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Cathedral Celebration this Sunday to mark 30 Years of Women as Priests

First published: Wednesday 19 June 2024

This Sunday, 23 June, four women will be installed as Canons at Newcastle Cathedral in a service celebrating 30 years of the ordination of female priests in the Church of England.

The first women were ordained at the Cathedral in May 1994, just a few weeks after the historic ordination of 32 women as priests at Bristol Cathedral.

Among the trailblazers ordained in Newcastle was the Rev’d Joan Dotchin, then a curate at St Gabriel’s Church, Heaton. She recalls: “The day itself was so memorable. We knew we were making history and were told that there may be protests – but they didn’t materialise.

“There was an element of anxiety – being the first ones – but we were uplifted by the joy we could feel during the service afterwards. The noise of so many people around the Cathedral, who roared a resounding ‘yes’ when asked if we had their support, was incredible.

“The day was joyful, awesome and humbling.”

Joan went on to be the Vicar of the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Willington, followed by Willington Team Rector, Honorary Canon of Newcastle Cathedral and then Vicar of St James and St Basil in Fenham.

First image: Some of the women ordained as priests in the Diocese of Newcastle in 1994 at an ordination retreat at Shepherd’s Dene. The Rev’d Joan Dotchin is second from the right in the back row. Photo courtesy of The Ven. Dr Audrey Elkington.

Another of the original 1994 ordinands was the Venerable Dr Audrey Elkington, who served in Newcastle Diocese in various parishes as Bishop’s Chaplain and also as Director of Ordinands before being appointed Archdeacon of Bodmin in the Diocese of Truro in 2011.

“It was a very special day,” recalled Audrey, who retired in 2021. “I was aware of how significant it was, but it was also so sensitive at that time.

“If someone had said that 30 years later, Newcastle Diocese would be served by its second female Bishop and two female Archdeacons, I really would not have believed it. Things really have moved on in the past three decades.”

Sunday’s celebration will be led by The Rt Rev’d Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, Bishop of Newcastle. She will guide The Rev’d Alison Hardy, The Rev’d Dr Sarah Hills, The Rev’d Sue McCormack, and The Rev’d Louise Taylor-Kenyon through their collation, followed by their installation as non-residentiary Canons of the Cathedral.

Additionally, The Rev’d Dr Sarah Moon will be commissioned as Bishop’s Advisor for Women’s Ministry.

Pictured L-R: The Rev’d Canon Dr Sarah Hills, Rev’d Alison Hardy, Rev’d Sue McCormack and Rev’d Louise Taylor-Kenyon.

Bishop Helen-Ann was installed in April last year, succeeding The Rt Rev’d Christine Hardman. This made Newcastle the first Diocese in the Church of England with two consecutive diocesan bishops who were women.

The Bishop says, “Sunday is our opportunity as a whole Diocese to acknowledge this significant milestone: the 30th anniversary of the ordination of priests who are women. We rejoice with those who were ordained in 1994 and who have been ordained since that time and remember the 1994 cohort’s great courage in being the first to be ordained as priests. Theirs was an ordination with great scrutiny, and while it was a time of rejoicing, I am aware that many were told not to celebrate too much due to a perception of sensitivity at the time.

“Whilst I am very pleased indeed we can celebrate this anniversary, the reality is that work still remains to be done to enable the full acceptance and equality of women in ministry and to acknowledge the, at times, disproportionate load that women experience. We stay alert to this, but today is a day for much rejoicing, and I am delighted to welcome everyone to the Cathedral. Thanks be to God!”

The service is open to all and will begin at 4pm on Sunday 23 June, with refreshments afterwards.

Those wishing to attend are asked to RSVP to help Newcastle Cathedral staff and clergy know how many people to expect for seating and refreshments.

This service will be live-streamed via our YouTube channel (see below).