Imogen’s story of standing up for her rights as a mum against a gender-biased institution like the Church is inspirational and filled with hope. It shows that progress can be and is still being made by strong women all over the country, standing their ground and making new rules one step at a time.
I found out how it feels to be told you can’t do something – not because of anything I had done or said – but simply because of who I was – my identity.Imogen Vibert
I was ordained a priest in the Anglican church in 2002, when I was 29. This was 8 years after the first women were made priests in the C of E. When you consider that there had only been male priests for the best part of 2000 years, it was still a very new thing!
Around 2002 there were still a good number of people around who disagreed with the ordination of women and I found myself having to defend my sense of calling on more than one occasion. In a backhanded way, this turned out to be a hugely important life experience, because it gave me an insight into how it feels to be told you can’t do something – not because of anything I had done or said – but simply because of who I was – my identity.
Although my experience of discrimination was quite minor, it was as if the scales fell from my eyes and I suddenly understood why racism, homophobia, sexism, and disability discrimination are so deeply wrong. I’m also aware of how insidious these attitudes are – we are all susceptible to them, myself included. It has left me with a passion for equality, starting with becoming aware of my own prejudices and using my position to gently help shed light on this for others.
After ordination I took up a training post called a curacy for 4 years. Having got married 3 weeks after my ordination, I went on to have my two children, 20 months apart during my curacy (I know!). The male vicar who was training me was delighted about my first pregnancy but not quite as much about the second!
At the time most ordained women tended to be older, so we couldn’t find a single example of another woman who had had a baby during a curacy and returned to work part time, which was what I wanted to do. In the end I had to become a trailblazer, working out all the maternity leave and pay conditions which other ordained women went on to use as a benchmark.
Since having children I have managed to remain working part-time in the Church which is quite a feat. Part-time posts are hard to find, unless you are willing to work for free, which many retired priests do. I hope that with time, the Church will adapt to more flexible working as more priests seek to balance parenthood with their vocation.
For the last 8 years I have been lucky to work as a school chaplain in a C of E girl’s secondary school, a post which I really love, and a job which has been compatible with school holidays for my own children – the holy grail!
My job is to oversee everything to do with the school’s Christian ethos, and also to offer pastoral support to everyone in the school community, staff and students, of all faiths and none. It is a huge privilege to accompany young people and adults through the ups and downs of life – I have often been amazed at the healing power of offering a listening ear, a companionable silence, or a quiet prayer.
With hindsight it has often been the times when I have felt least adequate that I have been used most powerfully. I appreciate that many people have a problem with organised religion, often with good reason – the Church as an institution is deeply flawed.
But for me, there is a difference between ‘religion’ and my faith in God. It is that simple, everyday connection with the goodness I call God which gives me a deep sense of being loved, and a desire to see and nurture goodness and faith in others.
This is what I believe I have been called to do with my life and I am certain that I have been called to do it as I am – as a friend, Mum, wife, daughter, Netflix watcher, salsa dance enthusiast and priest.
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