11-year-old Rebecca Howarth was elected as the country’s first “girl bishop” at Oldham Parish Church. She serves through the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6.
The Rev. Libby Lane does not have to bear the mantle of first female bishop in the Church of England any longers since Howarth was elected following a custom that reaches back to the middle ages. In England, some cathedrals choose a boy, usually a chorister, as the cathedral’s “bishop” for a month to serve from Advent through Christmastide to Epiphany. The tradition is an exercise in humility and innocence in keeping with the Christmas season.
Rebecca was elected bishop at Oldham Parish Church and so became the first girl to be chosen under this custom after the Church of England finally approved the legislation to consecrate women in November.
The church has previously taken on a number of boy bishops for the annual tradition, where a youth bishop takes over from the serving Bishop of Manchester – but this is the first time that a girl has taken on the role. It follows the Church of England’s decision to allow women to become bishops.
Rebecca is thrilled. “I was really excited ever since I found out I was going to be girl bishop,” she tells me. “Really women are just as good as boys I think, they’re both equal to each other. If a boy can be bishop, I don’t see why girls can’t. I just believe that girls have a right to be as good as boys.”
She welcomes the CoE’s change in legislation, not just because it has made her position possible but because it is a move in the right step for equality. Even in her primary school, she has noticed that boys sometimes feel superior to the girls.
“If we get put into groups and they’re the only boy in the group, they have a bit of a huff and a sigh,” she explains. “Sometimes they think they’re more important than us.”
She wants boys to realise that they’re not, and hopes that her new role as girl bishop will help get that message across.
It’s why she jumped at the chance as soon as her priest suggested it to her mum: “Father Derek asked my mum if I wanted to think about it and as soon as I agreed it was announced in church. They’d decided it would be nice to have a girl. If I’d disagreed there were lots of others who would have done it.”
Posted by Andrew Gerns.