Church of England Names Libby Lane as First Female Bishop

The Church of England on Wednesday named the Rev. Libby Lane, a parish priest for 20 years in the north of England, as its first female bishop, just weeks after the church authorities took the final step to reverse centuries of canon law to begin what the archbishop of Canterbury called “a completely new phase of our existence.”

Ms. Lane, 48, will be consecrated on Jan. 26, the Church of England said on its website. She described herself as “grateful for, though somewhat daunted by,” the appointment. “This is unexpected and very exciting,” she said in a statement on the website. “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.”

Ms. Lane is to become the bishop of Stockport, in northwest England, a position that lacks the status of a full, diocesan bishop but nonetheless represents a historic shift roughly 20 years after the Church of England first ordained female priests. Technically, she will be an assistant in the Diocese of Chester. The tradition of all-male bishops dates to the Church of England’s break with Rome five centuries ago, in the days of King Henry VIII.

Ms. Lane’s husband, George, is also a priest, and they were one of the first married couples in the Church of England to be ordained together, the church said. “Her interests include being a school governor, encouraging social action initiatives, learning to play the saxophone, supporting Manchester United, reading and doing cryptic crosswords,” the church added in a brief biography on its website.

Ms. Lane is one of eight female clerics who have held observer status in the church’s House of Bishops, and she represents the northwest of England.

The halting process toward her consecration reflected deep divisions between liberals and conservatives that are likely to be cemented rather than resolved by the move.

“Without prayer and repentance, it is hard to see how we can avoid some serious fractures,” the Most Rev. Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, who backed the push for female bishops, said after a final vote on the matter last month.

The archbishop is the senior leader of the church and the symbolic, spiritual leader of the broader Anglican Communion, which claims about 80 million followers around the world. It includes the Episcopal Church in the United States, in which women have served as bishops for years. “This moment is significant, but it is not simply a gesture,” Ms. Lane said. “I’m the first, but I won’t be the only. And I follow in the footsteps of women across the Anglican Church and globally.”

The Church of England first agreed to the appointment of women as bishops in July, and it took the final step with a show of hands at its General Synod on Nov. 17. The appointment of Ms. Lane comes almost four decades after the Church of England first considered the ordination of women, in 1975.

Ms. Lane said on Wednesday that opponents of female bishops would be “distressed and disturbed by today’s announcement.” One of those was the Rev. Rod Thomas, the head of a conservative group, Reform, which led opposition to the consecration of women as bishops. “We have known since July that the Church of England would seek to appoint women to the episcopate — against the biblical model of good church leadership,” he said in a statement. “Though it grieves us, it comes as no surprise.”

The church leadership agreed in July to make concessions to conservatives, permitting parishes that are reluctant to acknowledge a female bishop to request supervision by a man.

That compromise is likely to be tested with the consecration of Ms. Lane in the diocese run by the bishop of Chester, the Right Rev. Peter Forster. Mr. Thomas said he urged the bishop to “enable the many thriving conservative evangelical churches in his diocese to continue to serve their communities with theological integrity under the oversight of a male bishop.”

Source: New York Times