Sunday, 26 February 2017

Should Women become Priests?

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 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. In 1977, the Anglican Church in New Zealand ordained five female priests. 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 1990, Janet Catterall became the first woman ordained an Anglican priest in Ireland.

But it took until 1992 until the General Synod of the Church of England passed a vote to ordain women; however, it proved controversial. The Act of Synod, passed in 1993, along with further legislation, allowed parishes to not accept ordained women. In 1994 England's first two women priests were ordained. By 2004, one in five priests was a woman.

This article from “The Pilot” was written in 1967, and betrays attitudes that some had are in many ways very patronising towards women.

Even now, today, there are churches in Jersey, such as St Mary, which do not really accept the validity of women priests, and whose congregations have been known to voice that in no uncertain terms. The former Vicar of Gouray, Gavin Ashenden, did not regard women priests as true priest at all.

This has meant that while the Church of England has accepted female Bishops from 2014, and the Isle of Man has passed enabling legislation, Jersey’s Canon law has yet to be revised. It is now 2017, and part of the responsibility for this lack of progress must surely be placed at the door of the departing Dean, Bob Key. While he voted for the change in the English synod, no legislation in the table of legislation before the states regarding the necessary change in Canon law. One cannot help feeling he could have pushed harder.

Perhaps the advent of a new Dean, a new female Rector, and the departure of the hardliner Gavin Ashenden means something can now be done!

Should Women become Priests?
(The Pilot, 1967)

One of the most controversial debates at the coming session of the Church Assembly, which is due to be held from February 3th to 17th, is likely to be the discussion of the Archbishops' Commission's report on "Women and Holy Orders", which was published at the end of 1966. The commission itself made no recommendations on the question of whether women should be ordained to the priesthood, but supporters and opponents of feminine ordination will have full opportunity for airing their views in the Assembly.

As an introduction to the debate we might take a look at some of the arguments on either side mentioned in the report. In the first place it is interesting to note that there seems to be no fundamental theological objection to the ordination of women. Though it is evident that St Paul believed women to be subordinate to men, the report states that "the question whether women may be ordained to the Christian ministry is not one to which the New Testament gives a clear answer."

Those, however, who oppose the ordination of women, think that tradition is a vital factor, and that the exclusion of women from holy orders is part of the traditional nature of the Christian Church.

Other arguments against the ordination of \\omen are psychological and ecumenical. It is considered by some that the difference between the sexes make it inappropriate to have "women ministers, since a woman could hardly fulfil simultaneously her responsibilities as a parish priest and as a married woman. A further psychological point is that, rightly or wrongly, there is a great deal of prejudice against the idea of having women clergy, and some people denounce the suggestion as “disgusting'', "unthinkable" and "revolting''.

On the ecumenical side it is pointed out that only 48 of the 168 member-Churches of the World Council of Churches admit women to the full ministry, and it is argued that the admission of women to the priesthood in the Church of England would strain relationships with the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

Such arguments are rejected by those who would like to see women in holy orders. On the psychological side they claim that no reason can be put forward to exclude women from the exercise of priesthood solely because they are female, and that temperamentally women are as well fitted as men to be priests".

It is further claimed that the changes in women’s social circumstances in the twentieth century have removed the restrictions which made it impossible for women to be ordained in previous centuries, and that they are needed to renew the Church and fill the vacancies caused by the shortage of men clergy.

These are the opposing views, but a third attitude is also held. This is to the effect that, though there may be no conclusive theological or psychological reasons why women should not be ordained, the experiment is one which should not be made. Those who hold this view think that the ordination of women might set back the cause of Church union, that it would create needless controversy and that it would divert attention from more urgent problems in the Church's life. It is suggested that "to introduce so radical a change in the pattern of the Church's ministry would have far-reaching and unpredictable consequences".

This is a brief outline of some of the arguments and counter-arguments in "Women and Holy Orders", which is published by the Church Information Office, price 10s 6d. It can be seen that there is ample scope for a vigorous debate in the Church Assembly, and even if no conclusion is reached this month it should certainly help us all to make up our minds on the question of whether or not women should be ordained as priests.

Women's World Day of Prayer

The service for 1967 will take place in St Helier's Church at 2.45 p.m. on Friday. 10th February. It is hoped that as many women as possible, of all denominations, will be able to join in this united service of prayer and praise.

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