The first women priests were ordained in Bristol Cathedral on 12 March 1994

Church of England celebrates 25 years of women priests

25 years ago today, Bishop Barry Rogerson, then Bishop of Bristol, ordained the first women priests within the Church of England. 

We spoke with the Revd Preb. Angela Berners-Wilson (pictured here at the service at Lambeth Palace earlier this month in the blue cardigan) the first of the 32 women at the service to be ordained and, thus, the very first woman to be ordained priest.

Angela recalls the sense of nervousness at the occasion - the world's media would be present, and she and Valerie Wood, being at opposite ends of the alphabet, were both leading in.

"As we waited to process in, Martin [Castledine, then Head Verger and Sub Sacrist at Bristol Cathedral, now Head Verger at Westminster Abbey] gave me a lovely wink that was instantly reassuring", Angela said. 

Angela had campaigned in the Movement for the Ordination of Women since 1978 and to be there at the first ordination was an "amazing experience". 

Angela recalls how there was concern at disruption at the service, given its historic nature. Each ordinand was allowed just 15 guests each, all of whose tickets were checked, at least twice, by "bouncers on the door". After the ordination itself, a man took the microphone from Bishop Barry, Angela tells us, but there was no need for concern: a Roman Catholic priest from Belgium had travelled to the service and had asked Bishop Barry if he could speak. In a wonderfully ecumenical moment, he thanked God for this day. He subsequently invited Bishop Barry to Belgium; a trip which Angela was honoured to take as well.

At the service earlier this month, Angela met a young ordinand training at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford who was just two when Angela was ordained, and spoke to her about the inspiration she, and the other women at that first service, had been to her own spiritual path.

A lot has happened in the past 25 years. We give thanks to God for the tireless work of those who campaigned for the ordination of women, for the ministry of those women, all those who came after, and for the continuing work towards equality within the Church of England.


On Sunday 17 March at 3.30pm we will hold a celebration Eucharist in the Cathedral. The Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, Bristol's first woman bishop will preach. The Revd Robbin Clark will preside: she was a mentor to the ordinands in 1994. Bishop Barry Rogerson, who ordained Angela and the other 31 women in 1994, will lead the Intercessions. The Revd Preb. Angela Berners-Wilson will read the lesson. 

Posted on 12th March 2019