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News and stories from McCabe

News features, stories from our guests and updates from the McCabe Educational Trust.

Join Reverend Angela Berners-Wilson on our Traditional Austrian Christmas pilgrimage on Dec 20th.

Taken from an article in the Guardian on ‘inspiring women’

To read details of this tour click the link below

A Traditional Austrian Christmas – McCabe Pilgrimages (

Reverend Angela Berners-Wilson was one of the first women to be ordained as a Church of England priest in 1994. 

Christianity was always a part of my life growing up; my father was a priest. My vocation evolved when I was studying theology at university, but in the 70s all that a woman could be in the church was a lay worker in a parish or a deaconess.

I took a gap year and went to Australia for six months before I went to theological college, and there I met someone who wasn’t churchgoing who said, “Well, why don’t you want to be a priest?” Even though the idea of a woman becoming a priest seemed so far away, I knew that was what I wanted to do.

A lot of women felt the same, and in 1978 the Movement for the Ordination of Women was founded and I became a member. At the time, there were women priests in America, Canada, New Zealand and some African countries. If women felt their vocation was to be a priest, then they deserved the chance to explore that calling.

In my day, only three theological colleges accepted women. A lot of the men at my college didn’t believe that women should be priests – but, ironically, our principal was a woman. Biblical fundamentalists say, “Jesus was a man, all his disciples were men, and so only a man can represent Jesus at the altar.” But the way in which Jesus treated women, engaged and spoke with them, was radical for his time and that is important. He treated women with great respect.

The General Synod finally approved the way for women to be priests in 1992, and it took until 1994 for the legislation to be passed. There were 32 of us being ordained at the same time. It was just amazing – very exciting and nerve-racking, although there was great sadness, too, as my mother had Alzheimer’s and my father was with her, so they were unable to be there. But I shall never forget that service.

It just so happened that no one had a surname beginning with ‘A’, so I was first in line. But the way I see it, no one is ordained until the final amen is said, so all 32 of us became the first female priests together.

Eighteen months after I was ordained, I was offered a job in a very rural, traditional area in Wiltshire. I think it was unusual for some of the parishioners to have a woman priest – some members of the British Legion were slightly reactionary to it.

Those of us in the first group of female priests had to prove ourselves. You do the very best you can, because if something goes wrong, then they might say, “What do you expect? She’s a woman.” I had to guard against that and was on my best behaviour for years, which was quite exhausting. But everyone should always do the very best they can.

Being a university chaplain is very different. There are a lot of students who may not call themselves religious, but they are interested in Christianity and have deep questions. They want to know the meaning of life.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to deal with is when there has been a suicide. There are families, flatmates and friends who have never coped with death before and who are in acute pain. But at the same time, it is a huge privilege to be there for them. It’s part of the job.

My husband’s father was a priest and his mother was a doctor so he knew what it was like to live in a clergy household, and never expected me to be a housewife. He has always been incredibly supportive. I never have a Sunday off. It is a demanding position and you have to be resilient and disciplined to give time to your family too.