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Church of England's first woman bishop is witty football fan

23 January 2015, 09:38

London - The Church of England's Manchester United-supporting, saxophone-playing first female bishop is an ordinary woman facing an extraordinary job.

Libby Lane, 48, will have to work within an organisation still deeply divided on whether she, or anyone of her gender, should be a bishop at all.

Lane formally becomes a bishop on Monday during a ceremony in the Gothic splendour of York Minster in northern England.

Friends say her humour and common sense will stand her in good stead, faced with the pressure of being the Church of England's first female bishop since it was founded by King Henry VIII in 1534.

"She's a non-anxious presence, she's a calming feature of life, she's got a very lively sense of humour and her lack of self-importance means she will cope with being the first woman bishop brilliantly," Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said last month.

Lane was appointed Bishop of Stockport, northwest England, in December, five months after the Church of England voted to allow women bishops after decades of bitter debate.

"She's a resilient and well-rooted person so I don't think she'll be thrown by what she faces," said John Pritchard, a former bishop of Oxford who was warden of Cranmer Hall in Durham when Lane trained for the ministry there in the early 1990s.

"She's got mountains of common sense and godliness and I think you need both as a bishop."

 Not alone for long?

Educated at a private girls' school in Manchester and Oxford University, Lane has always been a trendsetter.

She was ordained in 1994, the first year the church accepted women priests, alongside her husband George.

They were one of the first married couples to serve as clergy and have two adult children.

Lane has played several prominent roles, including becoming one of only eight female clergy to act as observers at meetings of the Church of England bishops before the rule-change.

Despite her success, she plays down her appointment, saying it was entirely unexpected.

"If we'd been here a year ago, I would not possibly have imagined that this day would have arrived and that it would be me who was here," she said after being named to the job.

"But here we are and I'm thankful that I have been called to a job that bring an enormous satisfaction and joy."

She will need all her resolve to work alongside conservatives who insist that there can be no place for women in the clergy, let alone at its highest levels.

Reform, an evangelical group within the Church of England which opposes the ordination of women and homosexual clergy, has said it is "concerned about the strain" her appointment will cause.

It wants the church authorities to ensure that conservative evangelical churches can be overseen by a male bishop, rather than Lane, if they choose.

For her part, Lane has said she hopes she will not remain the only woman in the upper echelons of the Church of England's for an extended period.

"I won't be the only one for long, God willing."



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