The Rev Libby Lane is to become the UK’s first bishop
A parish priest from Hale has made history as the first woman to be named as a bishop in the Church of England.
The Rev Libby Lane, a 48-year-old mother of two, is to be the next Bishop of Stockport in Greater Manchester.
It comes more than 20 years after the ordination of the first female priests in the established church and almost a century after the first attempts to open the ministry to women.
After the announcement, she said: “This is unexpected and very exciting.
“On this historic day as the Church of England announces the first woman nominated to be Bishop, I am very conscious of all those who have gone before me, women and men, who for decades have looked forward to this moment. But most of all I am thankful to God.”
She added: “I stand in a long line of women and men whose self giving service has changed the world for good.
“So today I pray will not be simply about one woman called up a new ministry in the church but much more than that, an opportunity to acknowledge all that has gone before and to look ahead to what is still to be done.”
The appointment, which was kept a closely guarded secret, is being formally announced by Downing Street after being approved by the Queen.
Libby Lane pictured with her husband George
The Established Church is now the last great institution of public life in Britain to open its upper reaches to people of both sexes.
The milestone is expected to be the first of a handful of announcements in the coming months of women being admitted to the episcopate
It comes as ministers also prepare to introduce new legislation to fast-track women bishops into the House of Lords.
They hope it will mean the first female clerics will be taking their places among the “Lords Spiritual” of the Upper Chamber before the General Election.
The See of Stockport, a suffragan or junior bishopric within the Diocese of Chester, has been vacant since May when the previous holder, the Rt Rev Robert Atwell, was made Bishop of Exeter.
The historic appointment comes just four weeks after the Church of England’s ruling General Synod formally enacted a change to canon law opening the episcopate to women for the first time.
It is thought that the first female diocesan bishop could be chosen in the New Year. The Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham in the East Midlands signalled recently that female candidates had been considered for its vacancy.
Meanwhile, a bill is being presented to the Commons on Thursday to suspend the current rules governing appointments of bishops to the Lords for 10 years to allow future female bishops to bypass their male colleagues into the upper house.
All three main Westminster parties have signalled their backing for the move, which would allow a limited form of positive discrimination to end the current all-male bishops’ bench in the Lords.
Sam Gyimah, the Cabinet Office minister set to steer the legislation through the Commons, said it was hoped the bill would clear both houses and receive Royal Assent by the spring.
The decision to devote legislative time to the bill, which was not a manifesto commitment, in the final months of the current Parliament is an indication of the level of importance David Cameron attaches to the issue.
Mr Gyimah said: “Thursday is the formal introduction of the Bill in the Commons, it will then be published and will have a date for second reading, if all goes according to plan, early in the New Year with a view to completing the parliamentary stages and receiving Royal Assent before the end of this Parliament.
“Ordinarily there is a period of time before acts come into force, but this would come into effect virtually immediately so it is possible that you will have a woman bishop in the House of Lords by time of the General Election.”
As part of the Church of England’s unique established position, 26 Anglican bishops are entitled to sit in the House of Lords.
While the five most senior figures in the Church – the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and bishops of London, Durham and Winchester – automatically join the upper house, the remaining seats are allotted to those who have been bishops for longest.
As there are more than 40 bishops eligible to sit in the Lords in principle, it means most must have to wait several years for one of the current Lords Spiritual to retire before taking their place.
The new bill would suspend that rule for a decade to give female diocesan bishops priority over their male counterparts if a vacancy on the bishops’ bench opens up.