The Church of England has announced that its first female Bishop will be Rev Libby Lane, a parish priest from Hale, Greater Manchester and mother of two. She has been appointed as the new Bishop of Stockport just one month after an historic change to canon law allowing women to become bishops.
The appointment comes 20 years after the first women priests were ordained. Rev Lane was herself amongst the first women to be ordained, becoming a deacon in 1993 and a priest in 1994, serving her curacy in Blackburn, Lancashire. In 2007 she took the reins at St Peter’s Hale and St Elizabeth’s Ashley in the diocese of Chester, and in 2010 was also appointed Dean of Women in Ministry for the diocese.
Her husband George is also a priest, serving as chaplain at Manchester Airport. They were one of the first married couples to be ordained by the Church of England together.
The legislation allowing for women bishops, which was 40 years in the making, was nodded through as a short item on the agenda of the General Synod in mid-November. It had been passed in July, and given royal assent in early November. There are already 20 Anglican women bishops worldwide.
At the synod, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury said: “I think it means above all that we have started a completely new phase of our existence as the church.
“It has taken a very, very long time but the way is now open to select people to the episcopacy on the basis simply of our sense that they are called by God to be in that position without qualification as to their gender.”
The appointment had been kept a closely guarded secret until this morning, when it was announced by Downing Street following approval by the Queen. Following the announcement, Rev Lane said: “This is unexpected and very exciting.
“On this historic day as the Church of England announces the first woman nominated to be Bishop, I am very conscious of all those who have gone before me, women and men, who for decades have looked forward to this moment. But most of all I am thankful to God.
“I stand in a long line of women and men whose self-giving service has changed the world for good. So today I pray will not be simply about one woman called up a new ministry in the church but much more than that, an opportunity to acknowledge all that has gone before and to look ahead to what is still to be done.”
Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted: “Congratulations to Revd Libby Lane on becoming the first woman bishop in the Church. An historic appointment and important day for equality.”
The appointment comes as ministers prepare to introduce legislation which will fast track female bishops into the House of Lords. Currently, the five most senior posts within the Church of England have an automatic seat in the Lords, that is, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and bishops of London, Durham and Winchester.
There are a further 21 seats open to any of the 40 bishops whose rank entitles them to a seat. Currently, when a vacancy opens up it is allocated to the longest serving Bishop in waiting. But the new Bill will seek to suspend that rule for a decade in order to allow women bishops to leapfrog their male colleagues into the Lords.
Sam Gyimah, the Cabinet Office minister with responsibility for the Bill has said “Thursday is the formal introduction of the Bill in the Commons, it will then be published and will have a date for second reading, if all goes according to plan, early in the New Year with a view to completing the parliamentary stages and receiving Royal Assent before the end of this Parliament.
“Ordinarily there is a period of time before acts come into force but this would come into effect virtually immediately so it is possible that you will have a woman bishop in the House of Lords by time of the general election.”
Rev Lane, as the new Bishop of Stockport will not be in line to take up a post in the Lords, however, as the post is a junior, or suffragan, see within the Diocese of Chester. Appointments to the first positions eligible for a place in the Lords are expected to be made in the new year; interviews for the vacancy as Bishop for the Southwell and Nottingham diocese are already underway. There are also vacancies at Gloucester, Oxford and Newcastle.
Oddly, Libby Lane shares her name with the first ever female High Court Judge in Britain. Dame Elizabeth Lane, DBE was appointed to the High Court in 1965, assigned to the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division. Her husband was also a serving barrister; they studied law together.