Vicar of Dibley eases path for women clergy

First woman to become a Church of England Archdeacon thanks Dawn French in Vicar of Dibley for paving the way for acceptance of women priests.

As director of communications Diocese of Norwich, Reverend Jan McFarlane is the public voice and face of the Anglican church in the city.

She is also set to become the diocese’s first ever female Archdeacon, and one of just a handful in the country, when she takes up the position next March. Reporter Kim Briscoe found out more about how the bubbly vicar found her calling – and the gratitude she owes to Dawn French.

By the time [McFarlane] had finished her training the vote had gone through and women could become priests. Jan was ordained at Lichfield Cathedral in 1993 and started work as a curate in Stafford for the Lichfield Diocese.

She said: “The ordination of women was very, very new and people’s reactions were varied. You would walk down the street in your clerical collar and people would literally stop to stare. It was quite a tough time. I felt I was in this representative role for women and there was a strong sense of pressure to do better than the men in order to be accepted.”

Since then the clergy has come a long way and Jan acknowledges the boost Dawn French’s Vicar of Dibley portrayal has given to female priests, but jokes her experience of the ministry is even more bizarre than the programme!

Jan, who shares the same sense of humour as the comic character, said: “Before then vicars were the fun figures – dappy, off-the-wall characters. The Vicar of Dibley presented this character who was fun and lovely and who had faith in a wacky way and who was ‘the sane one’.

“I’d love to meet Dawn French and give her my thanks – she did such a good job.”

Read it all here.

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