27th March 1969

The Church of Scotland ordains its first female minister

“Slightly-built, grey-haired Miss Catherine McConnachie stood in the centre of a group of Aberdeen ministers last night in a historic moment in the annals of the Church of Scotland,” reported the Aberdeen Press and Journal on 28 March 1969. “With the laying on of hands she became the first woman minister in the Church of Scotland – ordained by the Presbytery of Aberdeen in St Mary’s, King Street, the kirk where she served as a deaconess for 12 years.”

McConnachie was certainly not new to serving the church. The same paper had reported on 13 March that she had been deaconess at the same St Mary’s in which she would be ordained before her retirement in 1967.

Title confusion

Upon her ordination, McConnachie took the title Reverend, but still it was causing some readers of the Evening Express some confusion. In the 26 March 1969 issue, its Ruby’s Postbag column addressed the issue, noting that “father or padre comes easy to the tongue when it’s a man… [and] as most Church of Scotland ministers are referred to merely as Mr, I daresay it will continue to be Miss McConnachie. But not, I may say, to many of her parishioners… To them she will always be ‘Sister’. For they have called her that since her early days as deaconess at St George in the West.”

St George in the West didn’t exist by 1969, but many of the parishioners that McConnachie had served there had followed her to Tillydrone-Hayton where she would initially serve following ordination.

Scotland leads the way

The Church of Scotland was decades ahead of the Church of England in moving to ordain women as ministers, but the battle to reach that point was still hard-fought. Speaking to the BBC News website in 2018, Margaret Forrester recalled how she and five other women had written an open letter to the Kirk in 1967 petitioning for the change. “I remember somebody saying in all seriousness that women could not be ministers because their voices don’t carry,” she told the broadcaster. “Somebody else said that women’s brains can’t manage Hebrew.”

But, in the face of opposition, they persisted and, in May the following year, their campaign bore fruit when the General Assembly voted for female ordination. On 24 May 1968, the Belfast Telegraph reported that “by a large majority, the 1500 commissioners to the Scottish General Assembly decided women should be eligible for ordination.”



Other events that occured in March

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