On 12 March 1994, the first 32 women were ordained as Church of England priests in Bristol Cathedral. And just a few weeks later on 8 May 1994 , at Newcastle Cathedral, the first group of women from the Newcastle diocese were ordained.
Among them was Rev Joan Dotchin, a curate at St Gabriel’s Church, Heaton. Joan went on to be the vicar of the Church of St Mary The Virgin, Willington, followed by Willington Team Rector, honorary canon of Newcastle Cathedral and then vicar of St James and St Basil in Fenham.
A week later a further group of women were ordained including Rev Mary Chapman who had been a deacon at St Gabriel’s for several years. Formerly a teacher at Heaton Manor, Mary was chaplain to Wills Cigarette Factory and the John Lewis store.
In subsequent years several more women from St Gabriel’s became priests, Rev Sheila Auld, Rev Kath Batte and Rev Jenny Lancaster.
St Gabriel’s had been at the forefront of the discussions about the ordination of women for several years before this. The vicar at the time, Rev Michael Unwin was a member of General Synod (the Church of England’s parliament) and spoke of the essential and appreciated role that Joan and Mary had played in the parish before being ordained.
Researched and written by Robin Long, Heaton History Group.
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