‘It’s like the cork has come out of the bottle of champagne – it’s been in there too long’ – historic change for church

PUBLISHED: 07:00 15 July 2014

The Ven Dr Jane Hedges after her installation as the first woman Dean of Norwich in the Cathedral on Saturday. Photo: Bill Smith

The Ven Dr Jane Hedges after her installation as the first woman Dean of Norwich in the Cathedral on Saturday. Photo: Bill Smith

Archant © 2014

A new era has dawned for the Church of England with the General Synod vote in favour of the appointment of women bishops.

Bishop is thrilled

The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Rev Graham James, said: “It is thrilling that the vote was over 81pc in favour in the General Synod. The celebrations of supporters were heartfelt.

“There was also a recognition by many of those opposed to women bishops that the new legislation honoured their place in the Church so we were able to move forward together.

“I look forward to the ordination of the first female bishop and to ensuring that those who remain opposed have an honoured place in our Church.”

The historic moment was met with sheer joy and marked with the popping of champagne.

Now women can proudly join men as bishops after a landmark in vote in The Church of England.

And the Dean of Norwich, the Very Rev Dr Jane Hedges, is a frontrunner to become the first female in the new role.

An overwhelmingly number of the Church’s governing body, the General Synod, gave its backing at York University to the long and hard-fought vote yesterday.

Dean of Norwich: A key contender?

The Very Rev Dr Jane Hedges, 58, is the Dean of Norwich and is seen as a key contender to be made the first women bishop in the Church of England.

Dr Hedges, former Canon Steward of Westminster Abbey and Archdeacon of Westminster, was installed last month as Dean of Norwich.

At Westminster Abbey, Dr Hedges had responsibility for welcoming the abbey’s millions of visitors and pilgrims every year.

She was frequently seen at high-profile services in Westminster Abbey, greeting and accompanying senior members of the Royal Family.

Dr Hedges received widespread coverage when she became the first clergywoman to shake hands with Pope Benedict XVI when he attended a prayer service at Westminster Abbey on his visit to Britain in 2010.

She was brought up in Locks Heath, in Fareham, Hampshire, and left school to work in a bank before taking A-levels at evening classes.

She was among the first group of women to be ordained in 1994.

Members of the Synod were seen hugging and cheering as they left the chamber, and the jubilant atmosphere grew as more bishops, clergy and lay members joined together in popping champagne corks and toasting the change.

Women bishops could be appointed by the end of this year – and although previously denying an interest in the role, the Very Revd Dr Jane Hedges is one of seven women tipped to become Bishops first.

She said she is delighted at the outcome. “This gives a signal to women in Holy Orders that the Church at last is receiving their ministry with enthusiasm and is a huge boost to morale,” she said.

“Passing the measure today also means that this issue which has been absorbing so much energy for so long is now close to being resolved, so that the church can turn its energy to other pressing matters in our world.

“It is good to think that when the appointment process for the next new Diocesan Bishop begins those women with the appropriate experience can be considered and hopefully we will see a woman in purple by the beginning of 2015.”

The legislation received the necessary two thirds majority in all three Houses of the General Synod with 37 bishops voting in favour with two against and one abstention, 162 clergy in favour, 25 against and four abstentions.

In the crucial lay votes there were 152 votes in favour, 45 against and five abstentions.

Almost all of the Norfolk church voted in favour of the mementoes shift.

The knife-edge vote comes after the legislation was derailed by just six votes cast by lay members in November 2012, causing shock and bitter recriminations within the Church of England and prompting threats of an intervention by Parliament.

The Archdeacon of Norwich, the Ven Jan McFarlane, was one of the first women to become a priest 20 years ago, and warned he church risked losing credibility if its General Synod fails to back the introduction of women bishops.

Now she said she cannot believe the day has finally arrived.

“It’s like the cork has come out of the bottle of champagne – it’s been in there too long,” she said.

“It just feels like the church has accepted out ministry. We will now be accepted at all levels.

“It feels like we are there. It’s made the last 21 years absolutely worthwhile.”

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