Female clergy in Suffolk celebrate 30 years since first ordinations

It has been 30 years since the first female clergy were ordained into the priesthood in Suffolk. Since then, the county has been at the forefront of progress, with female clergy now making up half of all priests in Ipswich.

Across Suffolk there are currently a total of 50 women clergy now serving their communities, making up 42% of all stipendiary priests across the county. The first group of women to become priests in the UK were ordained on Saturday, March 12, 1994 with the first in Suffolk just weeks later.

Retired Revd Canon Sally Fogden, who was among the first to be ordained at St Edmundsbury Cathedral, said she fondly remembers the day she heard she could become a priest.

I was actually doing a children’s group in the village hall at the time and one of my parishioners rushed in and said the vote had gone through,” she said.“At that time I was so sure it wouldn’t go through, so I couldn’t be more delighted when I heard the news.”

Sally said her ordination was an ‘overwhelming’ experience. “We had a large marquee outside St Edmundsbury Cathedral and there were huge crowds of people who wanted to be there,” she said. “The ordination day itself was overwhelming, it was incredible. To then be able to celebrate communion on my own with my parishioners, who had stuck with me throughout, was wonderful.”

Sally, now 83, later launched the Rural Coffee Caravan, a charity aimed at tackling loneliness in Suffolk, particularly in rural areas.  She had previously worked as a team deacon at the Blackbourne Team Ministry, having originally been made a self-supporting deaconess in 1978.

She said: “Having been part of the long journey for women being ordained priests, the greatest delight for me is that in these 30 years it has moved from being seen as something remarkable to a time when no one is surprised at all to have a woman incumbent or a bishop. It’s nice when people remember the ordinations in 1994 and that you were one of the first – but it’s much nicer that it will simply become the norm.”

The Revd Canon Sharon Potter is now rector of the Cockfield Benefice, serving nine villages in West Suffolk. In 1994 she was working as a registered nurse at Ipswich Hospital while serving as a Lay Elder at a church in the town. However, 10 years later she was ordained as a supporting minister, became a deacon in 2004 and eventually became a priest in 2005. She said it was a proud moment being ordained, as she was aware of the hope it would bring to other women. “Being a woman priest encourages other women to think about ministry,” she said. “On the day of my ordination I felt that this was the first step on a journey that would fulfil me and which had been denied to so many women before me.”

The Revd Canon Charlotte Cook, Priest-in-Charge at the Westerfield with Tuddenham and Witnesham Benefice, part of the Ipswich Deanery, added: “I give thanks to God every day for my colleagues in Ipswich and across the diocese. It is a joy to see the variety of people that God has called, they continue to inspire and challenge me by their love, joy and faithfulness.”

The Revd Alix Taylor is among the latest to be ordained in Suffolk and was just a teenager when Sally and the first cohort were accepted into the priesthood.  She said: “For 20 years I did not want to be ordained. I wanted my vocation to be anything other than ordination and didn't really want a vocation that involved church at all. Yet my ordination day was when the Holy Spirit got hold of me, removed all my reluctance and shoved a rocket up me. It was the best day of my life.”

Bishop Mike said: “I trained with female ordinands in the late 1980s and it was incredibly frustrating to see such talented and obviously priestly women not being ordained with me as a priest in 1990. So I was over the moon when the Church of England agreed to ordain women – seeing some of my dearest friends and colleagues priested in 1994. Since then the fruits of their ministry have been apparent across the Church – and their contribution to the life of the Church has been incalculable. I'm delighted that now almost half our clergy in Suffolk are female – and look forward to even more blessings through their ministry in the years to come.”


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Page last updated: Wednesday 13th March 2024 10:00 AM
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