, St John's which is one of those which still refuses to have anything to do with women priests."

Angela agrees with those who think the Church should let women become bishops, if that is where their vocation lies.

She says: "If you're allowed to be ordained a priest, then the right women should be allowed to be bishops.

"People are called to these roles, it's a vocation, not just a job, so it's not something you aspire to, but it's seems wrong to me to be ruled out just because of your gender.

"I think the Church should be the first place, not the last place to recognise all God's children."

However, she says the controversy must not be allowed to get out of control.

She said: "It's a great privilege to be a priest. I wouldn't want the argument about women bishops to deflect from the real mission of the Church.

"But I'm looking forward to being invited to the ordination of the first woman bishop in this country - whoever she may be."


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