Ordination of women in the Anglican Communion

Ordination of women in the Anglican Communion

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 of New Zealand, 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 yet 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 2010, however, 28 of the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion ordain women as priests and 17 have removed all barriers to women serving as 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 following the publication by the Vatican of the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus in November 2009. Anglicanorum Coetibus provides a canonical structure for former Anglicans to enter into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.

First ordinations

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.[1]

In 1974, in the United States, 11 women were controversially ordained to the priesthood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, by three retired Episcopal Church bishops. Four more women 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.[2]

In 1976, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church authorized the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate.[3] 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.[4]

The Church of England authorized the ordination of woman priests in 1992 and began ordaining them in 1994. The experience of the first women priests and their congregations was the premise of the television programme The Vicar of Dibley.[5] The legality of the ordination of women in the Church of England was challenged in civil courts by Paul Williamson and others.

First woman bishop and primate

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. By November 2009 the Episcopal Church had elected and consecrated 17 women as bishops within the continental United States,[6] most recently the Rt. Rev. Diane Jardine Bruce and the Rt. Rev. 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 world-wide attention owing to the continued controversy over gay bishops in Anglicanism.[7]

The Episcopal Church has also elected the first woman primate (or senior bishop of a national church), the Most Revd 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.

Only a few other provinces have consecrated women as bishops (although the number of provinces where women bishops are canonically possible is much greater). The situation regarding women's ordination in the Anglican Communion as of July 2010 can be seen in the following table:

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

Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia

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 Right Revd Penny Jamieson was elected Bishop of Dunedin. She retired in 2004. Then in 2008 the Diocese of Christchurch elected the Right Revd Victoria Matthews, former Bishop of Edmonton in the Anglican Church of Canada, as 8th Bishop of Christchurch.

Anglican Church of Canada

Following the first ordinations of women as priests in 1976,[8] the first woman bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada was the Right 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 Right Revd Ann Tottenham (suffragan, Toronto, 1997); the Right Revd Sue Moxley (suffragan, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, 2004; diocesan, 2007); the Right Revd Jane Alexander (diocesan, Edmonton, 2008); the Right Revd Linda Nicholls (suffragan, Toronto, 2008); the Right Revd Barbara Andrews (Bishop Suffragan to the Metropolitan with responsibilities for the Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior, 2009); and the Right 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).[9]

Anglican Church of Australia

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 Right Revd Kay Goldsworthy (Assistant Bishop, Diocese of Perth) on 22 May 2008, and the Right Revd Barbara Darling (Assistant Bishop, Anglican Diocese of Melbourne) on 31 May 2008.

Scottish Episcopal Church

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 Dr Alison Peder as one of three nominees for election as Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway in January 2010 attracted wide attention, and although Dr Peder was not elected, her nomination was regarded as highly significant for Anglicanism in the United Kingdom.

Church of England

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 underway 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).[10]

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[11] 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.[12]

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.[13] The measure, with only minor amendments, passed in all three houses on 12 July 2010. The measure is now due to be considered by individual dioceses which are required to report back by 2012 ahead of a final vote.[14]

Church in Wales

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. The Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd Barry Morgan, expects the issue to be debated again in 2011. However the Church in Wales decisively ended the role of provincial bishop whose responsibility was to minister to opponents.

Church of Ireland

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. No women have yet been ordained to the episcopate.

Extraprovincial churches

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 Right Revd Nerva Cot Aguilera who was appointed as a bishop suffragan in 2007.[15] 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).[16] She was ordained to the episcopate on 7 February 2010, and will be installed as diocesan following the retirement of the present incumbent, the Right Revd Miguel Tamayo-Zaldívar, later in 2010.

See also

  • List of the first 32 women ordained as Church of England priests


  1. ^ "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
  2. ^ http://www.anglican.ca/search/faq/039.htm
  3. ^ http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/06082007/history_church.html
  4. ^ "Woman Episcopal Priest Celebrates Communion", New York Times, 3 January 1977
  5. ^ Joy Carroll (September 2002). Beneath the Cassock: The Real-life Vicar of Dibley. HarperCollins. ISBN 0007122071. 
  6. ^ Who are the women bishops in the Episcopal Church?
  7. ^ Episcopal Life Online May 15, 2010
  8. ^ Ordination of Women in the Anglican Church of Canada
  9. ^ Wawatay News Online item, May 13, 2010.
  10. ^ Butt, Riazat (8 July 2008). "Church vote opens door to female bishops". The Guardian (London). http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jul/07/anglicanism.religion2. 
  11. ^ Revision Committee on Women in the Episcopate
  12. ^ Breakthrough with Revision Committee
  13. ^ Guardian Online item, Church of England faces crisis as Synod rejects concession on women bishops, 10 July 2010
  14. ^ Guardian item, Archbishop warns against delay over women bishops, 12 July 2010.
  15. ^ Bishop Aguilera, 71, died suddenly on July 10, 2010, after a brief battle with severe anemia. Episcopal Life Online item, July 11, 1010
  16. ^ Metropolitan Council appoints bishop coadjutor for Cuba

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