The priesting of women was a momentous event, not just for the Church, but for society at large. In the Diocese of Durham at least, it therefore seemed right – through my wife Penny Jones and my wonderful colleague and friend Hazel Ditchburn – to mark it with a publication. It was entitled 39 Articles: a play on the ‘Thirty Nine Articles of Religion’ which was a historic formulary of the English Reformation and which continues to be a crucial part of Anglican foundations across the world. Each of the 38 women ordained, in Durham Cathedral, in May 1994 by Bishop David Jenkins (some on 28 and others on 29 May) were invited to contribute a brief article: each speaking their own truth of what it was like to be a woman on the eve of ordination at that moment in the Church’s history. In itself it remains a beautiful historic monument to Christian feminist endeavour. As Alison White, another wonderful colleague and friend, wrote in her article:
This is so much more than any one of us: about faithfulness and hope, about the new creation and a ‘discipleship of equals’. Alleluia!
Perhaps the most poignant article was the final entry, entitled The “39th” Article.
Born at all times and in so many places. Married and unmarried, mothers, aunts, daughters, sisters, grandmothers and nieces. Educated to the highest level their times would allow, or denied the riches of their learning. In every walk of life, with every possible gift.
This article is dedicated to the many women whose vocation the Church so long denied. It celebrates the lives of those who remain voiceless and faceless, but without whose energy and vision the priesting of women would still remain a dream. It stands as a tribute to those who died with their vocation ignored or ridiculed, and in recognition of those who struggle took them out of the Church they would have served.
“May those who sow in tears, reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.” (Psalm 136)