Being first did not occur to me, says female Anglican deacon
Jennie Foster Skelton and Lorita Packwood made history when they were ordained as the first female deacons in the Anglican Church of Bermuda.
The two women were ordained in a special service alongside Wendell Dill on December 11, 2022.
Their ordination was the culmination of years of lay ministry and study with The Anglican Theological Institute of Bermuda, formerly St Mellitus Affiliate: Bermuda. The programme was launched in 2017 to provide a local option for ministry training.
The Right Reverend Nicholas Dill, the Anglican Bishop of Bermuda, explained the significance of the ordination of the new deacons to the wider Anglican community:
“My heart is full of both excitement and gratitude for what God is doing not only in the lives of three wonderful Bermudians but in the life of the church. The ordination of Lorita, Jennie and Wendell came after years of training with the new Anglican Theological Institute of Bermuda, affiliated with St Mellitus College London. Their training has been over three years, the first two resulting in a certificate of theology and ministry – after which they were licensed as lay readers – and this last year a diploma in our ordination course.
“It was an historic new beginning in that two of the three are women.”
Prior to this, the Anglican Church of Bermuda had never ordained women for ministry, despite females playing an integral role in lay ministry within the church.
Mrs Foster Skelton, a musician by profession, has been the music director for The Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity since 2014.
Both she and her husband Gary have been involved in the Anglican Church in England and Bermuda since 2003. Together, the couple have been active in lay ministry, specifically music and youth ministry however ordained ministry was not a part of Mrs Foster Skelton’s life plan.
“Over the years there were a few little tugs, but the big tugs towards ministry came after I started the lay ministry course.
“I was having dreams and the word ordination kept coming up. But I didn’t share it with anyone. And then it started to come up in meetings. Finally, one evening during a session, a visiting ordinand asked to pray for me and my husband. Part of his prayer was ‘Lord I think you are calling one of them to ordained ministry and I think it might be Jennie.’
“He spoke out loud what I was keeping to myself, and I couldn’t ignore it any longer.”
Mrs Foster Skelton continued to pray about it, long after she completed the course in Christian theology and ministry in 2019.
In 2022 an opportunity came for those who had completed the lay training, to pursue additional training for ordained ministry within the Anglican Church.
Mrs Foster Skelton enrolled without really thinking about the fact that if she were to matriculate to ordination, she would be among the first females to be ordained in the Anglican Church in Bermuda.
“Ironically, I used to struggle with the idea of women in ordained ministry. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, but I knew I felt God calling me to it.
“It honestly didn’t occur to me that I would be ‘the first’ when I answered the call. It’s not where my energies were.”
Mrs Foster Skelton encourages any woman who may be feeling the call towards ministry to be very intentional and prayerful in their pursuit of it.
“Not everyone is called to ordained ministry. So for anyone, women or otherwise, feeling a call towards it, my advice is to test that call. Pray continually and seek counsel. If God has put a call on your heart, I believe that He will make it clear.
“And know that when God begins a good work, He brings it to completion in His time.”
The ordination of Mrs Foster Skelton and Ms Packwood marks a turn in the history of the Anglican Church of Bermuda, after years of internal discussions on the topic.
“The ordination of two Bermudian women into holy orders of the Anglican church of Bermuda is an exciting milestone in our church’s history,” said Bishop Dill.
“Although the possibility has been on the books for ten years, it has now become a reality – long overdue, some would say. But I am delighted to have Reverend Jennie and Reverend Lorita become part of the team; trained in Bermuda for Bermuda.”
He continued: “Apart from their unique individual callings and gifts they bring the presence of women in leadership to the forefront to better reflect the community that we seek to serve and reach.”
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