[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.