It took almost 500 years, but the Church of England officially has its first female bishop. On Monday, 48-year-old Libby Lane was ordained as the Bishop of Stockport, one month after she became the first woman appointed to the post. Consider England's stained-glass ceiling shattered.
Although other churches in communion with the Anglican Church, such as the Episcopal Church in America, have had female bishops for the last two decades, the Church of England was slow to the concept. The church’s legislative body, the General Synod, voted to ordain women as bishops for the first time last July. It was hardly a close vote, as the general consensus was pretty much, "It's about damn time."
The formal legislation permitting female bishops wasn't in place until November. Not long after, Lane, who's served as a priest since 1994, was chosen to succeed as the Bishop of Stockport.
In a statement following her consecration, the newly ordained bishop said:
Today is an occasion of prayer and of party — and I am thrilled that so many want to share in both. I cannot properly express how encouraged I have been in the weeks since the announcement of my nomination, by the thousands of messages I have received with words of congratulation, support and wisdom. I've heard from people of all ages, women and men — people I have known for years, and people I have never met; people from down the road, and people from across the world.
"My consecration service is not really about me," Lane added. "It is a reminder that what I am about to embark on is shared by the bishops around me, by those who have gone before me and those who will come after."
The Church of England first invited women into the priesthood in 1994, almost a decade after it permitted women to become deacons. However, the idea of women as priests was actually discussed among the church's highest-ranking members much earlier, with the General Synod passing a motion in 1975 that said the Church of England had "no fundamental objections to the ordination of women to the priesthood."
Since approving female priests in 1994, U.K. women have been increasingly joining the priesthood. In 1994, just 32 women were ordained as priests. By 2012, the Church of England had 1,781 female priests out of nearly 8,000 full-time priests. The numbers have seen a considerable spike — a 41 percent increase — over the last decade.
Still, not everyone is open to women serving on the altar. According to The Guardian, the Rev. Paul Williamson, a vicar, tried to stop Lane's ordination with a vocal protest. When the congregation was asked to bless Lane's consecration, Williamson reportedly stood next to altar and shouted: "No. Not in my name. Not in the Bible." However, Lane's ordination carried on despite the solo protest.
Women in the Church of England, as well as the greater Anglican community, also continue to face gender discrimination and sexism as they try to make their way up the clerical ladder. Currently, there's only little more than 20 active female bishops worldwide, and only a handful of women serving in senior clergy roles in the Church of England. Even though the Episcopal Church in America has been ordaining women as bishops since 1989, only 20 have been appointed to the position over the last 25 years (the Episcopal Church has about 300 active bishops in all).
Lane, too, knows that her place in history will have a startling impact on gender politics not only within the Church of England, but beyond. She told The Guardian over the weekend:
Knowing Jesus made sense to me as a teenager, and if my appointment encourages a single young girl to lift her eyes up a bit and to realise that she has capacity and potential, and that those around her don’t need to dictate what is possible, then I would be really honoured.
Images: Church of England/Flickr