A quarter of a century has passed since the first women were ordained to the priesthood by the Church of England.
Revd Dilly Baker, now the Rector at St Mary’s Church in Stoke Newington, played a key role in the campaign – appearing regularly in the media.
Her memories of that landmark day are as clear as ever and she took time to tell her story to the Local Buyers Club.
Dilly’s first foray into working life was as a psychiatric social worker. She studied at a theological college in Salisbury and later returned there to teach theology. She has worked as a priest in Milton Keynes, rural North Yorkshire, Bradford and London.
She said: “I loved theology and wanted to use it alongside the social work – I went into the Church with the idea it was as much about community work as about religion. At that time, we were fighting for women priests and issues around equality were dominant and I did a massive amount of media work with the campaign.”
Dilly was heavily pregnant when, in 1992, the Kilroy Silk show begged her to appear. She said: “I was reluctant as my baby was due any day, but they reassured me they had a medic in the studio. The whole program was appallingly confrontational and the guys I was always pitted against in debates were there. While there, my contractions started and my placenta had started to come away – I’m sure that was caused by the stress of the show. I was rushed to hospital and our daughter was delivered as an emergency. We named her Flossie – after Florence Li Tim-Oi from Hong Kong - the first woman in the Anglican communion to be ordained to the priesthood.”
Dilly’s husband Chris was the Vice Moderator of the Movement for women priests and, in 1992 was in the General Synod as the vote took place.
She added: “Hundreds of us were gathered in the Methodist Central Hall watching it all unfold – Flossie was a minute baby. The arguments were going really badly and there was a feeling around the hall that we weren’t going to win. But at the last minute David Jenkins, the Bishop of Durham, gave an incredible speech about the absurdity of not voting this through and he turned the whole debate. When the vote was passed it was a magnificent moment and one I’ll never forget.”
It took two years for the decision to be implemented and, in 1994 Dilly was among the first women in the Oxford Diocese to be ordained.
But the decision to allow the ordination of women has not been smooth sailing. In 1993, the Act of Synod allowed parishes to decide not to accept ordained women, a move that has proven very divisive. 10 years later, in 2014, Libby Lane became the first woman to be ordained as a bishop in the Church of England.
Today, women make up almost a third of the 20,000 active clergy in the Church of England and in just two years there has been a 38% increase in the number of women starting training for ordained ministry.
Now Dilly prays that one day the Church will show the same equality to others; including gay couples wishing to marry in church. She added: “It’s a big battle. We’d love to be able to marry gay couples at St Mary’s, but the Church of England doesn’t yet allow that. We do offer blessings and we hope the situation will change soon.”
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