By John Ellis
Canterbury Cathedral was packed for a Eucharist including the Ordination and Consecration of the Venerable Rachel Treweek as the Bishop of Gloucester and thus the first ever female Diocesan Bishop in the history of the Church of England.
Before the service a long procession of over a hundred dignitaries threaded its way through the Cloisters and into the Cathedral between crowds of international tourists, who seemed to think that seeing a real live Archbishop in a golden mitre was a definite bonus in their Canterbury day. The tourists were doubtless of every faith and none, but every participant in the procession except me was Anglican. I was assured that other ecumenical guests had been invited. Nonetheless, when the liturgy stated that Rachel was being consecrated as a bishop “in the Church of God” rather than “in the Church of England”, and the prayers included one for the “visible unity of Christ’s Church”, it seemed strange to be the only representative of the whole of the rest of the Christian family present.
The special chair set aside for the one representative of the Reformed tradition was immediately opposite the pulpit. I wondered whether that was significant.
The feeling of privilege at participating in the service was enhanced by the fact that I know Rachel at a personal level. Like Canon Dame Sarah Mullally, who was consecrated as Bishop of Crediton alongside her, Rachel’s first career was in the NHS. I imagine she must be the first Speech and Language Therapist to join the Bench of Bishops. Through that work, she developed a special interest in the dynamics of family life. Rachel believes that the insights that came from that experience have shaped the way she has exercised leadership as an Archdeacon in the diocese of London. In his sermon, the Bishop of Stepney, Adrian Newman, paid tribute to the way Rachel had modelled relational forms of Christian leadership. Bishop Adrian suggested that women bishops will be distinctive as “socialisers and subverters”. Rachel will certainly be a credit to her office.
One of the curiosities of the length of time the Church of England has taken to appoint women to senior leadership is that the Supreme Governor of the Church has been a woman for over sixty years. As we entered the Great West Door, a new statue of her unveiled just a few weeks ago looked down on us. Perhaps she smiled.