obituaries: The Rev Bernadette Hingley

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The Independent Online
Bernadette Hingley had a succession of public roles in the Eighties and Nineties, a period when the participation of women in society and in the churches was going through great transformation and was the subject of passionate conflict. She was a schoolteacher, a lay church worker, a deaconess, a theological college teacher, a deacon and finally, last year, a priest, one of the first group of women in Britain to be so ordained.

She worked as a volunteer in Africa, and in the Church of England was employed full-time and part-time, paid and un-paid. She was also a dedicated family person and friend. In all of these roles, public and private, she was a model for many, and often had a lasting influence in a very short time. In the Church she had the gift of taking jobs until then not associated with women and somehow transforming both the job and the perception of it, so that most people ended up thinking not only that it was right for a woman to do it but that the role had been enhanced in the process. In the four years since she was diagnosed as suffering from ovarian cancer, her way of facing suffering and death with realistic faith has been an extraordinary experience for those who witnessed it.

She was the third daughter of Sir Paul Bryan DSO MC MP and Betty Bryan. She deeply loved the wild Yorkshire country, at Sawdon, near Scarborough, of her happy childhood and always kept strong links there. When she was 12 her mother became ill with manic depression which lasted eight years till she died - a long agony that left a deep mark on Bernadette. She attended Duncombe Park and Benenden schools, studied Social Sciences at Bedford College, London University, and then went for two years' International Voluntary Service to a Roman Catholic convent school in Bamenda, Cameroon.

Africa was a turning-point. On 22 May 1994 she gave her first sermon after her ordination as priest, in St Luke's, Bristol Street, Birmingham, and looked back over 23 years. She said that in Africa she encountered the risen Christ - "I knew he was true and real and gave my life to following him." Three years later, in 1974, she was on Iona "and understood that if I were a man I would be ordained". She studied at St John's Theological College, Nottingham, was a lay worker in Christchurch, Abingdon, and was encouraged to study a further year to become a deaconess.

That year, 1980-81, was spent as one of the first three female students at Ripon College, Cuddesdon, near Oxford. After ordination as a deaconess she became the first woman on the staff of Cuddesdon as it made the transition to a theological college with a mixed community. She was ordained deacon in 1988 and then finally priest, part of a group of women aged 25 to 71 and of all sorts of backgrounds: "There is a great gift in waiting," she said. "Women are truly ready."

When she was working part-time in the West Slough Team Ministry she met and married the Rev Robert Hingley, in 1983, and they had a remarkable partnership in ministry. The rest of Bernadette's life was spent in two tough inner-city parishes in Birmingham. Rob became vicar of St Paul's, Balsall Heath, in 1983, based in an ecumenical community centre. Their daughters, Elizabeth and Catherine, were born there, and for their mother opened up new relationships with the largely Asian and Afro-Caribbean local community. Bernadette also slowly developed her ministry in networks of friends, chaplaincy work at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, tutoring women training for ordination and a range of activities in Balsall Heath.

In 1991, after a sabbatical year, Rob Hingley became vicar of St Luke's Church, Bristol Street, Birmingham, and Bernadette was licensed there too. Within months her cancer was diagnosed. Surgery and treatment helped, but in April this year the cancer appeared again.

In facing death, and the leaving of her husband, young children, father, sisters and many close friends, it was as if she poured herself out to others in talking frankly, listening, praying, writing letters making phone calls, saying goodbye. More needs to be told about this time in her life, and she had a great desire to write about it, which she continued to do into her last week. When I talked about someone else who was dying she pulled me up: "Not dying, living." She lived even more vibrantly in the face of death.

David F. Ford

Bernadette Bryan, schoolteacher, priest: born Sowerby Bridge, Yorkshire 26 September 1948; ordained deaconess 1981, deacon 1988, priest 1994; married 1983 Robert Hingley (two daughters); died Birmingham 20 October 1995.