It’s 24 years since women were first ordained into the Anglican priesthood in a ceremony conducted by Bishop Barry Rogerson in Bristol Cathedral in March 12, 1994.
Thirty-two women were consecrated – the youngest was aged 30 and the oldest was 69.
Bishop Rogerson predicted then that it would take approximately a decade for the first women to join the ranks of the bishopric.
He was wrong – ten years later women made up around one fifth of the clergy, but few were in senior posts, and it was another ten years before the General Synod voted, in July 2014, to allow the appointment of women bishops.
Just a few months later Libby Lane was named as the first female bishop and was consecrated as Bishop of Stockport at York Minster on January 26, 2015 by Archbishop John Sentamu.
It seemed a huge leap forward – but even then the ceremony was interrupted by an Anglo-Catholic priest, who claimed: ‘It’s not in the bible.’
So, becoming a woman priest isn’t easy – which is the timely theme of Louise Rowland’s debut novel The Girls’ Book of Priesthood.
Billed as The Vicar of Dibley meets Rev, The Girls’ Book of Priesthood is published to coincide with the 24th anniversary of the ordination of those pioneering women.
Bright and sparky Margot Goodwin is determined to fulfill her calling to the priesthood in a world where some people still see female priests as an abomination.
What the blurb
‘I mean, you know, someone says “woman priest” and you think the whole grey-hair-bobbly-cardigan-house-full-of-cats thing, right?’
Margot Goodwin is a young curate struggling to survive her trial year in the parish, when everything and everyone seems hell-bent on stopping her.
Success would mean becoming a fully-fledged priest, something she feels profoundly called to do.
Failure would not only prove her father right, but would also delight all the antis who consider women priests at best a joke, at worst, an abomination.
But from the very start, Margot faces a multitude of challenges, both personal and professional, from the hostile teenage daughter of her host family, to the married parishioner she is hopelessly drawn to.
Can she convince everyone – herself included – that she’s more than a lipstick-wearing, part-timer with a PhD, and realise her long-held dream of becoming a priest?
Now let’s read an extract:
Coffee had been hideous. Actors aren’t expected to leave the stage and mingle with the audience the moment the curtain falls on a first-night production, catching the appalled whispers behind. Yet twenty minutes after she’d walked away from the lectern, she’d had to circulate around all the different clusters in the hall, a chocolate
bourbon balanced in the saucer of her lukewarm coffee, smiling gratitude at the friendly welcomes, joining in the new-girl chat, dipping her head at the slightly too intrusive questions, trying to ingratiate without giving too much away, and all the time braced for someone to start yelling one of St Paul’s clobber texts about how women should know their place and keep quiet in church.
Jeremy comes back alongside her.
‘Penny for them?
‘Oh, you know, I was just thinking about this morning.’
‘Don’t be too much of a perfectionist, Margot. Canterbury wasn’t built in a day.’
He nudges her arm. She looks down at her lace-ups and nods.
‘In any case, I didn’t spot anyone playing sermon bingo, so you’ve already bagged several brownie points. Come on, the Heron’s calling. I bet you’re in need of something stronger than Millicent’s coffee. I keep telling her to add another scoop, but she’s worried about overrunning the entertainment budget.’
Ten minutes later, she’s sitting on a scratchy green banquette, watching her incumbent thread his way through the bar of the unreconstructed boozer opposite Highbury tube that doubles as their off-duty HQ. Jeremy’s a head taller than most of the customers, but his rapid progress is still impressive. Brick-cheeked regulars make way for the man of the cloth. One or two even touch their temple as he passes, possibly confusing him with Father Joseph from St Aloysius of the Holy Redeemer.
Her gratitude for the gamble he’s taken is now shot through with a deep unease. The jokes that had seemed reasonably witty at 3 a.m. had popped in the air one by one like silent soap bubbles.
She’d been aware of several people nearby flicking through their orders of service, as though checking to see whether there was a complaints hotline. The Rainforest Life toddler had had two screaming fits before emptying an entire box of Lego into the aisle.
One man in his early thirties had even taken out a copy of Private Eye and a packet of crisps, the synthetic smell of onion strong enough to overpower the lilies.
About the author:
Louise Rowland grew up in Bournemouth and studied English at Cambridge before going on to work as a speechwriter, journalist and copywriter – including 11 years spent in Munich, Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam.
She now lives in London with her husband and has two grown-up daughters.
Louise has a Masters in Novel Writing from City University, where she won the course prize.
The Girls’ Book of Priesthood is her first novel. It is available to buy on Amazon.