Vicar tries to stop Rev Libby Lane being consecrated as Church of England’s first female bishop
Rev Paul Williamson interrupts Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu to shout ‘not in the Bible’ as he ordains Rev Libby Lane as eighth Bishop of Stockport at York Minster
The Rev Paul Williamson, a one-time ally of the Rev Ian Paisley, interrupted the historic ordination service at York Minster for the Rt Rev Libby Lane, shouting that women bishops were “not in the Bible”.
Rev Williamson, who has brought so many legal cases against the Church of England in the past that he has been barred by the High Court, stepped forward during a crucial moment in the service when the congregation were giving their assent to the consecration, demanding permission to speak.
The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, who had been warned that the maverick priest was present, shrugged off the interruption and simply carried on with the service.
He reiterated that the law had been changed and asked the congregation again if it was their will that Rev Lane should be ordained a bishop.
A spokesman for the Church of England said Rev Williamson had shown himself to be a “lone voice of protest in a sea of voices of affirmation”.
In February 1994, he lodged papers at a London magistrates’ court accusing the then archbishops of Canterbury and York of “treason” by allowing something he said was against the Bible and threatened the established status of the Church of England.
He later lodged numerous legal challenges to the appointment of female clerics including one against the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral.
He was publicly supported in his efforts by the Rev Ian Paisley, the hard-line Ulster protestant cleric, and later First Minister, who regularly denounced the Pope as the “anti-Christ”.
Rev Libby Lane arrives for the consecration service at York Minster (PA/Lynne Cameron)
Rev Williamson’s intervention, stood as a vivid reminder of the tensions within the Church over many decades over the role of women in leadership.
The ruling General Synod voted overwhelmingly last summer finally to open all ranks of ministry to people of both sexes.
Although a substantial minority within the conservative evangelical and traditionalist Anglo-Catholic wings of the Church resisted the change to the end, leading opponents have accepted the Synod vote and pledged to work with new opt-out arrangements.
Several prominent figures in the campaign against women bishops were in the congregation in a sign of solidarity as Rev Lane was consecrated as Bishop of Stockport.
In a vivid show of unity, around 110 bishops from around the worldwide Anglican church gathered around the new bishop, laying their hands on her marking the moment of consecration.
A formal warrant from the Queen was read out confirming her appointment, and Rt Rev Lane was anointed with oil in an ancient tradition tracing its origins to the prophets of the Old Testament.
“I cannot possibly live up to everyone’s expectation,” she said afterwards.
“And so today, at my consecration, I hold on to words of promise from the Bible, a reassurance that all this does not depend on me ‘the God who calls you is faithful: He will do it’.”
The Bishop of Worcester, the Rt Rev John Inge, said: “This is a day we’ve been awaiting for a very long time and we are all just full of rejoicing.
“There was a tremendous atmosphere of joy in the Minster this morning – hundreds of people and of course it was only the tip of the iceberg.
“There will come a time when it will seem extraordinary that it was such a long time coming.
“I hope that people will be touched by all that has happened in the Minster today and that it will speak not just of the consecration of a woman as a bishop but of God’s great love.”
Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu speaks during the service (PA/Lynne Cameron)
In a historic move ending centuries of all-male leadership in the Church, Rev Lane was named as the new Bishop of Stockport last month.
The announcement came a month after the General Synod formally adopted legislation allowing women bishops.
Prime Minister David Cameron hailed the “historic appointment” as an “important day for equality”, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, said he was “absolutely delighted”.
Rev Lane has two children with her husband, the Rev George Lane, and she said her family were delighted at the news.
Her appointment came a year after previous proposals in favour of women bishops were brought down by traditionalists.
Members of the clergy process into York Minster ahead of the consecration of the Rev Libby Lane (PA/Anne Gowthorpe)
A relative unknown, Rev Lane was not on the bookies’ shortlists of female priests tipped to be selected to the historic role.
However, she is a very well-respected figure locally in the church.
Originally part of a committee tasked with trying to find a candidate for the bishopric, she was invited to apply for it herself when the General Synod voted to allow women to become bishops.
She comes from an Anglican, but not particularly church-going, family, and says she “was loved into faith” by a small Anglican church community in rural Derbyshire.
Rev Lane went on to study theology at St Peter’s College, at Oxford University, where she met her husband, and the pair were ordained together in July 1994, with Mrs Lane becoming one of the first female priests in the Church of England.
Over the last two decades she has served a number of parish and chaplaincy roles in the north of England in the dioceses of Blackburn, York and Chester.
It was obviously going to happen. With the strength of feeling of a small minority of the membership of the Church of England, and with the customary question: “Is it your will that…be ordained as a bishop in the Church?” – there would be one person feeling duty bound to say “NO!”
Shocking as this might sound – especially as the roar of the crowd in the historic York Minster proclaimed a confident “YES!” – there was an in-built potential for protest. The Reverend Paul Williamson (well-known protester and former friend of the Revd. Ian Paisley) was the most likely contender. Stating, in protest against the ordination, that “It’s not in the Bible”, Mr Williamson exhibited himself to be a member of the ‘Sola Scriptura’ Group of people whose literal use of Bible passages to confirm every iota of Church discipline and theology has persuaded them that women can never bear authority over men in the Church.
It reminds me of a similar protest in Aotearoa/New Zealand in Dunedin’s Anglican (ACANZP) Cathedral, when the ordination of a deacon was protested by not just one but a whose group of Evangelical fundamentalists intent on undermining the bishop’s ordination of a male candidate who was – self-admittedly – homosexual. However, as with Bishop Libby’s episcopal ordination, his diaconal ordination went ahead – affirmed by the over-whelming majority of Anglicans present.
Today, we in New Zealand, who are familiar with the ministry of bishops who are women (my own diocesan bishop here in Christchurch is one such), rejoice with the Church of England that, at long last, the institution of the Church has acknowledged the gifts of women as co-heirs of the Kingdom of God and capable of the leadership roles that are available in the Church.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand