Women who represent the Church of England in Parliament have spoken out about what it means to be a female leader as part of an initiative to inspire the next generation to follow in their footsteps.
In the 100th anniversary year of women’s votes, the three sitting women bishops in the House of Lords, together with the Chaplain to the Speaker and the Second Church Estates Commissioner paid tribute to women from history who helped them on their vocational path, adding their own messages of encouragement.
The five trailblazing leaders, each the first woman to hold their current role, were speaking to promote specially-commissioned resources for Church of England Schools and youth groups to engage with UK Parliament Week (12-18 November 2018).
Using the free resources, children and young people will have the chance to play the part of MPs by making a law and running a mock-election, while learning about the importance of the 1918 Representation of People Act which paved the way for women to vote. They can also participate in worship, saying the prayers used in the Houses of Commons and Lords every day at the start of business.
The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Dame Caroline Spelman, the MP through whom the Church of England is accountable to parliament, said that she remained “both thankful for and inspired” by the women who had gone before her.
“When I speak with women I remind them that there are still many ongoing battles, such as achieving equal pay, tackling sexual exploitation and even something as basic as getting mothers’ names onto marriage certificates,” she said.
“I’m also shocked by the number of times I knock on doors to be greeted by a female voter who says she cannot see the point of voting! It leads me to the view that we need to teach political history to everyone in school.
“My faith, I hope, gives me a perspective on what really matters and the courage to pursue my vocation. We need a generation of young women to take up the baton and I hope this will inspire people reading this to engage with Parliament Week and find out more!”
The Bishop of Gloucester, Rachel Treweek, the first woman bishop to enter the Lords, said:
“I am acutely aware that I have only been able to take these steps because of the courage, prayer, voices and action of so many people over the years. With the calling to be a bishop and a Lord Spiritual has come the responsibility and opportunity to speak out on a variety of issues and topics, in an endeavour to enable other people to flourish and fulfil their potential and become the people God has created them to be.”
The Bishop of London, Dame Sarah Mullally, reflected that her Christian calling was “not just to pray, but to act in the world.”
She added: “I am very aware that the seat I occupy in St Paul’s Cathedral is the one that suffragettes tried to blow up as part of their campaign for women’s rights. The fact I sit in this seat 100 years after the vote was won for some women is an honour and a privilege I will try to use wisely.”
Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Chaplain to the Speaker of the Commons, said that one of the beautiful parts of her role was to officiate in the chapel adjacent to the broom cupboard in which Emily Davison had hid the night before the 1911 census, so as to declare Parliament as her place of residence.
“The Suffragettes did not follow the path that society had laid out for these women. They were prepared to forge new paths and blazed a trail that could not be hidden.
“Emily Davison has been a real inspiration to me, as I have sought to blaze a trail thus creating a new path for others to follow. My prayers for parliament and all those who seek to lead locally and nationally are heartfelt.
“Politics is about decisions impacting on people’s lives and woven in the story of the Christian faith is the story about a God who is interested in the lives of all people.“