It was a privilege to celebrate International Women’s Day at The Guildhall London today, here is what I said:
I have never thought of myself as a pioneer but I was the youngest women to be appointed as the Governments Chief Nursing Officer for England, the fourth women to be ordained Bishop in the Church of England and the first bishop of London to be a women. I see myself as ordinary and I recognize in doing so I give baggage to my daughter.
It has not passed me by that I was installed last year as the first bishop of London who is a women in the year when we marked 100 years after some women were given the vote and in the week when one hundred and five years before suffragettes placed a bomb under the seat in which I was enthroned.
I am not naturally subversive but I am aware that as the first Bishop of London who is also a women I am subversive just by being a women – and it’s a necessity that I have sought to embrace.
At my consecration as a bishop on the feast of Mary Magdalene, the former Bishop of Stepney, Bishop Adrian, preached and encouraged me to socialize and subvert.
He reminded us then that Jesus chooses outsiders not so much as to disturb the comfortable, but to disturb the conventional, and that it is through the disturbance of people like Mary Magdalene that we learn to see the world and God afresh. I recognize that because of who I am, not just because of my gender, my appointment holds the opportunity to see the world, London, God and His church differently.
I just have to turn up and the world has changed – how then do I use this disturbance for good?
Let me share some thing of the Church of England in London. It is the settled position of the Church of England that there are those who do not accept women as priests and therefore Bishops and the Church makes provision for them and I will ensure they flourish. In London there is probably the highest concentration – with 13% of priest not accepting me as a bishop or priest because I am a women. Alongside that we only have 14% of priests who are in charge of churches who are also women – one of the lowest in the country.
And my challenge is; why if there are 87% of parishes that will have an incumbent who happens to be a women priest are there not more women priests? How do we bring about the change that the rest of London is seeing?
Next week we celebrate 25 years of the ordination of women as priests in the Church of England and I am aware that I walk in the footsteps of others and I am grateful for the battles they fought.
I am also conscious of the responsibility that I have as a women in this role. I am watched, people project onto me their expectations which I am certain I won’t live up to. I am conscious that as someone has written my selfhood begins when I walk away from the expectations of others.
I am very different from my predecessor which is a gift but people still say of me that I have big shoes to fill, my voice needs to be deeper, that it must be hard not being as tall as he was or even having his beard – I remind myself and others that I am not going to grow taller or a beard and I have my own shoes and my own voice and I have to be faithful to who I am and to who God had called me to be. As Madeleine Albright said “It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now I that I have it I am not going to be silent”
People often comment that I have been successful in two careers and I have to admit that I do not see myself as ambitious but I have always sort to do the role that I am in to my very best and to take every opportunity which comes my way. I am conscious that I have a comprehensive school background, I went to a polytechnic and my ordination training was undertaken on a part time residential programme – no whiff of private education or Oxbridge and I have therefore often seen myself as the outsider – in the Department of Health and in the Church. I have often felt that those I worked with didn’t always get me – a nurse and Senior civil servant wanting to minister in the Church. And I couldn’t always see people like me.
What I have come to realize is that we should have confidence in who we are, in our difference and if we can’t see anyone like us then maybe that’s because there is an us shaped whole waiting to be filled.
And we need to recognize our unconscious bias – Dame Mary beard in her book Women and Power says that when we think of a powerful person even we think of a white middle class man. It maybe my unconscious bias which is holding me back as well as others.
And as those who find themselves is places of power we must not pull up the ladder we need to be people who support those who come behind us – giving away our power, mentoring and coaching others. The changes that we have seen will only be established if we encourage and give confidence to the next generation of women.
I have the privilege of meeting women every day of my life across this city and I am humbled by their courage and tenacity – do not underestimate your ability to inspire others giving courage to others to act.
I will end with the words of Amelia Earhart “The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.”