The Scottish Episcopal Church has elected its first woman bishop more than a decade after its General Synod was first permitted to do so. Canon Anne Dyer was elected as the new Bishop of Aberdeen & Orkney, on Thursday of last week.
She has been the Rector of Holy Trinity, Haddington, since 2011, and is a member of the Scottish Episcopal Institute Council and the General Synod. She puts the delay in the election of a woman to the episcopate down to the infrequency of vacancies.
“There has been a will in the Province to elect a woman bishop, but there are only seven bishops,” she said on Friday of last week. “When a vacancy comes along, it does have to be the right person at the right time and place. I have experienced the Scottish Episcopal Church to be a wonderful, welcoming, and inclusive Church to serve in as an ordained woman.”
In June, the Scottish Episcopal Synod voted to allow its clergy to solemnise marriages for same-sex couples in church (News, 8 June). Canon Dyer voted in favour of the change, and has since conducted same-sex weddings in the parish of Haddington.
“But I am very aware in my own congregation and dioceses across our Province that there were some who were very disappointed by this change. A bishop has to be very mindful of those who are finding this difficult, and our change requires us to pay particular attention to everybody’s personal conscience with patience and kindness.”
The diocesan synod of Aberdeen & Orkney was the only one of six in the Church to vote against the change to the marriage canon. “Although the majority were against the change in the canon, the minority is quite a large minority, and there are clerics in Aberdeen & Orkney who have asked to be nominated to take marriages,” she said.
The challenge “will be trying to help the dioceses not be defined by this single issue, but to find a common thing that we share together that we need to be known for and I hope would be the love of God and service to our communities”.
Canon Dyer trained for ordination at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, after studying theology at King’s College, London, and was among the first group of women to be ordained as deacon and priest in the Church of England: in the diocese of Rochester in 1987 and 1994 respectively.
She was Ministry Development Officer in the diocese before serving as Warden of Cranmer Hall, Durham. Before ordination, Canon Dyer had read Chemistry at St Anne’s College, Oxford, and had been a business-systems analyst with Unilever.
“I have lots of experience in encouraging mission and training evangelists: helping people speak about the gospel in a way which is both normal and attractive. I have also been involved in the development of lay and ordained ministry; and this diocese wants to explore the shapes of ministry that are needed right now among them, lay and ordained.”
She is currently chair of the East Lothian Foodbank and lectures regularly in institutions across Edinburgh and the Lothians on fine art and theology. “I love using fine art to explore the questions of life, death, heaven, hell, disappointment, and joy. I find that using pictures is a much easier way for most people into the big theological questions.”
The environment is also important to Canon Dyer, and a challenging issue for her new diocese. “Aberdeen is experiencing a challenge because of the change in economy: the drop in the value of oil.
“The boom years relating to the oil industry are behind the region, and it is moving forward in areas of renewable energy, but that means change for people who live in the area and on the islands. I hope that the Church mind provide a way of engaging with this change, and with God in prayer.”
The see has been vacant since her predecessor, the Rt Revd Dr Robert Gillies, retired in October last year. “The people of Aberdeen have been very patient and prayerful, and I have been receiving wonderful messages from all over the diocese; they are excited and ready now to welcome me as bishop and get on with the next chapter of life,” she said.
Her husband and daughter were also looking forward to exploring the islands and meeting new people.