The Church of England has consecrated Libby Lane as its first female bishop 21 years after women were first allowed to be priests in the church.
Bishop Libby Lane was first appointed by vote back in December, but today's ceremony makes it official. The 48-year-old woman is the new Bishop of Stockton, setting a historical precedent that was made possible by a vote to allow women as bishops back in November. Women have been allowed as bishops in the Anglican communion since 1989, but opponents have caused the delay in England until that November vote, and Monday's ceremony marked the end of the all-male tradition.
But the ceremony in York Minster was briefly interrupted by a lone protester, Rev. Paul Williamson, who has had a history of protesting the advancement of women in the church. At one point, Rev. Williamson attempted to charge an archbishop of Canterbury with high treason for ordaining female priests. When officiating Archbishop of York John Sentamu asked during Monday's ceremony if it was the will of the church that Lane be ordained, Rev. Williamson shouted his objection.
"No. Not in my name," he said while stepping out toward the altar. "With respect, your grace, I ask to speak on this absolute impediment, please."
But the Archbishop was not faltered by the objection, continuing to read from a pre-prepared statement that explained the law. "Today, we are assembled to consecrate Rev. Libby Lane as bishop in the church of God," he continued. "The Church of England is by law established that the consecration of a woman to the office of bishop is now lawful under the canon of the Church of England which is part of the law of the land." The Archbishop then asked again if it was the will of the church to make Lane bishop, and the shouts of "It is" were even louder this time, with no interruption.
Bishop Lane swore obedience to the queen and the archbishop of York before hearing the words of Jesus that were particularly fitting for this occasion. ""I am sending you out like lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say 'peace to this house' ..."
Lane was modest about her new role, describing it as more of an important step in history than something personal for her. "It is a remarkable thing that this happens to me, and people have been very supportive of me personally, but actually this is about a moment in the Church's history," she said.
Despite the opposition from Rev. Williamson and other traditionalists, the support for Bishop Lane has been overwhelming. Archbishop Sentamu wrote a piece in the Yorkshire Post explaining how important it is to celebrate the advancement of women in positions of power throughout the church. He mentioned several important women from the Bible who played key roles in the life of Jesus. "Women have featured among the Church's leaders from earliest times. During Christ's public ministry there were occasions when he relied on a group of women for his upkeep," he said.
"Later, the first person to carry the astonishing message of Christ's resurrection from death was a woman, Mary Magdalene. The men she told thought she was nuts until they saw the evidence themselves."
Archbishop Sentamu went on to tell several stories of important women in the Bible, describing why the church should take the opportunity to celebrate. "From that day to this, women have often been the backbone of the Church, unheralded, unsung, invaluable."