A little-known vicar from a Lancashire village will become the first woman to smash through the stained-glass ceiling when she becomes Bishop of Stockport in January.
The Rev Libby Lane, 48, was announced yesterday as the first woman to become a bishop in the Established church. Her appointment comes just a month after church leaders made a historic vote to allow women into the episcopate.
Ms Lane, who is currently Vicar of St Peter’s church in Hale, Greater Manchester, and St Elizabeth’s church in Ashley, Cheshire, was an outsider for the landmark Church of England job. She was not among the bookies’ favourites and has been a dedicated local clergywoman rather than a public figure.
The only mention of the Ms Lane in a national paper until today was a single line in the appointments column of the Daily Telegraph back in 2010, when she had just been made Dean of Women in Ministry for Chester diocese. But yesterday she addressed the nation at a press conference in Stockport, fully aware of her role in the church’s history. Speaking from the town hall, she said the new job was “unexpected and very exciting”. She will be consecrated as the eighth Bishop of Stockport at a ceremony at York Minster in late January.
“I am grateful for, though somewhat daunted by, the confidence placed in me by the Diocese of Chester,” she said. “This is unexpected and very exciting. 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.”
David Cameron was among public figures from around the world who welcomed Ms Lane’s new job. The Prime Minister said: “This is an historic appointment and an important step forward for the Church towards greater equality in its senior positions.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Justin Welby, said: “I am absolutely delighted that Libby has been appointed to succeed Bishop Robert Atwell as Bishop of Stockport. Her Christ-centred life, calmness and clear determination to serve the church and the community make her a wonderful choice.”
Ordained as a priest in 1994, Ms Lane worked in parish and chaplaincy roles in Blackburn, York and Chester before becoming vicar of St Peter’s Hale and St Elizabeth’s Ashley eight years ago. She has no direct experience of the church’s upper echelons, but is one of eight clergywomen elected as a Participant Observer in the House of Bishops.
As a married mother of two grown-up children, a keen saxophonist, cryptic crossword enthusiast and Manchester United fan, Ms Lane is a reassuringly ordinary parish priest. She met her husband when they were both studying at St Peter’s College Oxford and they were ordained at the same time in 1994.
Their daughter Connie, 20, tweeted a link to news of the appointment yesterday, saying: “THIS IS MY MUMMY!!!!!”
The Bishop of Stockport is a suffragan or assistant bishop post. The next big step will be a woman running her own diocese. Southwell and Nottingham is understood to have women on its shortlist for a new diocesan bishop which is likely to be announced early next year. Oxford is also likely to consider women when the appointments process begins in 2015.
In a bid to make sure that women bishops are introduced into the House of Lords more quickly, a Bill is being presented in Parliament today that will suspend rules which require a minimum decade’s service in the episcopate before being considered. All three major parties have said they will support the Bill.
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