Celebrating 25 years of women vicars - Alison Woodhouse

Alison was one of the first women to be ordained as a Deacon at Liverpool Cathedral on June 14th 1987.

Alison first came into ministry in 1971 as a Parish Lay Worker, then was ordained as a Deaconess. “Although the title Deaconess sounded similar to Deacon, and women did the same theological training, women were still not regarded as being at the same level as the men.”

“Before I became a Lay Worker, in some churches there was a rule that Lay Workers could only preach to women and children, and only in non-liturgical circumstances, although thankfully this changed later. Although women could preach and lead services, they were still restricted from celebrating baptism and weddings, and of course presiding over the Eucharist, which came with priesting.”

Even when women were allowed to become Deacons in 1987, there were still a few years to wait before they were allowed to be priested. “Men would be deacons for a year and then go on to be priested but those women who were ordained to be deacons for the first time in 1987 had to wait seven years before they could become priests. It could be quite disheartening when we were just as capable but had to remain deacons. However, the Liverpool Diocese is very forward thinking and supported full ordination to the priesthood for women. ”

Alison spent ten years as a Parish Lay Worker at Christ Church Bayston Hill, and from 1981 to 1986 she was at St Luke’s Church in West Derby. From 1986-1994 Alison served at St John’s Burscough, and from 1995, after being priested, she became vicar of St Luke’s Formby, which she says was a real highlight of her career. By 2000 Alison had become Area Dean of Sefton, and in 2002 she was made an Honorary Canon of Liverpool Cathedral, but the best was yet to come.

In 2005, Alison was made a chaplain to the Queen after Bishop James Jones nominated her for the role. Alison says, “As a woman in ministry, and one of the first to be ordained as a deacon in the Diocese of Liverpool, I just couldn’t say no to this opportunity. It is a great honour and I really do feel that I am representing all of the women in ministry in the Diocese of Liverpool in helping a serve a woman monarch in her work.”

As part of her role as Queen’s Chaplain, Alison has been presented to the Queen and other members of the royal family, and she preaches at the royal chapel at St James Palace once a year.

“There are 34 chaplains to the Queen around the country, and nine of those are women. When I took on this role in 2005 there were only three. Having women chaplains is something that would have been difficult to imagine at the start of the Queen’s reign sixty years ago.”

However, Alison is adamant that there is still work to do, “There is still not a level playing field. I’d like to see more women Archdeacons, and of course the debate on women bishops is ongoing. At the service this week to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Deaconing of women, I will be giving thanks and I will also be looking forward to the work that still needs to be done to see women taking greater responsibility in roles of leadership in the Church.”

What advice would Alison give to women going forward for ordination? “Give of your very best. Seize the opportunities and have courage to step up and just do it. It is not about being like men, but rather using your God given gifts and talents as a woman to help grow and develop the church and to serve your community.”