Skip to content

York Minster to host Thanksgiving Service for 30 years of women’s priesthood

Thirty years since the first ordination of women as priests in the Church of England will be celebrated by the Diocese of York at the service of Evensong in York Minster at 5.30pm on Tuesday 4th June 2024.

Pre-ordination retreat at Wydale Hall for the 39 women ordained priest at York Minster in May 1994 to serve in the Diocese of York. Photo: Nancy Eckersley

Thirty years since the first ordination of women as priests in the Church of England will be celebrated by the Diocese of York at the service of Evensong in York Minster at 5.30pm on Tuesday 4th June 2024.

York Minster hosted two services in May 1994 at which a total of 39 women were ordained priest to serve in parishes and chaplaincies within the Diocese of York.

The Church of England’s General Synod had agreed in February that year to approve the ordination of women as priests, following many years of vigorous debate and campaigning both for and against the proposal.

The 39 ordained in York Minster (seen in the Revd Nancy Eckersley’s picture above at their pre-ordination retreat at Wydale Hall) had served previously – sometimes for many years or decades – as lay workers, deaconesses (a recognised but non-ordained parish ministry), and since 1987 as deacons, but until 1994 women were not permitted to be ordained as priest and to administer the full range of the church’s sacraments, including presiding at the service of Holy Communion.

Some of those ordained in 1994 continue in active ministry or in supporting roles in their retirement; a number have died in the thirty years since.

The preacher at the 4th June 2024 service will be the Revd Canon Sue Sheriff, who as one of those ordained in York Minster in 1994 is still in active ministry as Priest-in-Charge of St Oswald’s, Fulford, York. In the intervening years she has served in Marfleet, Hull, and in Tadcaster.

Sue Sheriff remembers: “Together with some incredible Godly women I was ordained alongside, I had been interviewed to see if both the Church and we ourselves felt that God has called us to the distinctively different role of priest.

“In the ordination service we had been presented by the archdeacon to the bishop, and by the bishop to the people as he asked, is it your will that they should be ordained priest?

“There had been a resounding ‘It is’ that felt like it could have almost lifted the roof off our beautiful cathedral.”

The Revd Canon Angela Bailey was also ordained in York Minster in May 1994 and has served in many capacities including in parishes in the East Riding of Yorkshire, as a hospital chaplain and as a tutor with York School of Ministry.

Angela Bailey recalls, “We had a few years of ‘permanent diaconate’ as it was called then, before the ordination to priesthood.

“I was struck then and since by the way we needed to be light on our feet, adapting, developing theological thinking, learning new skills, to fulfil what the church was now calling us to.

“Of course, that’s true of all Christians, witnessing ‘afresh in each generation’, and these first ordinations [of women] came after a lot of liturgical revision so some folk were used to new perspectives. Not everyone likes change though!”

Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell, who has invited the whole Diocese of York to attend the celebratory service of Evensong in York Minster, said, “The Church of God released and received the most extraordinary blessing thirty years ago in ordaining women to the priesthood; I see so many people held and nurtured by the priestly ministry of women – I am one of them – and together they embody yet more facets of the person, the character and the work of Jesus Christ in the world.

“We owe a great debt of gratitude to the first women ordained as priests because so many of them kept faith with the calling they knew was theirs, and worked and prayed in their homes, parishes and workplaces sometimes for decades.

“Thanks be to God for the blessings the world and the church receive from the witness of our women priests, and may God richly bless each one of them in their ministry and their life.”