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 been increasingly common in certain provinces since the 1970s. Several provinces, however, and certain dioceses within otherwise ordaining provinces, continue to ordain only men. Disputes over the ordination of women have contributed to the establishment and growth of conservative separatist tendencies, such the Anglican realignment and Continuing Anglican movements.


Some provinces within the Anglican Communion ordain women to the three traditional holy orders of bishop, priest and deacon. Other provinces ordain women as deacons and priests but not as bishops; others still as deacons only; and seven provinces do not 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 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; England; Ireland; Southern Africa; South India; United States; Cuba (extra-provincial diocese)[citation needed]
Bishops (none yet consecrated) Bangladesh, Brazil, Central America, Hong Kong, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, North India, Philippines, Scotland, Sudan, Uganda, Wales[citation needed]
Priests Burundi, Indian Ocean, Jerusalem and the Middle East, 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]

Ordination of priests[edit]

The first woman ordained to the priesthood in the Anglican Communion was Florence Li Tim-Oi, who was ordained on January 25, 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, the Synod of Hong Kong and Macao became the first Anglican province to officially permit the ordination of women to the priesthood. 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. The ordinations were regularized in 1976 following the approval by the General Convention of measures to provide for the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate.[3] The first regular ordination occurred on January 1, 1977, when the Rev Jacqueline Means was ordained at the Episcopal Church of All Saints, Indianapolis.[4]

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 on November 30, 1976.[5]

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

In 1980, the Anglican Church of Kenya agreed in principle that women could be ordained, and that each diocese was to be autonomous in taking up the issue. In 1983, the Bishop of the Diocese of Maseno South in the Anglican Church of Kenya ordained the Rev Lucia Okuthe as priest.[7] In the same year, the Bishop of Kigezi in the Church of Uganda ordained three women as priest, the Rev Monica Sebidega, Rev Deborah Micungwa Rukara and Rev Margaret Kizanye Byekwaso.[8] Formal legislation for the ordination of women as priests was ultimately approved in both provinces in 1990.

In 1990, Irene Templeton and Kathleen Young were the first women to be ordained as priests in the Church of Ireland[9]

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.

Also in 1992, the Church of Southern Africa authorised the ordination of women as priests, and in September of that year the Rev Prof Nancy Charlton, the Rev Bride Dickson and the Rev Sue Groves were ordained in the Diocese of Grahamstown.

The General Synod of the Church of England passed a vote to ordain women in 1992 however it proved controversial. The Act of Synod, passed in 1993, along with further legislation, allowed parishes and male priests to refuse to ordain women. In 1994 England's first two women priests were ordained.[10] The experience of the first women priests and their congregations was the premise of the television programme The Vicar of Dibley.[11] The legality of the ordination of women in the Church of England was challenged in civil courts by Paul Williamson and others. By 2004, one in five priests was a woman.[10]

In 1994, in the Diocese of Barbados, Rev Sonia Hinds and Rev Beverley Sealy became the first women to be ordained as deacons in the Church in the Province of the West Indies on July 25, Feast of St. James. In 1996 on May 31, on the Feast of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, both women were ordained as priests. The Rt Rev Rufus Brome, the first Barbadian born bishop, presided at both ordinations at the Cathedral of St. Michael and All Angels in Bridgetown, Barbados.

The first woman ordained in the Philippines Independent Church was the Rev Rosalina Villaruel Rabaria who was ordained priest on February 9, 1997, in the Diocese of Aklan and Capiz.

Ordination of bishops[edit]

Episcopal Church in the United States[edit]

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. Approximately 20 women have since been elected to the episcopate across the church. The election in December 2009 and consecration on May 15, 2010 of the Rt Rev Mary Douglas Glasspool, who is openly gay and lives with her partner of 20 years, as a suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Los Angeles attracted worldwide attention owing to the continued controversy over gay bishops in Anglicanism.[12]

The Episcopal Church in the United States has also elected the first woman primate (or senior bishop of a national church), the Most Rev 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 November 3, 2006. On September 23, 2014, she announced that she would not seek a further term when her appointment ends in 2015.[13]

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 Rev Penny Jamieson was elected Bishop of Dunedin. She retired in 2004. In 2008 the Diocese of Christchurch elected the Rt Rev Victoria Matthews, former Bishop of Edmonton in the Anglican Church of Canada, as 8th Bishop of Christchurch. In 2013, the Rt Rev Helen-Ann Hartley became the first woman ordained in the Church of England [14] to become a bishop when she was elected as Bishop of Waikato within the Diocese of Waikato and Taranaki.

Anglican Church of Canada[edit]

Following the first ordinations of women as priests in 1976,[15] the first woman bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada was the Rt Rev Victoria Matthews. She was elected suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Toronto on November 19, 1993 and was ordained to the episcopate on February 12, 1994. She later was the first woman 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, seven more women have been elected to the episcopate in Canada. They are the Rt Rev Lady Ann Tottenham (suffragan, Toronto, 1997); the Rt Rev Sue Moxley (suffragan, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, 2004; diocesan, 2007); the Rt Rev Jane Alexander (diocesan, Edmonton, 2008); the Rt Rev 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); the Rt Rev Lydia Mamakwa (Area Bishop for Northern Ontario within the Diocese of Keewatin, with special responsibility for the predominantly aboriginal parishes of the area, 2010);[16] and the Rt Rev Melissa Skelton (diocesan, New Westminster, 2013).

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 September 28, 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 Rev Kay Goldsworthy (assistant bishop, Diocese of Perth) on May 22, 2008 (subsequently elected 12th bishop of the Diocese of Gippsland in the south-eastern Australian state of Victoria and installed on 21 March 2015; and the Rt Rev Barbara Darling (assistant bishop, Anglican Diocese of Melbourne) on May 31, 2008. Three more women have since been ordained as bishops: the Rt Rev Genieve Blackwell, Regional Bishop of Wagga Wagga, in the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn (March 31, 2012), the Rt Rev Alison Taylor, Bishop of the Southern Region, Anglican Diocese of Brisbane (April 6, 2013) and the Rt Rev Sarah Macneil, Bishop of the Diocese of Grafton and the first woman to be a diocesan bishop in the church (March 1, 2014.)

Anglican Church of Southern Africa[edit]

The first women to become a bishop in the Anglican Church of South Africa was the Rt Rev Ellinah Ntombi Wamukoya who was elected Bishop of the Diocese of Swaziland on July 18, 2012[17] and ordained and installed on November 10, 2012.[18] Her appointment was closely followed by the election on October 12, 2012[19] of the Rt Revd Margaret Vertue as Bishop of the Diocese of False Bay. She was consecrated and installed on January 19, 2013.[20]

Church in Wales[edit]

On April 2, 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 September 12, 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.[21] [22]

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 did not progress 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).[23]

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[24] 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.[25]

The synod, meeting in York from 9 to 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.[26] 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.[27]

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 narrowly 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.[28]

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 until such time as there were six female bishops to sit as of right.[29]

In May 2013 the House of Bishops expressed its commitment "to publishing new ways forward to enable women to become bishops."[30] In July 2013, the synod decided to reintroduce legislation to be addressed in November.

In November 2013 the General Synod approved a package of measures as the next steps to enable women to become bishops, 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 July synod and included the first draft of a House of Bishops declaration and a disputes resolution procedure. The debate invited the synod to welcome the proposals and five guiding principles already agreed by the House of Bishops.

The General Synod again considered the matter in February 2014 and sent further draft legislation to all the dioceses of the Church of England. All dioceses that were able to meet within the necessary time frame (43 of 44) approved the draft legislation in time for it be debated at the General Synod in York in July 2014. That legislation passed all three houses of General Synod on 14 July 2014, achieving the two-thirds majority required in all three.[31] It gained the necessary Parliamentary approvals and Royal Assent in the subsequent months and was finally approved by the General Synod on 17 November 2014.[32] On 17 December 2014 it was announced that Libby Lane would be named as the next Bishop of Stockport, a suffragan position in the Diocese of Chester. She was consecrated in York Minster on 26 January 2015.[33]

Church of Ireland[edit]

The Church of Ireland approved the ordination of women as priests and bishops in 1990, and the first women were ordained as priests on June 24 of that year. The first woman in the episcopate was the Rt Rev Pat Storey, who was consecrated Bishop of the Diocese of Meath and Kildare on December 1, 2013.[34]

Church of South India[edit]

The Church of South India has admitted women to holy orders since its foundation in 1947. The Rt Rev Eggoni Pushpa Lalitha was the first woman elected as a bishop on September 25, 2013.[35] She was ordained and installed as Bishop of the Diocese of Nandyal on September 29, 2013.[36]

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 Rev Canon Alison Peden as one of three nominees for election as Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway in January 2010 attracted wide attention.[37]

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 Rev Nerva Cot Aguilera who was appointed as a bishop suffragan in 2007.[38] Bishop Aguilera was appointed by the Metropolitan Council, the ecclesiastical authority for the Episcopal Church of Cuba which in January 2010 appointed the Rt Rev 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).[39] She was ordained to the episcopate on February 7, 2010, and installed as diocesan on November 28, 2010 [40] following the retirement of the Rt Rev Miguel Tamayo-Zaldívar.

Controversies and breakaway groups[edit]

The ordination of women has been a controversial issue throughout the Anglican Communion. While the majority of the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion ordain women as priests, and many have removed all barriers to women becoming bishops, some 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 protest groups established by conservative Anglicans who see the ordination of women as representative of a trend away from traditional or orthodox doctrine. A network for opponents of women's ordination called the Evangelical and Catholic Mission was established in 1976, and following the consecration of Barbara Harris as the first woman bishop in Anglicanism in 1989, a group of 22 active and retired bishops established the Episcopal Synod of America,[41] subsequently Forward in Faith North America. A sister organisation, Forward in Faith UK, was established in 1992.

There have also been a number of breakaway groups. Following the Congress of St. Louis in 1977, the Continuing Anglican Movement developed which sought to provide a formal ecclesiastical structure for those who felt unable to remain within mainstream Anglicanism. The larger groupings within the Continuing movement have been increasingly active since the publication by Pope Benedict XVI of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus[42] in November 2009. Anglicanorum Coetibus provides a canonical structure for groups of former Anglicans to enter into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church, with formal structures in the form of personal ordinariates now in place in the Great Britain, the United States, and Australia.

The long-term impact of Anglicanorum Coetibus on the Continuing movement is unknown, though there is a clear realisation that the loss of significant groups and their associated resources, especially to the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter in the United States, necessitates the need for discussion and discernment between the ongoing affiliates of the movement.[43]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "US Episcopal Church installs first female presiding bishop". Australia: Journeyonline.com.au. November 7, 2006. Retrieved November 19, 2010. 
  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. ^ "Bill Moyers Journal . Homosexuality and the Episcopal Church (1976-2007)". PBS. October 15, 2012. Retrieved July 18, 2014. 
  4. ^ "Woman Episcopal Priest Celebrates Communion", New York Times, January 3, 1977
  5. ^ "Ordination of Women in the Anglican Church of Canada (Deacons, Priests and Bishops)". Anglican.ca. Retrieved July 18, 2014. 
  6. ^ "Female ordination in the Episcopal Church, USA (ECUSA)". Religioustolerance.org. September 16, 1976. Retrieved November 19, 2010. 
  7. ^ Jemima Atieno Oluoch (2006), The Christian Political Theology of Dr. John Henry Okullu, Regnum, p. 63.
  8. ^ C. Byaruhanga (2010), Called by God but Ordained by Men: The Work and Ministry of Reverend Florence Spetume Njangali in the Church of the Province of Uganda, Journal of Anglican Studies, 8, pp 219-239
  9. ^ D. McCready, The ordination of women in the Church of Ireland, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. Section C: Archaeology, Celtic Studies, History, Linguistics, Literature Vol. 106C, (2006), pp. 367-394
  10. ^ a b "Church of England". BBC. June 30, 2011. Retrieved July 14, 2014. 
  11. ^ Joy Carroll (September 2002). Beneath the Cassock: The Real-life Vicar of Dibley. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-00-712207-1. 
  12. ^ Episcopal Life Online May 15, 2010
  13. ^ Statement from the Presiding Bishop
  14. ^ "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. 
  15. ^ Ordination of Women in the Anglican Church of Canada
  16. ^ Wawatay News Online item, May 13, 2010.
  17. ^ http://www.anglicannews.org/news/2012/07/[updated]-first-female-anglican-bishop-for-africa-elected-in-a-spirit-filled-atmosphere.aspx
  18. ^ "Swaziland’s Ellinah Wamukoya becomes Africa’s first female bishop". Episcopaldigitalnetwork.com. November 19, 2012. Retrieved July 18, 2014. 
  19. ^ "Second female Anglican bishop elected by Southern Africa". Anglicannews.org. October 5, 2012. Retrieved July 18, 2014. 
  20. ^ January 20, 2013 at 01:25pm By Ray Hartle. (January 20, 2013). "SA chooses female bishop - Western Cape | IOL News". IOL.co.za. Retrieved July 18, 2014. 
  21. ^ Church in Wales backs women bishops. BBC News Wales Sept 12 2013
  22. ^ Female bishops voted in by Church in Wales. The Guardian 12 Sept 2013
  23. ^ Butt, Riazat (July 8, 2008). "Church vote opens door to female bishops". The Guardian (London). 
  24. ^ Revision Committee on Women in the Episcopate
  25. ^ Breakthrough with Revision Committee
  26. ^ Guardian Online item, Church of England faces crisis as Synod rejects concession on women bishops, July 10, 2010
  27. ^ Guardian item, Archbishop warns against delay over women bishops, July 12, 2010.
  28. ^ "Women bishops: PM 'very sad' at Church of England rejection". BBC News. November 21, 2012. Retrieved November 22, 2012. 
  29. ^ "England: First female representatives to House of Bishops elected". Episcopaldigitalnetwork.com. September 26, 2013. Retrieved October 28, 2013. 
  30. ^ "Women Bishops", Church of England website, May 2013.
  31. ^ "Church of England General Synod backs women bishops". BBC News. July 14, 2014. Retrieved July 14, 2014. 
  32. ^ http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-30074257
  33. ^ [1]
  34. ^ September 20, 2013 - 02:26 PM (September 20, 2013). "First female bishop appointed in Church of Ireland". Irish Examiner. Retrieved July 18, 2014. 
  35. ^ "Church of South India elects first woman bishop". Anglicannews.org. September 25, 2013. Retrieved July 18, 2014. 
  36. ^ "First woman bishop for India consecrated |". Churchnewspaper.com. Retrieved July 18, 2014. 
  37. ^ Scottish priest fails in bid to become first woman bishop at The Daily Telegraph
  38. ^ Bishop Aguilera, 71, died suddenly on July 10, 2010, after a brief battle with severe anemia. Episcopal Life Online item, July 11, 1010
  39. ^ Metropolitan Council appoints bishop coadjutor for Cuba
  40. ^ "Episcopal News Service - WORLD REPORT". Archive.episcopalchurch.org. November 30, 2010. Retrieved July 18, 2014. 
  41. ^ "Episcopal News Service: Press Release # 89106". Episcopalarchives.org. June 8, 1989. Retrieved July 18, 2014. 
  42. ^ "Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus providing for Personal Ordinariates for Anglicans Entering into Full Communion with the Catholic Church". Vatican.va. Retrieved July 18, 2014. 
  43. ^ "Post-Brockton | Anglican Rose". Anglicanrose.wordpress.com. December 5, 2012. Retrieved July 18, 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Mascall, Eric Lionel. Women Priests? 2nd ed. London: Church Literature Association, 1977. ISBN 0-85191-115-3
  • 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