Church of England appoints first female bishop

Reverend Libby Lane has been appointed the Church of England's first female bishop. Picture: Getty

Reverend Libby Lane has been appointed the Church of England's first female bishop. Picture: Getty

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The Church of England finally answered prayers for equality and yesterday named saxophone-playing, football-loving vicar Libby Lane as its first female bishop.

The announcement, 500 years in the making, came five months after the Church ended a divisive dispute by voting to allow women to serve as bishops.

“I am very conscious of all those who have gone before me, women and men, who for decades have looked forward to this moment,” Mrs Lane said.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who succeeded where his predecessors failed in elevating women to church leadership, said he was “absolutely delighted”.

Prime Minister David Cameron called it “a historic appointment and an important step forward for the Church towards greater equality in its senior positions”.

Mrs Lane was ordained in 1994, one of the first women to become a Church of England priest. Her husband is also an Anglican priest.

Her biography on the website of the Church of St Peter’s Hale, part of the diocese of Chester and where she currently serves, says her interests include “learning to play the saxophone, supporting Manchester United, reading and doing cryptic crosswords”.

The 80 million-strong global Anglican Communion, whose members range from conservative evangelicals to supporters of gay marriage, has long been divided on the role of women in church leadership. The Episcopal Church in the United States was the first member to have a woman serve as bishop and is now led by a woman.

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The Church of England’s national assembly, the General Synod, voted for the measure in July after a previous attempt two years earlier had failed.

Churches in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland already allow women bishops. Mrs Lane is to be ordained next month as a junior, or suffragan, bishop.

A round of applause erupted in Stockport town hall at the official announcement and Mrs Lane said it was a “great honour” to be given the role.

“This announcement has been a long time coming and I’m extremely honoured to be nominated as the first bishop in the Church of England,” she said.

“This moment is significant, but it is not simply a gesture. I’m the first, but I won’t be the only.”

Originally part of a committee tasked with trying to find a candidate for the bishopric, she was invited to apply for it herself when the General Synod voted last month to allow women to become bishops.

She comes from an Anglican, but not particularly church-going family, and says she “was loved into faith” by a small Anglican church community in rural Derbyshire. She went on to study theology at St Peter’s College, at Oxford University, where she met her husband, now the Rev George Lane.

The pair were ordained together in July 1994.

Over the past two decades she has served a number of parish and chaplaincy roles in the north of England in the dioceses of Blackburn, York and Chester.

The couple have two grown-up children – Connie, 20, and Benedict, 18.

For the past eight years, she has served as vicar of St Peter’s, Hale, Greater Manchester, and St Elizabeth’s, Ashley, Cheshire.

She said her family were delighted at the news.

Asked whether she feared her nomination would spark division in the Church, she said she wanted to “heal and not to hurt. To build up and not to destroy”.

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