Celebrating 25 years of women deacons - Janet Bissex

We spoke to Janet Bissex about twenty five years since her ordination as a deacon

Janet Bissex was ordained as a deacon in 1987.

Janet spent 2 years as a teacher in Birkenhead before feeling called to teach in Ghana in 1974. It was whilst teaching there that Janet felt that she wanted to train for ministry. She won a place at Trinity College, Bristol and after training went into parish work, as this was the only option available at the time.

“Although the courses were practically the same, and women actually trained together with the men, they could not be ordained.” said Janet.

Janet started as a parish worker at St Oswald’s in Netherton alongside the vicar and curate. Her role there involved visiting, preaching, teaching and leading services, but she was still classed as a lay minster. “Some people thought I must be the vicar’s wife!” Janet then moved to St Bede’s in Toxteth as an Assistant, and when the vicar left she ran the parish on her own, although still not in an official capacity as she was still classified as a parish worker. Janet was ordained as a deacon in 1987.

“It was a step forward, and an important recognition of just what women could contribute to the church if they had the chance. Deaconing allowed us to celebrate weddings and occasionally baptize, but we couldn’t preside over the Eucharist. I found the first baptism I performed very moving, and I really appreciated the occasion.”

After the vote was passed at Synod for women to become priests, Janet moved to St Athanasius, Kirkdale as vicar, although still a deacon, and the following year was priested. She never looked back, joining the Bootle Team in 2003 and spending nine years there.

“When I was priested and I presided at my first communion, the local Catholic priest came to support me and another from my previous parish received a blessing from me, which I found extremely moving.”

Janet adds, “For most people having a woman vicar is not an issue any more. There was a small amount of resistance when I started my ministry, but that quickly evaporated once I got to know people. I really enjoy inner city ministry, and although I am now retired, I still hope to be involved with that.

“When I started my ministry in the church it didn’t seem possible that I could ever be a deacon or a priest. I felt the difference when I was working alongside a curate who went on to be priested whilst I stayed as a lay person. Women have different gifts and outlooks on ministry, which we shouldn’t lose or be afraid to share with others.”

“When I started as a parish worker in Bootle deanery there were two women there, myself and Frances Briscoe. Now, half the Bootle deanery chapter is made up of women priests.”