The Ordination of a Woman


How long is it since women were first able to be ordained to a preaching and sacramental ministry in the British Isles?

On 17th September 1917, at a Congregational chapel in the Mayfair district of London an ordination service marked the formal commitment and recognition of vocation of two people: Claud Coltman and Constance Todd; Constance and Claud were married (to each other!) the next day. Constance is better known by her married name, Constance Coltman. She was the first woman in the British Isles to be ordained by a mainstream Christian denomination.

Constance Todd, later Coltman, must have been an amazing woman. I wonder what it took for her to publicly discern her call to ordained ministry when she would have known literally no other women in that role?  Strength of faith?  Strength of conviction?  A fire in her belly that meant that she would not, could not rest until she had fully tested the call that she had heard.

The ordination of an engaged couple who fully intended to conduct their ministry as a full and genuine partnership was a sign of a future where men and women would work together as equals. She was a suffragist and it is sobering to realise that she was able to preside at the sacraments before she was able to vote.  British women received limited suffrage in 1919 and full access to the ballot box in 1928.

As I am inspired by the story of Constance Coltman, I wonder who the firebrands are of our time, who are pushing the boundaries of ministry in our churches, who God is calling to do something new, who are ciphers of the kingdom in ways that we struggle to imagine.

Ordained in the midst of the Great War, while the eyes of Europe were fixed firmly on the events taking place at Passchendaele, this ordination service was recognised by those present and by the Christian press at the time as having significance. As the world tore itself apart and the fields of the western front were awash with the blood of hundreds of thousands of young men, the ordination of a woman was a sign of a future that would be different.

Author: Revd Sarah Moore

Sarah Moore is a United Reformed Church minister, and President of the United Reformed Church in Cumbria. She is also a honorary staff member of Cumbria Christian Learning and a board member of Young Clergy Women International, an ecumenical and international network for ordained women aged under forty.

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