CAPTION: Shirley Ann Williams campaigned for women's ordination as a member of the General Synod

Remembering a Courageous Campaigner for Women and Lay People in the Church

Posted: 10th May, 2021

Shirley Ann Williams was an “enthusiastic and committed” lay person who played a key part in the campaign to allow women to be ordained in the Church of England.

She sat on the General Synod from 1985 to 2010 and worked tirelessly as part of the Central Council for the Movement for the Ordination of Women (MOW).

She was overjoyed when MOW achieved its goal in 1994 and continued to support many female deacons on their journey to priesthood.

She went on to be a member of WATCH (Women and the Church).  She also chaired the National Working Party for the Ecumenical Decade of Christians in Solidarity with Women (from 1988 to 1998) and the Churches Working for Women Group.

Shirley Ann was one of the first recipients of the St Boniface Award in 2019

Her former colleague and friend, Anne Foreman, said “Shirley Ann was a woman of courage and conviction and a campaigner!

“She was an early and articulate advocate for the role of committed lay people in serving and shaping the work of the church in partnership with clergy.”

Shirley Ann was born in 1933 and grew up in Coventry. She went to Leeds University and then worked as a buyer for Selfridges in London, before moving to Plymouth in Devon in the late 1950s.

She was passionate about theatre and met her husband Paul when she was the director of a local theatre company and he the stage manage.

Shirley Ann went on to be a speech and drama teacher and taught at schools in Exeter, as well as being an examiner for LAMDA. Her theatrical skills were used to good effect when she later tutored clergy in the art of preaching, communications and public speaking.

As well as campaigning for women in the Church and sitting on General Synod, Shirley Ann gave decades of service to the Diocese of Exeter and the rural community in which she lived in a huge variety of posts.

“She could at times be tough, she was also personally warm, encouraging, interested in others and she had a wicked sense of humour.” Ed Moffat, Assistant Diocesan Secretary

She sat on Exeter Diocesan Synod (where she was Chair of the House of Laity) and Ottery Deanery Synod. She also sat on a number of other committees and groups including the Royal Board of Patronage and Diocesan Board of Patronage.

She was also a stalwart of the Churches Together stand at the Devon County Show for more than 20 years.

She was also an influential member of the national Open Synod group and edited its magazine.

Queen’s Maundy Money

Ed Moffat, the Diocese of Exeter’s Assistant Diocesan Secretary, said “Shirley-Ann wasn’t afraid to disagree with people wearing dog-collars, including bishops.

“She could at times be tough, she was also personally warm, encouraging, interested in others and she had a wicked sense of humour.”

In 2016, Shirley-Ann was a recipient of the Queen’s Maundy Money at St George’s Chapel, Windsor.

In 2019, she was one of the first winners of the Bishop of Exeter’s St Boniface Award, for Christians in Devon who have gone ‘above and beyond’ in their service to the Church and their community.

Shirley-Ann received her medal in a service at Exeter Cathedral and said at the time she was “thrilled and very chuffed” to have been nominated.

She died on Friday 12 March aged 87.

The last word goes to Dr Jamie Harrison, Chair of the General Synod House of Laity, who described Shirley Ann as “A great role model, kind, gracious and wise. We miss such generous spirits in our midst.”