Women have always constituted at least half of the church's membership, but for almost 2,000 years were excluded from any significant part in its leadership. After the example of Jesus, the earliest Christian communities were wholly inclusive in their organisation, but a patriarchal model derived from the pattern of the secular Greco-Roman societies was soon adopted. This restricted women to subordinate roles from which the struggle to escape continues.
However, there were always some courageous and often highly-talented women who sought to exercise a Christian ministry within, but usually outside, the church's structures. Focusing on the Church in England, Trevor Beeson provides short lives of some of these. Among them are several well-known historical figures such as Hilda of Whitby, but the majority of the book celebrates the accomplishments of women in the last two hundred years in religious life, social reform, literature and theology, and above all in the ordained ministry.
More than 5000 women have been ordained to the priesthood so far, and in 2012 the consecration of women as bishops is likely to be authorised. Trevor Beeson reflects on the long-term consequences of a momentous change in the church's life which should result in the release all its members from the restrictions of a still largely male-orientated faith community.
Trevor Beeson was Canon of Westminster Abbey and Dean of Winchester. The author of numerous highly entertaining books, he now lives in Romsey.