Ireland’s only woman bishop has spoken of the disbelief she has encountered as a result of being female in such high office in the church.
Most Rev Pat Storey revealed she was once mistaken for a secretary by a male bishop and recently, when she presented a cheque in a bank, it was handed back to her and she was told “the bishop will have to sign that himself”.
Bishop Storey (57), who holds the third most senior position in the Church of Ireland House of Bishops, became the first woman bishop in Britain and Ireland in 2013.
Speaking on Thursday at DCU’s All Hallows campus on “Breaking through the stained-glass ceiling”, she recalled that, when appointed, “I was much more conscious of the challenge of the top level of church leadership than of the whole ‘first woman’ thing.”
Over time, however, she would be reminded of her gender. “Recently I went to the bank to lodge a cheque. I handed it over to the cashier who took one look at it, passed it back over the desk to me and said: ‘The bishop will have to sign that himself.’ I smiled at her, passed it back over the desk, and said ‘I am he’. She was, of course, mortified. People always are.”
Last week she went to renew her driver’s licence, “and the young guy on the desk looked at my address and said: ‘The Bishop’s House? Wow! You’re married to a bishop?’ Again, I chuckled and said: ‘Em, no . . . I am the bishop,’ and again, he was extremely apologetic.”
People, she said, “don’t mean to be misogynistic by these incidents, and there have been quite a few – they are simply making assumptions.”
“I have done it too – assuming a consultant or an engineer is male, assuming a nurse or a midwife is female. We all do it. We need to watch it – but we don’t intend offence.”
And then there was “my favourite one”, she said, in her contribution to the Mary McAleese Women in Leadership lecture series. It took place at the annual meeting of Irish, Scottish and Welsh Anglican bishops.
The Irish bishops were having a meal when a UK bishop came over to her and told her she didn’t seem to have a room booked. One of the Irish bishops “said hastily: ‘No, no, this isn’t our secretary’. The UK bishop immediately stretched out his hand to shake mine and said: ‘Oh I am so sorry – you must be one of the wives?’ At this point the Irish bishop beside me nearly had apoplexy.
“Again, the bishop concerned was utterly mortified. Of course he was. We all would be. Isn’t it interesting that in this day and age a woman at the senior level table is either bound to be the secretary, or the wife.”
In general, where her brother Irish bishops were concerned, she said, “Every single one of them have been fantastic. I have never had a sense of being inferior, or not being taken seriously.”
Her experience “of being in the senior leadership team has been overwhelmingly positive. They are good men, and they have good hearts. They just need to talk about football less.”