All eyes on bishops’ benches in House of Lords as first woman takes seat

By ACNS staff
Posted Oct 26, 2015

The Rt. Rev. Rachel Treweek, bishop of Gloucester, makes the Oath of Allegiance as she takes her seat in the House of Lords, the upper house of Britain’s Parliament. Photo: ACNS

[Anglican Communion News Service] The first woman to sit as a bishop in the U.K. parliament has taken her seat. Bishops have played a formal part in the U.K. parliament since before the origins of democracy in the country. Initially as advisers to the Monarch, Anglican bishops now occupy 26 seats in the upper house of Parliament, the House of Lords.

Five of these are reserved for the archbishops of Canterbury and York, and the bishops of London, Durham and Winchester. The remaining 21 places are usually taken by the longest serving diocesan bishops; but following the passage of legislation to allow women to be appointed as bishops, the law was changed to provide that if a vacancy occurs in the 21 places within the next 10 years, female diocesan bishops will take precedence over male bishops.

Wearing convocation robes, the Rt. Rev. Rachel Treweek, bishop of Gloucester, was introduced to the House of Lords Oct. 26 by the archbishop of Canterbury and the bishop of London. The Royal Writ from Queen Elizabeth II was read before Treweek made the oath of allegiance.

The historic significance of the occasion was symbolized by a rare round of applause from other members of the House of Lords as Treweek made her way to the Bishops’ Benches. Traditionally, new Peers are introduced and sworn in with silence; apart from a brief murmur of cheer as the new Peer shakes the hand of the Lords’ Speaker.

The 26 bishops in the House of Lords rarely attend at the same time. A duty bishop’s rota ensures that at least one bishop is in attendance. Other ecclesiastical members of the House of Lords will take part in debates on matters of particular interest or expertise.


Comments (3)

  1. r h lewis (VTS 1963) says:

    One more “glass ceiling” shattered. God speed, Bishop Treweek !!

  2. Joe Parrish says:

    Suppose our US religious leaders had a ‘seat at the table’? The separation of church and state may have ultimately put the nation into a moral talespin, and now even ‘church’ seems to have a muted voice, just one among many faiths. I wonder if politics as usual is producing the most ethical behavior in our nation’s top governing bodies.

    1. Michael R. Scullary says:

      Mr. Parrish, in the UK, things are a bit different overall. Even though Anglicanism is the official state religion, with bishops/archbishops in the more ceremonial House of Lords, organized religion does not impose its will in such a dominant way as it sometimes does over here in the US.

      Our Founders agreed upon the First Amendment as a way of cementing freedom for AND against (organized) religion, which some seem to conveniently forget in political/social discourse. In their time, they were dealing with religious war abroad in Europe, enlightened to speak out against the more humanistic corruptions of organized religion, and I imagine word of some of the more “regrettable” actions on the part of our earliest settlers here (i.e., Salem, MA) made news across the pond.

      I would say that the Episcopal church DOES have a “seat at the table,” but just a more unofficial one more-or-less. In a country that SHOULD value the contributions, perspectives, and differences/similarities of ALL faiths/denominations/groups, I am grateful that we have not yet become the “Christian theocracy” that some of the most vocal critics of other theocracies have mandated for this country.

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