On January 26 the Revd Libby Lane hit the headlines when she was consecrated as the Bishop of Stockport, and the first woman bishop in the Church of England. There was much rejoicing as the Archbishop of York presided over this milestone event in the inclusion of women, albeit with a brief interruption from a protestor. It was a great day for all who support full equality in church leadership.
A somewhat less publicised event, which took place on the same day, was the funeral of the Revd Carol Stone, who died in December after a short illness. She was the vicar of Upper Stratton, near Swindon, in the diocese of Bristol, a post which she had held since 1996.
Bishop Mike Hill published a beautiful tribute to her on his diocesan website, describing her as
‘a diligent, thoughtful and compassionate parish priest. She was both loved and valued by her ordained colleagues, but equally was loved by the people she served within and beyond the Church. She was in many senses an old fashioned parish priest who loved the Church of England, its worship and its people. It could truly be said that her ministry spanned all age groups.’
What he didn’t mention (possibly in honour of Carol’s wishes) was that she had started her ministry as a man, and subsequently transitioned to being Carol. According to a recent Church of England Newspaper report, she was the first transgender parish priest in the Church of England to do so. Although we never met, we had corresponded a little and I had come to appreciate what a remarkable individual she was. The fact that she confided with her congregation about her trans nature, and that they in return supported her through and beyond her transition, says a lot about her courage, but also about the degree of love and acceptance shown by her parishioners, something which many of us would envy.
Other trans clergy have followed in Carol’s footsteps, and I don’t expect Libby will be the only woman bishop for long. But being the first in anything is special. So let us celebrate two pioneering women, on very different journeys, one ending, another beginning – separate paths, now drawn together by the same day. May their lives be an example to us all, and for those who experience discrimination in the Church just because they are different, a source of encouragement and hope.
Libby and Carol, we salute you!