The Diocese of Bristol were the first diocese to ordain women as priests in March 1994 with Worcester’s ordination service taking place on 7 May. The Revd Marj Stanton-Hyde was one of the first women ordained on that day and shared some of her memories and reflections on women’s ministry with us.

Marj had been deaconed seven years prior to the first ordination of women priests in 1994. Ministering at Hartlebury, their incumbent moved on three years after Marj was deaconed, leaving her to support the church at Hartlebury and two daughter churches. At the time, this presented a problem with communion. During the vacancy, as Deacon-in-Charge, Marj was required to visit Hartlebury Castle every Sunday morning to pick up communion components consecrated at the early morning service by the Bishop, who resided at the Castle at the time. She then had to make her way back to Hartlebury Church for the 10.30am service, ready to administer the ‘extended’ communion. Although this was very good training, Marj’s ordination to the priesthood made a significant difference to communion services, where she could easily bless and consecrate the components herself. Marj was very well trained by her incumbent, who gave her many varied opportunities to build her experience of parish ministry, preparing her well for the coming years of vacancy.

Reflecting on the day of her ordination, Marj noted how candidates spent the daytime on retreat at Hartlebury Castle, before their ordination on the Saturday evening at which the then Dean of Worcester, Robert Jeffery, preached. Marj remembers international visitors attending and celebrating with the newly licensed clergy, including women in ministry from our partner diocese in Magdeburg, Germany, as well as an American Bishop.

Marj was licensed as a stipendiary (paid) priest to Hartlebury Church on her ordination, eventually becoming Rector, before retiring. Marj recalled that at the time, women priests did not often move on due to the stigma attached to women’s ministry. Commenting on the way women’s ministry has changed over the years, Marj said: “Today, women experience much more freedom and can apply to selection and posts with a much higher degree of confidence; they are accepted and people tend to forget that there was ever a time before women’s ministry.”

Immediately after her retirement, Marj became a non-stipendiary minister (NSM) at Malvern Priory for four years. Following this, she moved to Canterbury where she was as a warden and chaplain to some alms houses and a chaplain to the Kings School, in addition to taking services in the Cathedral (even preaching from the pulpit)! Returning to Malvern, she was chaplain at the hospital for a further seven years before retiring completely.

Marj provided advice for women who are new to, or thinking about ministry. She said: “You need to be sure of your calling, that it is from God and not just something that you would like to do. Especially if you are a woman on your own and not with a team, or a partner. You need to find some real support in someone who can also challenge you and keep your vision clear. Be really open about how things are with them; and most importantly, be your own person.”

“We are so pleased about the progress made with women’s ministry and the opportunities women now have. However, we do not want people today to forget about the history of women’s ministry, because some of us had to work really hard for women ministers today to enjoy their present freedom.”