Ordination of women in the Anglican Communion

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Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected in 2006 as the first female Presiding Bishop in the history of the Episcopal Church and also the first female primate in the Anglican Communion.[1]

The ordination of women in the Anglican Communion has become increasingly accepted in recent years.


Some provinces within the Anglican Communion, such as the Episcopal Church in the United States of America (TEC), the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, the Anglican Church of Canada and the Anglican Church of Australia, ordain women as deacons, priests and bishops, while a number of other provinces, as noted in the table below, have removed canonical bars to women bishops but have not consecrated any. Other provinces ordain women as deacons and priests but not as bishops; others still as deacons only; and seven provinces have yet to approve the ordination of women to any order of ministry.

Within provinces which permit the ordination of women, approval of enabling legislation is largely a diocesan responsibility. There may, however, be individual dioceses which do not endorse the legislation, or do so only in a modified form, as in those dioceses which ordain women only to the diaconate (such as the Diocese of Sydney in the Anglican Church of Australia), regardless of the fact that the ordination of women to all three orders of ministry is canonically possible.

The ordination of women has been a controversial issue throughout the Anglican Communion. By 2012, however, 28 of the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion ordain women as priests and 17 have removed all barriers to women becoming bishops.

Most Anglican provinces have taken formal or informal steps to provide pastoral care and support for those who cannot in conscience accept the ministry of women as priests. The Church of England, for example, has created the office of Provincial Episcopal Visitor (colloquially known as "flying bishops") to minister to clergy, laity and parishes who do not in conscience accept the ministry of women priests. These are suffragan bishops, appointed by the metropolitans, whose main purpose is to be available for this ministry.

There have been a number of breakaway groups established by conservative Anglicans who see the ordination of women as representative of a trend away from traditional or orthodox doctrine. The Continuing Anglican Movement was started in 1977 after women began to be ordained in the United States. The larger groupings within the Continuing movement have been increasingly active[clarification needed] following the publication by the Vatican of the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus in November 2009.[citation needed] Anglicanorum Coetibus provides a canonical structure for groups of former Anglicans to enter into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.

First ordinations[edit]


The first woman ordained to the priesthood in the Anglican Communion was Florence Li Tim-Oi, who was ordained on 25 January 1944 by Ronald Hall, Bishop of Victoria, Hong Kong in response to the crisis among Anglican Christians in China caused by the Japanese invasion. To avoid controversy, she resigned her licence (though not her priestly orders) after the end of the war.

In 1971, again in Hong Kong, Jane Hwang and Joyce Bennett were ordained as priests by Bishop Gilbert Baker. At the same time, Li Tim-Oi was officially recognised again as a priest.[2]

In 1974, in the United States, 11 women (known as the "Philadelphia Eleven") were controversially ordained to the priesthood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, by three retired Episcopal Church bishops. Four more women (the "Washington Four") were ordained in 1975 in Washington D.C. All of these ordinations were ruled "irregular" because they had been done without the authorization of the Episcopal Church's General Convention.

In 1975, the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC) passed enabling legislation for women priests; the first six women priests in the ACC were ordained in November 1976.[3]

In 1976, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church authorized the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate.[4] At the same time, the previous ordinations were regularized. The first regular ordination occurred on 1 January 1977, when Jacqueline Means was ordained at the Episcopal Church of All Saints, Indianapolis.[5]

In 1977, the Anglican Church in New Zealand ordained five female priests.[6]

In 1983, the Anglican Church in Kenya ordained a woman priest, and the Anglican Church in Uganda ordained three.[7]

In 1992, the general synod of the Anglican Church of Australia approved legislation allowing dioceses to decide whether to ordain women to the priesthood. In the same year, 90 women were ordained in Australia and two others who had been ordained overseas were recognised ("92 in 92".) [8]

In 1992, the Church of England authorized the ordination of woman priests, with ordinations beginning in 1994. The experience of the first women priests and their congregations was the premise of the television programme The Vicar of Dibley.[9] The legality of the ordination of women in the Church of England was challenged in civil courts by Paul Williamson and others.


The first woman bishop in the Anglican Communion was Barbara Harris, who was ordained suffragan bishop of Massachusetts in the United States in February 1989. Organized opposition to the consecration of women bishops was led by the now defunct Episcopal Synod of America. By November 2009 the Episcopal Church had elected and consecrated 17 women as bishops within the continental United States,[10] most recently the Rt Revd Diane Jardine Bruce and the Rt Revd Mary Douglas Glasspool, who were elected as suffragan bishops in the Diocese of Los Angeles in December 2009 and consecrated on 15 May 2010. The election of Bishop Glasspool, who is openly gay and lives with her partner of 20 years, has attracted worldwide attention owing to the continued controversy over gay bishops in Anglicanism.[11]

The Episcopal Church in the United States has also elected the first woman primate (or senior bishop of a national church), the Most Revd Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, who was elected as Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church at the 2006 General Convention. She began her nine year term on 3 November 2006.


The current situation regarding women's ordination in the Anglican Communion can be seen in the following table:

Bishops (consecrated) Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia; Australia; Canada; Ireland; Southern Africa; South India; United States; Cuba (extra-provincial diocese)[citation needed]
Bishops (none yet consecrated) Bangladesh, Brazil, Central America, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, North India, Philippines, Scotland, Sudan, Uganda, Wales[citation needed]
Priests Burundi, England, Indian Ocean, Jerusalem and the Middle East, Kenya, Korea, Rwanda, West Indies, West Africa[citation needed]
Deacons Southern Cone, Congo, Pakistan, Tanzania[citation needed]
No ordination of women Central Africa, Melanesia, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, South East Asia[citation needed]

Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia[edit]

The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia first ordained women as priests in 1977, and was the first Anglican province to elect a woman as a diocesan bishop when in 1989 the Rt Revd Penny Jamieson was elected Bishop of Dunedin. She retired in 2004. Then in 2008 the Diocese of Christchurch elected the Rt Revd Victoria Matthews, former Bishop of Edmonton in the Anglican Church of Canada, as 8th Bishop of Christchurch. In 2013, Helen-Ann Hartley became the first woman ordained in the Church of England chosen to be bishop when she was elected as the diocesan bishop of the Diocese of Waikato in New Zealand. Bishop Helen-Ann was ordained/consecrated bishop and installed/enthroned as the 7th Bishop Of Waikato on February 22nd 2014. [12]

Anglican Church of Canada[edit]

Following the first ordinations of women as priests in 1976,[13] the first woman bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada was the Rt Revd Victoria Matthews. She was elected suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Toronto on 19 November 1993 and was ordained to the episcopate on 12 February 1994. She later was the first woman elected as a diocesan bishop in Canada when she was elected as Bishop of Edmonton in 1997, an office she held until 2007 when she resigned. She was subsequently elected Bishop of Christchurch in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia in 2008.

Since Bishop Matthews’ election, as of March 2010, six more women have been elected to the episcopate in Canada. They are the Rt Revd Ann Tottenham (suffragan, Toronto, 1997); the Rt Revd Sue Moxley (suffragan, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, 2004; diocesan, 2007); the Rt Revd Jane Alexander (diocesan, Edmonton, 2008); the Rt Revd Linda Nicholls (suffragan, Toronto, 2008); the Rt Revd Barbara Andrews (Bishop Suffragan to the Metropolitan with responsibilities for the Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior, 2009); and the Rt Revd Lydia Mamakwa (Area Bishop for Northern Ontario within the Diocese of Keewatin, with special responsibility for the predominantly aboriginal parishes of the area, 2010).[14]

Anglican Church of Australia[edit]

The Anglican Church of Australia began to ordain women as priests in 1992, and in the late 1990s embarked on a protracted debate over the ordination of women as bishops, a debate that was ultimately decided though the church's Appellate Tribunal, which ruled on 28 September 2007 that there is nothing in the church's constitution that would prevent the consecration of a woman priest as a bishop in a diocese which by ordinance has adopted the law of the Church of England Clarification Canon 1992, which paved the way for the ordination of women as priests. Following the agreement at the April 2008 Bishops' Conference of the "Women in the Episcopate" protocol for the provision of pastoral care to those who cannot in conscience accept the ministry of a woman bishop, the first women ordained as bishops were the Rt Revd Kay Goldsworthy (Assistant Bishop, Diocese of Perth) on 22 May 2008, and the Rt Revd Barbara Darling (Assistant Bishop, Anglican Diocese of Melbourne) on 31 May 2008. The third woman ordained as bishop was Genieve Blackwell, Regional Bishop of Wagga Wagga, in the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn, on 31 March 2012.

Scottish Episcopal Church[edit]

The Scottish Episcopal Church ordained its first women as priests in 1994 and in 2003 provided for the ordination of women as bishops. The nomination of the Revd Canon Alison Peden as one of three nominees for election as Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway in January 2010 attracted wide attention. Although Peden was not elected, her nomination was regarded as highly significant for Anglicanism in the United Kingdom.[citation needed]

Church of England[edit]

In 2005, 2006 and 2008 the General Synod of the Church of England voted in favour of removing the legal obstacles preventing women from becoming bishops. The process is currently under way but is not progressing quickly due to problems in providing appropriate mechanisms for the protection of those who cannot accept this development. On 7 July 2008 the synod held a more than seven hour debate on the subject and narrowly voted in favour of a national statutory code of practice to make provision for opponents, though more radical provisions (such as separate structures or overseeing bishops) proposed by opponents of the measure failed to win the majority required across each of the three houses (bishops, clergy and laity).[15]

The task of taking this proposal further fell largely to a revision committee established by the synod to consider the draft legislation on enabling women to become bishops in the Church of England. When, in October 2009, the revision committee released a statement[16] indicating its proposals would include a plan to vest some functions by law in male bishops who would provide oversight for those unable to receive ministry of women as bishops or priests, there was widespread concern both within and outside the Church of England about the appropriateness of such legislation. In the light of the negative reaction to the proposal, the revision committee subsequently announced the abandonment of this recommendation.[17]

The synod, meeting in York from 9–12 July 2010, considered a measure that again endorsed the ordination of women as bishops. The measure included provisions for individual bishops to allow alternative oversight for traditionalists who object to serving under them, but opponents of the measure argued for stronger provisions. A compromise plan put forward by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York (involving the creation of a mechanism providing for "co-ordinate jurisdiction" in parishes unable to receive the ministry of a female bishop whereby a male bishop would fulfil episcopal function) was endorsed by the House of Bishops and the House of Laity but narrowly failed (90 votes against to 85 in favour) in the House of Clergy.[18] The draft measure, with only minor amendments, passed in all three houses on 12 July 2010, to be considered by individual dioceses. The measure was approved by 42 of the 44 dioceses, but an amendment by the House of Bishops, offering further concessions to opponents, meant that many proponents of the measure would have reluctantly voted it down, and the synod at York in July 2012 adjourned the decision to a later synod.[19]

On 20 November 2012, the General Synod failed to pass the proposed legislation for the ordination of women as bishops. The measure was lost after failing to achieve the two-thirds majority required in the House of Laity after being passed by the House of Bishops and the House of Clergy.[20]

Outcome of the 2012 General Synod vote on admitting women to the episcopate[21]
House For Against Abstentions % in favour
House of Bishops 44 3 2 90%
House of Clergy 148 45 77%
House of Laity 132 74 64%
Total 324 122

Opposition to women bishops in the synod was led by some members of the Evangelical Reform group and the Anglo-Catholic Forward in Faith group, theologically different factions united by a more conservative interpretation of Christian doctrine with regard to the ordination of women. Following the vote, the departing Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, his successor, Justin Welby, and the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, each publicly expressed dismay at the outcome.[22] At its meeting on 7 February 2013 the House of Bishops decided that eight senior women clergy, elected regionally, would participate in all meetings of the House of Bishops until such time as there were six female bishops to sit as of right.[23]

In May 2013 the House of Bishops expressed its commitment "to publishing new ways forward to enable women to become bishops."[24] In July 2013, the synod decided to reintroduce legislation to be addressed in November.

On 20 November 2013 the General Synod of the Church of England approved a package of measures as the next steps to enable women to become bishops in the Church of England, generally welcoming a package of proposals outlined for Draft Legislation of Women in the Episcopate (GS 1924). The Steering Committee's package of proposals followed the mandate set by the Synod in July and included the first draft of a House of Bishops declaration and a disputes resolution procedure. The debate invited Synod to welcome the proposals and five guiding principles already agreed by the House of Bishops.

The following motion was carried with 378 votes for, 8 against and 25 abstentions: "That this Synod, welcoming the package of proposals in GS 1924 and the statement of principles endorsed by the House of Bishops at paragraph 12 of GS 1886, invite the House of Bishops to bring to the Synod for consultation in February a draft declaration and proposals for a mandatory disputes resolution procedure which build on the agreement reached by the Steering Committee as a result of its facilitated discussions." The synod also voted to progress the legislation to its next legislative stage of revision at its meeting in February 2014.[25]

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, welcomed the development and in Prime Minister's Questions on 20 November 2013 said that he looked forward to seeing a woman bishop sitting in the House of Lords.[26] Column 1225 Hansard

Church in Wales[edit]

On 2 April 2008, the Governing Body of the Church in Wales considered, but did not pass, a bill to enable women to be ordained as bishops. Though the bill was passed by the House of Laity (52 to 19) and the House of Bishops (unanimously), it failed by three votes (27 to 18) to secure the required minimum two-thirds majority in the House of Clerics. However, the Church in Wales decisively ended the role of provincial bishop, whose responsibility was to minister to opponents. On 12 September 2013, the Governing Body passed a bill to enable women to be ordained as bishops, although none will be ordained for at least a year.[27] [28]

Church of Ireland[edit]

The Church of Ireland approved the ordination of women as priests and bishops in 1990, and ordained its first women as priests in that year. In 2013 the Church of Ireland appointed Pat Storey as the first female bishop in Ireland and the UK.[29]

Extraprovincial churches[edit]

In addition to the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion, there are six Extra-provincial Anglican churches which function semi-autonomously under limited metropolitical oversight and are largely self-determining when it comes to the ordained ministry. Several have provided for the ordination of women as priests for some years.

The Episcopal Church of Cuba is the only extra-provincial church to ordain women as bishops, the first of whom was the Rt Revd Nerva Cot Aguilera who was appointed as a bishop suffragan in 2007.[30] Bishop Aguilera was appointed by the Metropolitan Council, the ecclesiastical authority for the Episcopal Church of Cuba which in January 2010 appointed the Right Revd Griselda Delgato Del Carpio (who, along with Bishop Aguilera, was one of the first two women priests ordained in Cuba in 1986) as bishop coadjutor (assistant bishop with the right of succession).[31] She was ordained to the episcopate on 7 February 2010, and will be installed as diocesan following the retirement of the present incumbent, the Rt Revd Miguel Tamayo-Zaldívar, later in 2010.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "US Episcopal Church installs first female presiding bishop". Australia: Journeyonline.com.au. 2006-11-07. Retrieved 2010-11-19. 
  2. ^ "When Hong Kong ordained two further women priests in 1971 (Joyce Bennett and Jane Hwang), Florence Li Tim-Oi was officially recognised as a priest by the diocese." http://anorderlyaccount.com/index.php/static2/the_ac_tec_and_acna
  3. ^ http://www.anglican.ca/search/faq/039.htm
  4. ^ http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/06082007/history_church.html
  5. ^ "Woman Episcopal Priest Celebrates Communion", New York Times, 3 January 1977
  6. ^ "Female ordination in the Episcopal Church, USA (ECUSA)". Religioustolerance.org. 1976-09-16. Retrieved 2010-11-19. 
  7. ^ Anglican Church of Australia website.
  8. ^ Anglican Church of Australia website.
  9. ^ Joy Carroll (September 2002). Beneath the Cassock: The Real-life Vicar of Dibley. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-00-712207-1. 
  10. ^ Who are the women bishops in the Episcopal Church?
  11. ^ Episcopal Life Online May 15, 2010
  12. ^ "Sunderland woman is Church of England’s first female priest to become a bishop – in New Zealand". http://www.sunderlandecho.com. September 11, 2013. Retrieved September 11, 2013. 
  13. ^ Ordination of Women in the Anglican Church of Canada
  14. ^ Wawatay News Online item, May 13, 2010.
  15. ^ Butt, Riazat (8 July 2008). "Church vote opens door to female bishops". The Guardian (London). 
  16. ^ Revision Committee on Women in the Episcopate
  17. ^ Breakthrough with Revision Committee
  18. ^ Guardian Online item, Church of England faces crisis as Synod rejects concession on women bishops, 10 July 2010
  19. ^ Guardian item, Archbishop warns against delay over women bishops, 12 July 2010.
  20. ^ "Women bishops: PM 'very sad' at Church of England rejection". BBC News. 21 November 2012. Retrieved 22 November 2012. 
  21. ^ "General Synod Rejects Draft Legislation on Women Bishops". Church of England news releases. Retrieved 22 November 2012. 
  22. ^ Richard Alleyne; John Bingham (20 November 2012). "Women bishops 'in my lifetime', insists Archbishop John Sentamu". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 22 November 2012. 
  23. ^ http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2013/09/26/england-first-female-representatives-to-house-of-bishops-elected/
  24. ^ Women Bishops. Church of England May 2013
  25. ^ [1]
  26. ^ [2]
  27. ^ Church in Wales backs women bishops. BBC News Wales Sept 12 2013
  28. ^ Female bishops voted in by Church in Wales. The Guardian 12 Sept 2013
  29. ^ http://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/ireland/first-female-bishop-appointed-in-church-of-ireland-607607.html
  30. ^ Bishop Aguilera, 71, died suddenly on July 10, 2010, after a brief battle with severe anemia. Episcopal Life Online item, July 11, 1010
  31. ^ Metropolitan Council appoints bishop coadjutor for Cuba

Further reading[edit]

  • Watts, Michael. Through a Glass Darkly: a Crisis Considered, Gracewing Books. Leominster, Eng.: Fowler-Wright Books, 1993. N.B.: The crisis to which the subtitle refers is that of the ordination of women in the Church of England. ISBN 0-85244-240-8