Last weekend a group of women aged between 16 and 40 attended a special one-day conference in Lancashire entitled ‘Discerning Women’ to listen to Libby Lane, the first woman appointed as a bishop in the Church of England.
It was slightly ironic that my colleague, Philip North, the Bishop of Burnley, was the inspiration behind the conference happening! The same bishop who recently provoked such hostility from individuals and groups who don’t know him (after he was announced as the new Diocesan Bishop of Sheffield) for his theological views about the ordination of women.
Bishop Libby spoke about how she started going to church without any family support as a young teenager. She was then loved and embraced by a small rural church. She was heading to be an engineer when she heard the call of God to be a priest.
In recent decades, the Church of England has been a bit uncertain about recognising vocations to priesthood or other sorts of dedicated Christian service at a young age. Thankfully we have started to underline the importance of encouraging younger people to open up to God’s invitation at a deeper level.
One classic example from the bible is the call of the boy, Samuel. Interestingly it happened at a time in history when the religious institution was in decline. The institution represented by the old priest, Eli, could not continue as it was. The future needed a Samuel to shake everyone up and help focus attention on the living God.
Maybe there were some young women at the recent conference who will help to transform the church as we know it. It is not an easy time for people of faith.
Libby Lane reminded the young women attending the conference that they are following a crucified Jesus and it may well be costly. She herself had responded to Jesus’ invitation to shepherd with him. Yes, she said, there is a cost but there is with it an exciting, life-changing adventure.
Some of the young women asked very practical questions about how they could balance the different vocations of being a wife, mother and a priest. Libby answered from her own experience and greatly affirmed and guided the young women to trust God and to see that the church is doing better at nurturing young vocations.