Rising numbers of women are entering the priesthood as a second career, Church of England figures show.
Women are being encouraged to join after movements such as #MeToo boosted their confidence and prompted male clergy to offer them more support, church leaders suggested.
Following in the footsteps of the Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, who joined the Church after a successful career in nursing, the number of women aged 40 to 54 being accepted for ordination has grown by 32 per cent in two years.
Catherine Nancekievill, the church’s head of discipleship and vocation, said that “changing attitudes are definitely a factor”.
“Men actually championing women’s ministry and getting behind it really seems to have shifted over the last ten years, and congregations becoming more accepting as well,” she said.
Women who had come of age when female priests were first allowed in 1994 were pursuing vocations only more after 20 or more years in their first career, she added.
“They may well have got into careers and families, and that calling might have been there but they might not have actually taken these steps forward, because once you get into your 30s and 40s you just get very busy with lots of things that are happening.
“There are so many more women in ordained ministry, it’s much more visible, they can see those people around and about, that actually becomes something that is possible for them.”Catherine Nancekievill, head of discipleship and vocation
“Now those women are into their 50s and their later 40s and that calling is still there.
“Maybe they’ve had a bit of a career, their children have left or are in their teens, and that calling has come back to them.
“Now there are so many more women in ordained ministry, it’s much more visible, they can see those people around and about, that actually becomes something that is possible for them.”
Many commentators have also cited the importance of Church role models, including Dame Mullally, who was chief nursing officer until 2004, and other female bishops such as Libby Lane, Rachel Treweek and recently-appointed Bishop of Bristol Vivienne Faull.
The growth of “celebrity vicars”, such as the Reverend Richard Coles, who appeared on Strictly Come Dancing, and the Reverend Kate Bottley, who came to prominence on Gogglebox, has also been suggested as influencing rising interest in the priesthood.
The figures also showed that the number of people aged under 32 recommended to train for ordination this year has risen by nearly a third compared to two years ago.
Almost three in 10 of those entering training for the priesthood this year are expected to be under the age of 32.
Women make up 54 per cent of this year’s candidates, the highest ever proportion.