NORTHUMBERLAND will soon have a female Bishop, after it was announced that Lesley Dennis of the Open Episcopal Church is to be consecrated in June.
Now Lesley, from Lowick, is looking forward to six months of organisation ahead of the ceremony.
“I have to find a venue for the consecration,” she says, and that is not the only thing to be prepared.
“We have a church conference this year in Lowick,” she goes on, “so I’m hosting that, and it means that the whole church will be there to see me be consecrated, which will be lovely. Altogether, it’s a little stressful, but very exciting.”
Even more exciting, given that the decision to make Lesley Bishop was made without her suspecting anything.
“I was gobsmacked when I heard about what was going to be happening,” she says.
“I didn’t expect to be made Bishop at all. Apparently I was elected unanimously, without me even being aware of it.”
Bishop Elect Lesley was born and grew up in Sunderland, where she married and had two children.
When her children, Samantha and Adam, were of school age, Lesley embarked on a degree in English at the University of Sunderland.
In 1994 she qualified from Durham University as a secondary school teacher. Lesley taught English in Ashington for many years and was promoted successively to become head of department and then an assistant head teacher.
She recently made a decision to switch to teaching Religious Studies at secondary school level on a part-time basis.
She is now currently studying for a second degree in Theology and Ministry at Lindisfarne Regional Training Partnership (LRTP) and Durham University.
Since becoming a priest, Lesley has developed her ministry with a range of activities. These include writing and leading Christian courses for adults, setting up a community cafe and performing chaplaincy work in hospitals and schools. She also runs Messy Angles, which incorporates Bible stories for children with arts and crafts.
“It’s a great idea, because sometimes I think the word ‘church’ puts people off. But the kids love it, we do a lot of crafts and then everyone sits down together for a Sunday dinner.”
In August 2011 Lesley entered into a civil partnership with her partner of 18 years.
They are currently converting a Lowick cottage into a Christian bed and breakfast where they will offer hospitality and retreats, “although it will be for anyone else as well. We especially hope to be able to offer some respite to foster carers and their wards,” says Lesley.
“We are foster carers ourselves, and have been for the last 11 years.
“We’re like people’s grannies! We just have the kids for a week or two weeks at a time, to give their carers a proper break, but we do have two children who we look after every year.
“My new post will mean a lot of travelling,” she says, but that is a feature of the Open Episcopal Church, and one that Lesley is keen to preserve.
“It’s a massive diocese,” she says, “all the way from the Tweed to Yorkshire, across to Cumbria.”
And Lesley is already thinking of walking in the footsteps of the many saints who travelled along the Northumbrian coast spreading the gospels.
“I want to do a walk - it couldn’t be in one go, but we could start in the six-week holiday - from St Peter’s Church, in Sunderland, where Bede was a monk, up the coast. There’s such a great tradition of people getting out into the open air, bringing God to people.
“Hopefully we can do that, because we are a church of people, not buildings. I’m very up for weddings, civil partnerships, open air communion, blessings and everything else, out of doors.”
The Open Episcopal Church, a liberal Catholic denomination, is a vocal and active champion of religious equality and was the first in Britain to ordain a woman bishop and to perform religious wedding ceremonies for gay couples.
The church, having consecrated the first woman bishop for England in 2003 and for Wales in 2007, consecrated The Right Reverend Helen Hamilton as the first woman bishop for Scotland in June 2012.