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Reform Magazine | September 19, 2017

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In the footsteps of Constance Coltman

In the footsteps of Constance Coltman

Wendy Williams was ordained exactly 43 years after Constance Coltman. Even then, becoming a minister was not easy for a woman

I have a special reason to celebrate the centenary of Constance Coltman’s ordination on 17 September: I was ordained on the same anniversary day, in 1960 at Market Harborough Congregational Church, Leicestershire. The Revd W Gordon Robinson informed the congregation that it was a historic date, when Constance Todd had been ordained along with Claud Coltman, who was to become her husband the next day. Later, when I conducted services in Warwick Road Congregational Church, Coventry, I had the pleasure of meeting them there.

Even though I made my application 44 years after Constance was accepted for theological training in Mansfield College, Oxford, entrance for women was still not guaranteed. In May 1956, while a student at Bangor University, I received a call to ministry. One sentence in a sermon stating the necessity to proclaim the Gospel to men, women and children gripped me. I knew God had spoken because the last hymn was one that had been sung when I pledged my loyalty to Christ: ‘Beneath the Cross of Jesus I Feign Would Take My Stand’.

Months of praying, study and self-examination followed. Then, in my Christmas vacation, I had a meeting with the Principal of Lancashire Independent College. He told me a decision had been taken to accept no more women candidates. The Yorkshire United Congregational College had also closed its doors some years before. I insisted I must fulfil my calling. He suggested that, if I felt so confident, I should write to the college committee asking permission to apply for training including a further degree.

Three months later I was called before the board to explain myself and deliver a part of a sermon previously submitted. The consensus was favourable but the principal, Dr Robinson, rose to his feet telling me I had put all my eggs in one basket. If, at the end of three years, no church called me to minister, what would be my feelings and what would I do? I had not expected such negative thoughts. I said I would not know my feelings until the time came, and that I seriously believed that if God closed one door, he would open another. …

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This is an extract from an article that was published in the September 2017 edition of  Reform

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