A wave of clapping and cheering greeted two newly consecrated bishops as they processed down a packed Canterbury Cathedral on a historic day. The Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, Bishop of Crediton, and the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, Bishop of Gloucester, made history as the first women to be consecrated and ordained bishop in the historic heart of Anglicanism – Canterbury Cathedral.
The service was celebratory from beginning to end. Opening with the rousing Wesley Hymn O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing, the service continued with readings from Song of Songs and 2 Corinthians preceding the account of the encounter between Mary Magdalene and the risen Jesus from the Gospel of John.
The preacher, the Rt Revd Adrian Newman, Bishop of Stepney, reminded the congregation that the gospel depiction of Mary Magdalene was far removed from the imagination of masculine fantasy in works such as the De Vinci Code.
Mary Magdalene was a significant leader in the community of Jesus, he said, and it was no accident that she was the first to speak with the risen Jesus and the first to tell the good news of his resurrection.
In a sermon punctuated with pithy observation Bishop Newman called on Bishops Rachel and Sarah to make a difference in the life of the church.
“I hope that women bishops will disturb us,” he said. “I hope they will challenge the conventions of the Church of England, which continues to be led and directed by too many people like me: white, male, middle-aged professionals.”
Bishop Treweek is the first woman to be a Diocesan Bishop in the Church of England but she is not the first in the Anglican Communion. In Canterbury she was joined by the Rt Revd Helen-Ann Hartley, the Bishop of the Diocese of Waikato in New Zealand, and the Rt Revd Cate Waynick, the Bishop of the Diocese of Indianapolis in the USA.
To add to the sense of history they processed alongside Bishop Barbara Harris, the first woman bishop in the Anglican Communion, who was consecrated in 1989.
The Diocese of Gloucester has partnership links with dioceses in South India, Sweden, Tanzania and the USA. Its link Diocese of El Camino Real in California also has a woman diocesan bishop who became the first woman bishop to preside in an English Cathedral when she visited Gloucester as part of a Continuing Indaba journey in 2010.