Dr Elaine Storkey on the appointment of the first woman bishop in the Church of England

light17:09 Wednesday 17th December 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS MANN: ‘An unexpected joy’. That’s how the Reverend Libby Lane described her appointment as the first woman bishop in the Church of England. The Church changed its rules last month, overturning centuries of tradition. She’ll become Bishop of Stockport, an assistant post in the Diocese of Chester. .. The reverend Libby Lane will be consecrated at a ceremony at York Minster next month. Well joining me in the studio to discuss this is the senior laywoman on the Church’s General Synod, from Ely, Dr Elaine Storkey. Hello Elaine
CHRIS MANN: So a big day. How did you react this morning?

ELAINE STORKEY: Oh with enormous delight. And just delighted too that they picked an ordinary priest. In many ways, Libby’s appointment signifies that bishops, people in purple, are ordinary people, from the pews and then from the clergy. And she’s not been a high-flier. She’s just been a first-class priest doing a marvellous job in that diocese, and this is recognising that. And she’s also a leader.
CHRIS MANN: And you know her and her husband George.
ELAINE STORKEY: Well from a long way back, but yes. Together both of them are absolutely fantastic Christians, and George’s own ministry in the airport is just second to none.
CHRIS MANN: So he’s a priest as well?
ELAINE STORKEY: He is indeed. And he’s very active in the whole area against human trafficking. He’s got a big wide compass of trying to make the Christian gospel relevant wherever he is.
CHRIS MANN: What about those, and they are still there in the Church and voicing their opinion, the traditionalists who say that women, according to the Faith, according to the Bible, shouldn’t have roles like this? How do you argue with them?
ELAINE STORKEY: I don’t argue with them very much. (LAUGHS) I was there myself thirty years ago, and I know many many people ..
CHRIS MANN: That was your belief before.
ELAINE STORKEY: Yes yes. I was at that stage. And it really takes an awful lot of Biblical reading, reading the Bible over and over again, putting it into really careful theological exegesis, for your mind to be changed. And I watched over the last thirty years many many people change their minds on this. But there are some for whom the interpretation is different and stays different. And there has to be a place for them in the Church, because what they do is very valuable work as well.
CHRIS MANN: And the concern was there would be a major schism in the Church, that people would break away, that it was that big a deal. Is that still a danger?
ELAINE STORKEY: Yes it is a danger. And this is why I think this particular appointment is so good, because here we’ve got a very orthodox woman, a woman who does preach the Faith orthodoxly and faithfully and who believes the Scriptures and all the rest of it. And I think we’ll win many many people over. So I think that schism is less likely, now that we have this particular appointment.
CHRIS MANN: So are the younger generation more in favour of what’s happening?
ELAINE STORKEY: Not necessarily. You get pockets of the younger generation.
CHRIS MANN: There’s still some young fuddy-duddies now.
ELAINE STORKEY: I don’t want to call my brothers and sisters in the Faith fuddy-duddies. (LAUGHS) They’re principled people who take a stand because it’s their conscience. They can’t do anything else. This is where they are.
CHRIS MANN: But many people feel that the Church has been gazing at its own navel for so long, ..
ELAINE STORKEY: (LAUGHS) Oh tell me about it. Absolutely.
CHRIS MANN: ..there are problems in the world,  poverty and birth control and all sorts of other things that have to be dealt with.
CHRIS MANN: And here’s the Church, which has just spent years and years and years discussing this and this only, just about.
ELAINE STORKEY: Absolutely. And I think the Church takes a long long time to actually get through its own business. But I don’t want to say that the Church hasn’t been doing those other things either, because if you look at the way in which the Church has been active, on the poverty front and on combatting diseases and so on, and on actually contesting issues and injustice on a global scale, there’s been an awful lot of work gone in on that that never gets press. Because the press itself, the media, focus on the things that we don’t get right in our own house.
CHRIS MANN: You’ve been on the General Synod for twenty seven years, you’re the senior lay woman and theologian. And you help appoint bishops, don’t you?
ELAINE STORKEY: Well yes. (I sat on) the Crown Nominations Commission myself for six years, and then before that for a period earlier, which means you sit around, you look at lots and lots of profiles, you look at lots of applications.
CHRIS MANN: So will there be positive discrimination now? Will you deliberately go out to appoint women, because they’re women?
ELAINE STORKEY: I think that the CNC will have that in mind. I don’t think it will be positive discrimination at a diocesan level. They’ll still pick the best person for the job, but the best person might be a woman.
CHRIS MANN: Because the next few appointments that come along, if it’s not women that are picked there will be those that say that this has been a token appointment today.
ELAINE STORKEY: Oh I’m fairly sure that we’ll see a whole spate of women appointed now, both at diocesan and at suffragan levels. And of course they’ll get into the House of Lords quite quickly as well.
CHRIS MANN: And the difference it will make to the Church?
ELAINE STORKEY: I think we’ll see woman doing what they’ve always been doing, but do it with more recognition. And we’ll all feel much easier about it, and much more comfortable with leadership as it is.
CHRIS MANN: You say ‘we’ as a woman. But how are the men going to feel? Threatened?
ELAINE STORKEY: The men have been fantastic about this.
CHRIS MANN: All of them?
ELAINE STORKEY: No no not all of them. But not all the women have either. (THEY LAUGH) And I’ve watched the bishops as a house come round to the idea and really embrace this idea that they must have women among them. They can’t just be an all-male club any more. It doesn’t make any sense at all. But also they can’t exercise full leadership without women, because you do need difference in leadership.
CHRIS MANN: Elaine as always thank you so much for joining me.
ELAINE STORKEY: It’s lovely to come.
CHRIS MANN: Elaine Storkey, Dr Elaine Storkey there, senior laywoman on the General Synod, from Ely. And let me tell you there will be more on this story of course in our Faith Programme on Sunday morning with Pam Mungrew.