‘Archbishop’s intervention needed for me to be a priest'

GUERNSEY’S first woman priest has reflected on her ordination 25 years ago – and how the Archbishop of Canterbury made it happen.

The Rev. Linda Le Vasseur was ordained as Guernsey’s first woman priest on 30 June 1996. She is currently lead chaplain of the Princess Elizabeth Hospital. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 29717280)
The Rev. Linda Le Vasseur was ordained as Guernsey’s first woman priest on 30 June 1996. She is currently lead chaplain of the Princess Elizabeth Hospital. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 29717280)

Eight weeks before Linda Le Vasseur was due to be ordained, on 30 June 1996, she was told it was not possible in Guernsey.

The Church of England had approved women priests in 1992 but it took until 1999 for the law to be changed in Guernsey.

So it took the intervention of then-Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey to ensure that the ordination happened, but it had to be in the UK.

‘I served in Cobo and Castel churches, but eight weeks before my ordinance I was told I could not be priested in Guernsey.

'I had been in training for three years and was a deacon for a year, so it was a surprise.

‘There was a big discussion around how it would be done until fortuitously – and I don’t want to sound like I’m name-dropping – the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey at that time – happened to be in Guernsey at Les Cotils.

‘He said: “You’re this poor woman deacon who can’t get priested? Before I go home it will be sorted out – how would you feel priesting in a cathedral in Winchester?”

‘It seemed very sensible. Cobo and Castel were wonderful – a load of them came over for it, and they seated all the Guernsey people at the front.’

Mrs Le Vasseur said it was a great privilege to be the island’s first woman priest.

‘It’s not because I did anything special, it could have been anyone, but it just happened.’

Her call to serve the church was a long journey which started while qualifying as a teacher, and a friend suggested she train as a minister.

After qualifying Mrs Le Vasseur and her artist husband, Peter, moved to Cornwall before settling in Guernsey and attending Holy Trinity Church. There she became a lay minister and served in that role for some eight years.

The couple were living in St Peter’s and the parish needed a new lay minister, and then members of the congregation asked if she had thought about ordination.

‘I thought to follow this up, privately hoping they would be wrong,’ she said.

She was selected for training after a three-day selection conference – ‘it was a bit like Open University, as a six-week summer school’ – and was ordained deacon in 1995.

‘I always look back on those years with great enthusiasm, I was really inspired to learn.’

Her first communion service in Guernsey after ordination as a priest was a historic event, and she said it was particularly poignant to take place at St Matthew’s Church at Cobo, which was built by a woman.

There was a big attendance.

‘I think people used it as a display of support, because when I came out of the vestry there were hundreds of people there. I could just feel the love, and all the nerves dropped away.’

Mrs Le Vasseur said she had been instructed to never make mistakes because all female priests would be judged on her actions, and she hoped those following her had an easier time.

With islanders now used to female priests, she said it was a marked difference becoming lead chaplain at the hospital, which took years to realise she was the first to do that too.

‘For people at this hospital, it’s not about me being a woman. Gender is simply no issue when you are who you are, accepted as a person.

‘That’s the essence of it really – doing the best job you can, so that people learn what you have to offer.’

. Castel Church is hosting a special joint service with St Matthew’s Church tomorrow from 10.30am, which Mrs Le Vasseur will follow with a lunch with her key supporters over her years in the church.

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