“I’M SORRY it has taken so long” – these were the words written on a card to Sarah Flashman.
It was delivered a few days before she was ordained to the priesthood 20 years after the law was changed.
Attached to a rose bush called 'Golden Celebration', the card was written by the Bishop of Lewes, the Rt Rev Richard Jackson, who since his consecration as bishop in May said he wanted to redress the balance of female clergy in Sussex.
The bishop, one of three in the Diocese of Chichester and the first in the diocese to support women priests, also delivered rose bushes and cards to two more female candidates, Dr Alison Green and Karen Young, of Chichester, four weeks before they underwent their historic ordination ceremony at St Paul's Church, Chichester.
“There were tears when we read the cards,” says Sarah, a former nurse who was ordained as a deacon a year ago. “The bishop drove across the diocese to hand deliver them to us all. This ordination is very significant because we are the last diocese left that doesn't ordain women by serving bishops.
“The ceremony itself was a very healing experience. There were women who had gone before us and had suffered, and I invited some of those women to the ceremony. Things are being done now to address the wounds of the past.”
She cited the creation last year of the role of Dean of Women's Ministry, which is based in East Grinstead. The post is held by Canon Julia Peaty, whose role was described at the time by Dr Martin Warner, the Bishop of Chichester, as “ensuring that women in ordained and lay ministry are recognised, valued and increased in number”. The Dean of Chichester, the Very Rev Nicholas Frayling, also said at the time: “It is very important to affirm the ministry of women priests in the Diocese of Chichester.” In May, the 20th anniversary of women priests in the Church of England was celebrated at Chichester Cathedral.
Sarah added: “There are still objections to the ordination of women priests in the Chichester diocese, from the traditionalists and the conservative evangelicals. But I can live with the differences as long as there is support and respect.” Bishop Jackson said: “I am fully aware of the range of views within the Church of England and the diocese but fully support women as priests and bishops. There hadn’t been any bishops in Sussex who would ordain women priests until now.”
Karen Young feels “very blessed” at her ordination as a priest. “There are women who tried before us and hung on in there and so I'm also saddened that other people have had to go through that.”
“There will come a stage where everything will be resolved. I am confident that by the grace of God it will be worked out.”
Get in touch with us at womenactually@theargus.