In Brigid’s footsteps
The consecration of the Most Revd Patricia Louise Storey today as Bishop of Meath and Kildare marks a major milestone, for she is the first woman to become a bishop in the Church of Ireland since the General Synod approved the ordination of women as priests and as bishops in 1990. A year earlier, Barbara Harris became the first woman bishop in the Anglican Communion when she was ordained in Massachusetts.
Since 1990, women have become priests, rectors, canons and cathedral deans in the Church of Ireland, and so for many the time is overdue for a woman bishop. On the other hand, Bishop Storey’s consecration draws attention to the way the Church of England is dragging its feet on this question because of the prejudices of an unholy alliance formed by the extreme fringes of Anglo-Catholics and conservative evangelicals. Similar prejudices, although more muted, are being heard against Bishop Storey’s consecration in the Church of Ireland too.
Meath and Kildare is a united diocese that is spread widely, with sixteen parishes in six or seven counties, from the banks of the Shannon to the coastline of Co Meath. As a priest who has spent most of her ordained ministry since 1997 in urban and city settings, the new bishop moves into a largely rural diocese. But she also faces the challenges posed by long-neglected urban areas on Dublin’s outer rim where commuters’ worries include negative equity, falling salaries, unemployment and difficulties in finding day care for children.
Bishop Storey will need to tread carefully initially in a diocese where the first person chosen as bishop felt compelled to withdraw and where a second electoral college was divided and failed to elect. Yet, as Bishop of Meath and Kildare, she becomes the most senior bishop in the Church of Ireland, after the Archbishops of Armagh and Dublin. She will hope to be a worthy successor to Saint Brigid of Kildare who, according to legend, was consecrated a bishop by Saint Patrick’s blind nephew, the elderly Saint Mel of Ardagh.