LONDON (Agence France-Presse) — Canterbury Cathedral, the seat of the Church of England, installed its first female archdeacon in its 1,400-year history yesterday.
Before a congregation of 500, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams led the service of installation for the Venerable Sheila Watson, 53, the first woman to join Archbishop Williams’ senior staff.
The former archdeacon of Buckingham in the Diocese of Oxford, who succeeds the retired Patrick Evans, can now enthrone new diocesan bishops in 27 of England’s 43 dioceses under Archbishop Williams’ guidance.
The move comes as the Church of England, also known as the Anglican Church, takes the first steps toward the creation of female bishops. The Church of England ordained its first female priests in 1994.
Before the service, Archdeacon Watson said: “I feel enormously privileged to be invited to join the team at Canterbury in both diocese and cathedral.
“I have always loved the cathedral with all its historic associations and I am greatly looking forward to getting to know the people and churches of Kent,” she said.
A graduate in classics at St. Andrews University in Scotland, she undertook a preparatory year of theology at Oxford. After 27 years of ministry she comes to Canterbury from northeast England, London, Salisbury and Buckinghamshire.
“Being a priest is one of the most fascinating but sometimes one of the most demanding jobs in today’s society,” Archdeacon Watson said.
“Being a Christian can be pretty tough too, but it is really exciting,” she said.
The cathedral’s history dates back to A.D. 597 when Pope Gregory I, or Gregory the Great, sent Augustine as a missionary to establish his seat in Canterbury.
It famously saw Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket murdered by loyalists to king Henry II and was the destination for 14th-century author Geoffrey Chaucer’s pilgrims in his famous “Canterbury Tales.”
The worldwide Anglican communion numbers 77 million believers