The Church of England ended centuries of male-only leadership on Monday as Libby Lane became its first female bishop at a grand ceremony in York cathedral, despite fierce opposition from traditionalists.
YORK, United Kingdom - The Church of England ended centuries of male-only leadership on Monday as Libby Lane became its first female bishop at a grand ceremony in York cathedral, despite fierce opposition from traditionalists.
Dozens of clergymen crowded around to lay their hands on the 48-year-old's head and pronounced the prayer making her a new bishop in front of 2,000 people.
The congregation broke into applause and cheers echoed through the Gothic cathedral in northern England, although a lone heckler had earlier briefly disrupted the ceremony.
"Send down the Holy Spirit on your servant Libby for the office and work of a bishop in your Church," Archbishop of York John Sentamu prayed.
Lane, dressed in black, white and violet vestments, swore oaths of allegiance and canonical obedience during the two-hour ceremony also attended by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the spiritual leader of the Church of England.
When asked whether they wanted her to become bishop, the congregation responded "It is!", but one man was heard shouting: "No, it's not in the Bible!"
Moderates hope the move will be the start of a new chapter for the Church as it struggles for relevance in a multi-cultural society where only six percent of the population regularly attends an act of worship.
But her appointment is strongly opposed by traditionalists, who believe the Bible teaches that the clergy's top rung is no place for a woman.
Encouraging young girls
Lane admitted she was daunted by the challenge ahead of her, saying in an interview released by the Church that she was "aware that what I say and do will be heard by millions".
"If my appointment encourages a single young girl to lift her eyes up a bit and to realise she has capacity and potential and that those around her don't need to dictate what is possible, then I would be really honoured," she added.
The Church of England is seen as the mother church of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which has some 85 million followers in 165 countries.
Anglican churches in countries including the United States, Canada and Australia have already appointed women bishops.
The General Synod voted five months ago to allow female bishops, after decades of disagreement.
But in a careful reconciliation process led by Welby, parishes which do not want to be led by a woman because of their theological convictions will be able to vote to be tended by a man instead.
The scale of the divisions was highlighted when the Christian Today website reported that the bishops who performed the traditional laying of hands will be asked not to do the same for a conservative priest being made a bishop days later.
The bishops have been asked to show "gracious restraint" as traditionalists believe that they should not be touched by those who have touched a woman in a sacramental context.
Resilient and well-rooted
Moderates in the church hope that Lane's appointment will soon be followed by the appointment of more female bishops.
"Women in senior positions are not in themselves sufficient to change the church in all the ways it must change to survive and even flourish," the Guardian newspaper wrote in an editorial.
"But their appointment to positions of visible power and influence is an entirely necessary precondition for all the other changes that must come."
Friends say Lane's humour and common sense will stand her in good stead.
The mother of two, whose husband George is also a priest, is a supporter of Manchester United football club and plays the saxophone.
Lane was ordained in 1994, the first year the church accepted women priests.
She has played several prominent roles, including becoming one of only eight female clergy to act as observers at meetings of the Church of England bishops before the rule change.
"She's a resilient and well-rooted person so I don't think she'll be thrown by what she faces," said John Pritchard, a former bishop of Oxford who was warden of Cranmer Hall in Durham when Lane trained for the ministry there in the early 1990s.
For her part, Lane has said she hopes she will not remain the only woman in the upper echelons of the Church of England.
"I won't be the only one for long, God willing," she said.
Church of England consecrates first female bishop