This month saw the 25th anniversary of women’s ordination in the Church of England and Ripon Cathedral’s Rev Canon Wendy Wilby, has told how it felt to be in the “Class of ‘94”.
Now retired, Wendy was ordained deacon at Ripon Cathedral in 1990, and made a priest there in 1994 – one of the first women to be ordained to the Church of England priesthood (Pictured left in ’94). She is now one of its honorary minor canons.
“I joined the ranks of those waiting and ten of us were ordained on the Saturday night and another ten ordained on the Sunday morning,” said Wendy, “it was just wonderful.”
“I’d had a calling to ministry from the age of about 13, which horrified our High Church vicar! It’s quite hard to remember now, just how challenging this all was for many in the church – indeed, a lot of those objections went under the surface after 1994.
With the priesthood off limits a young Wendy decided to become a musician; she read music at Oxford where she met her husband Phil (the renowned composer Philip Wilby) and enjoyed a freelance career playing in ensembles and accompanying a number of soloists for several BBC broadcasts along with becoming a mother; Wendy and Phil have two daughters.
Wendy trained to become a reader (a lay person authorised to lead certain services) and was licensed in 1980 to St Peter’s, in Thorner at which point she started to think hard about being a deacon which was just becoming a possibility. “The old calling and yearning came flooding back the moment we were settled in the Thorner church community and by now I was campaigning hard with the Movement for the Ordination of Women. BUT calling comes from two directions – the internal nudging from God which strengthens and deepens as time goes by and the external calling from the church (and God again of course!),” she explained.
After completing her training Wendy was ordained to the diaconate in 1990 but the external calling to priesthood from the church didn’t come until 1994.
“I received encouragement from Bishop David Young and found myself with my first curacy in Barwick in Elmet and Scholes. My first parish as a vicar was at beautiful Birstwith, in Nidderdale,” she said.
Wendy went on to have a full and varied career, including being the first woman vicar of Halifax Minster and the first woman Canon Precentor at Bristol Cathedral, before returning to Yorkshire with her husband.
Outside the church, people are amazed that there is still so much fuss about gender issues,” said Wendy. “That said, things have come on by leaps and bounds, although we still have the task of raising awareness where unconscious bias is concerned. Many dividing walls can crumble down by male and female colleagues simply working together and respecting each other.”
The first group of women were ordained in Bristol Cathedral on March 12, 1994. Bishop Barry Rogerson, who presided at the ordination has said: “Over the last 25 years I have observed and received the ministry of women in parishes, but also in chaplaincies; hospitals and hospices, schools, universities and prisons and know what an innovative and positive contribution women priests have made.
“Perhaps today we might give a thought for all those women, worldwide, whose vocations to the priesthood have still been neither recognised nor tested.”
Hope of our Calling – a special service to mark the anniversary – will take place at Ripon Cathedral, on Sunday, June 16, presided over by Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Rev Nick Baines with the Bishop of Ripon, the Rt Rev Dr Helen-Ann Hartley preaching.