IN the past millennium the University Church of St Mary the Virgin has witnessed the Reformation, the trial of an Archbishop and the beginning of the Oxford Movement, but had never been led by a woman – until now.

Reverend Charlotte Bannister-Parker - daughter of pioneering athlete Sir Roger Bannister - became acting priest in charge of the church in High Street on Christmas Day.

She will continue in the role until Revd Dr William Lamb takes over as full-time priest in charge on May 2, running the church along with the rest of its team.

Despite the historic nature of her appointment, the Church of England minister said she did not feel under pressure.

She said: "I do not feel expectation, much more I feel honour and privilege to be in such a historic position.

"The church is in an interregnum and when that happens the important thing is that it is run more by a whole team.

"We are trying to reassure the congregation that they are being heard and looked after and that everything is functioning normally.

"But we are also preparing for the arrival of a new leader.

"As the university church it is a big responsibility."

Since Revd Canon Brian Mountford left the church last Easter Revd Bannister-Parker, the daughter of Sir Roger and Lady Moyra Bannister, has helped run the church along with churchwardens, assistants and Revd Alan Ramsey.

Revd Ramsey and Revd Bannister-Parker ran the church together in the interregnum before he began work on a master's degree, leaving her in sole charge.

In addition to making her the first female priest in charge it has given her the challenge of keeping the church vibrant until Revd Dr Lamb arrives.

She said: ""I want to make sure all the good things we do continue and keep the church as an exciting place to worship and a place for theological debate.

"It has to be a place to welcome newcomers.

"When the new priest comes he will shape the church for the next decade."

As with many modern churches, the University Church offers much more than just traditional worship.

Revd Bannister-Parker said she was keen to continue that, including a series of discussions with scientists, theologians and poets about liberalism that runs until the end of February.

She said:"During the interregnum our numbers, in terms of our regular congregation have not just kept up but have grown.

"Attendance for the weekly groups we put on has also been very high.

"It is a really lovely time for the congregation to have space to breath and to find out what is at the heart of their ministry."

Revd Bannister-Parker has also served as an associate priest at St Michael and All Angels in Oxford between spells at the University Church.

She spent some time working with Mother Theresa in India in the 1980s and was in Bosnia in the 1990s during civil war in the former Yugoslavia.

Now her challenge as the first woman in charge of the University Church is to help it make the transition to the next stage.

She said: "My job is to see Revd Dr Lamb settle in and get up to speed and then let him sail the ship forward.

"That will be very exciting."