It took nearly 20 years of lobbying and prayers, but finally, the Church of England has its first woman bishop. On Wednesday, the Church of England appointed Rev. Libby Lane as the Bishop of Stockport, just one month after the church officially approved its new legislation allowing ordained women to serve as bishops. It marks a historic, stained-glass shattering moment for the leading English church, which has been behind the times when it comes to gender equality compared to its Anglican counterparts.
Since 1994, when women were first ordained as priests in the Church of England, the number of women in ministry has been steadily increasing, with nearly 1,800 women serving as full-time priests in 2012, according to church data. In just a decade, the number of women priests increased by 41 percent, while the number of male clergy declined by nearly 25 percent.
The rise of women joining the ministry inspired hope among the clergy, and it seemed like it was only a matter of time before the General Synod — the Church of England's voting bloc composed of clergy and laypeople — allowed women to climb higher up on the clerical ladder. In July, the synod, voting on this issue for the second time in the church's history, decided 2014 was the time to let women rule the church alongside men.
So, who is Rev. Libby Lane? She currently serves as a vicar in the Diocese of Chester, and has been an ordained priest since 1994 — one of the members of the first class of women priests in England. Since 2010, she served as the Dean of Women in Ministry in the Diocese of Chester, and has previously worked in ministries in hospitals and education, providing her with a rather diverse and well-rounded spiritual resume.
"This is unexpected and very exciting," Lane said during a press conference at the Stockport town hall on Wednesday. She added that while she was "daunted" by this new role, she looked forward to the great "possibilities and challenges ahead."
Lane, who has been called a "first-rate priest" by her fellow clergy, continued:
On this historic day as the Church of England announces the first woman nominated to be Bishop, I am very conscious of all those who have gone before me, women and men, who for decades have looked forward to this moment. ... The Church of England is called to serve all the people of this country, and being present in every community, we communicate our faith best when our lives build up the lives of others, especially the most vulnerable.
While Wednesday was a historic moment for the ordination of women, the moment was long overdue. The Episcopal Church in the United States, which is in communion with the Anglican Church, has been ordaining women bishops since the late 1980s.
But it's not like all religious denominations have figured out this little thing called gender equality. The Catholic and Mormon churches, for example, continue to deny women the opportunity to join the priesthood, going so far as to excommunicate those who lobby for women's ordination or spark debate on women's rights within the church.
So, Lane's new, unprecedented post is truly something to celebrate. To get to know Lane better, here's a video statement from the Church of England's first woman bishop...
Images: Church of England/Flickr