From boozy party girl to Wellington's first female bishop

Eleanor Sanderson began her journey to becoming a bishop 21 years ago in a West Coast pub.
Nicholas Boyack

Eleanor Sanderson began her journey to becoming a bishop 21 years ago in a West Coast pub.

A boozy West Coast bus trip and a woman called Sally King put Eleanor Sanderson on the path to becoming Wellington's first female bishop.

Sanderson is only New Zealand's fourth female bishop. The story of how she rose to the top job in the normally conservative Anglican Church is, to say the least, unorthodox.

It started with a boozy West Coast bus ride and ended with Sanderson being ordained in the Wellington Cathedral of St Paul in June.

Sally King, left, and Eleanor Sanderson  in 1996. Now a bishop in the Anglican Church, Sanderson wants to track down ...
Supplied

Sally King, left, and Eleanor Sanderson in 1996. Now a bishop in the Anglican Church, Sanderson wants to track down King to thank her for putting her on the path to priesthood.

READ MORE:
* It is not hard to meet your neighbour
* Anglican church to close

 

Sanderson grew-up in a small 400 year-old village in Derbyshire. Despite going to a Church of England school, she was not baptised when she arrived in  New Zealand as a 19-year-old "party girl" looking to explore the world.

 She did a Kiwi Experience tour and on the West Coast hit the pubs with the other backpackers. "I have to be honest, at that point I was up for the partying."

The Right Reverend Dr Eleanor Sanderson became Wellington's first female bishop in June.
SUPPLIED

The Right Reverend Dr Eleanor Sanderson became Wellington's first female bishop in June.

That was in 1996 and King made an impression on Sanderson that she had never forgotten.

 She noticed that King, who she got on well with, did not join them in the drinking sessions.

When she went looking for her, she found her reading a bible.

A discussion followed that would change Sanderson forever.

Ad Feedback

"She just talked about her friendship with Jesus. I had thought about God but I had never thought about who Jesus was."

Sanderson returned to England and, inspired by King, was baptised.

Over the years  she had often thought about the trip and the impact it had on her.

"I would love to find her. All I know is that her name was Sally King. I think she married someone in Auckland."

At Bristol University she studied geography and finished with a BSc in geography. After working briefly as a youth worker, she received  a scholarship with the Port Nicholson Rotary Club and arrived in Wellington.

That resulted in a PHd looking at the interaction between Christian spirituality and community development.

At Victoria University she worked with the university chaplain,   encouraging young people focused on study to think about religion.

In 2006 Sanderson was ordained as a priest and has held a number of roles in the Wellington Diocese, including four years as the vicar in Eastbourne.

"I loved it in Eastbourne. It is a unique community and it has a real village feel to it, which I enjoyed coming from a village that was 400 years old."

Married to a Petone mechanic, Tim, she has two sons Zachary, 9, and Joseph, 7, and in free time  enjoys watching motorsport at Manfeild.

Although proud to be only the fourth female bishop, Sanderson is realistic what it means for the church.

New Zealand first allowed women to be ordained in 1976 and to be only the fourth high-ranking female, showed there was still much work to be done.

At 40, she sees herself as a role model for the future of the church. It is undergoing a generational change and she is  confident that as the next generation emerges, there will be a lot more women in positions of power.

"There are currently very few places where I sit and I am the only woman."

So what is her vision for the church?

As well as many more women in key roles, she is motivated by a desire for greater social justice.

She wants Anglicans to be at the forefront of debate on issues such as refugees and housing, ensuring New Zealand is an inclusive community.

Attendance on a Sunday is dropping and she believes for that to change, the church has to help build strong communities, where it is as seen an integral part of the community.

Before embarking on changing the world,  she would like to track down Sally King.

"I  just want to say thank-you. I just really want to thank her for introducing me to Jesus."

 - Stuff

Ad Feedback
special offers
Ad Feedback