Twenty-five years ago three retired bishops illegally ordained eleven women to the priesthood. In August nine of the eleven returned to celebrate the event. As a memento of the occasion New Directions prints some of the addresses given and commentary from local news media
SERMON DELIVERED by the Rt. Rev. Barbara C. Harris at the Church of the Advocate – Philadelphia, July 29, 1999, on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the Ordination of Women
LET THERE BE peace among us and let us not be instruments of our own oppression. In the name of God, Creator, Liberator and Sustainer. Amen.
WE GATHER THIS evening to mark a significant milestone in the life of the church. A quarter of a century is an important turning point for nearly any development and the 25th anniversary of the ordination of women to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church is of no small consequence. For some it is a time of joy and celebration. For others it calls up words from our closing hymn – “God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, Thou who has brought us thus far on the way…” For still others there are lingering doubts that celebration is appropriate, given the climate we are experiencing in the church today. Whatever draws us to this place tonight, whatever it is we are feeling individually, it is well that we corporately mark that historic sweltering hot Monday morning 25 years ago on this date and that we mark it with dignity and solemnity.
For those of you who were not around 25 years ago and for those who may have forgotten, July 29, 1974, was a momentous day. It not only spawned a new era, it revealed something profound concerning the nature of those in the church for whom an unchanged tradition – or selected portions thereof – is paramount. And that particular phenomenon continues to unfold in ever more definitive form.
Last month, the Bishop of Maine – Chilton Knudsen – and I had the opportunity to participate in a class at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge jointly conducted by Carter Heyward and Sue Hiatt. The title of their course was “Philadelphia 25 years later – was it worth it?” Most would agree that, despite some of what we have endured and experienced, indeed it has been worth it. But twenty-five years later and some 3,000 ordained women in the US alone and approximately 6,300 total in nearly 26 provinces of the Anglican Communion, I believe there are some additional questions that need to be raised.
Two such questions are WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED? and WHY DOES OPPOSITION CONTINUE?
Now I want to try to speak a little truth here tonight. And I am going to be brief and, as often accused, I am going to be blunt. I do, however, have to choose my words very carefully in that I not only tend to be quoted, I frequently tend to get misquoted. I don’t mind the former, in context – it’s the latter that ticks me off.
To begin with, last year’s decennial gathering of apostolic eagles – which included its share of turkeys – the Lambeth Conference, brought a defining melding of these two questions.
Despite the development of a critical mass of ordained women, including eleven bishops, at Lambeth we were left wondering what had happened to the dream of a kinder, gentler church. The conference resolution concerning ordination of women and its odious amendment – authored by two women bishops in concert with some conservative male bishops – totally ignored any positive impact the church has experienced through ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate over the past 25 years. It was a stunning denigration of the more than 6000 women in Orders from Utah to Uganda, to say nothing of those who have yet to respond to God’s call. Rather, having tasted blood with the much amended resolution on human sexuality, the princes of the church moved in for the kill on the people they really hold in low esteem – WOMEN.
Given the fact that the church has had gay priests and bishops since at least the 13th century, it is disingenuous, at best, and downright dishonest at the worst, to pretend that we are faced with some new phenomenon of homosexual clergy. When church policy seemed to be “don’t ask, don’t tell” it was kind of okay, but almost any single male clergy were often suspected of being gay. Even with the advent of openly gay clergy, there has been no call to suspend male ordinations generally. While I do not, by any means, minimize the rampant hostility toward our gay brothers, I strongly suspect that the advent of open lesbians into the ranks of the ordained has triggered renewed and redoubled efforts to turn back the clock on women’s ordination. As in other male dominated fields, from law enforcement to medicine, almost any unmarried woman is regarded as a lesbian – or else promiscuous. That is an important part of what we have learned.
Meanwhile, the few US bishops who openly oppose women’s ordination, and their sycophants, now claim vindication, proclaiming themselves to be “in the mainstream of Anglicanism.” And make no mistake, they will try to use Lambeth’s non-binding action as a club against us at next year’s General Convention of the church, as some already are doing when they talk about “defiance” and “rejection” of Lambeth’s resolutions. In reality they are swimming against the gospel tide of inclusivity, headed for the backwater eddies of patriarchal delusion. And that, too, is a part of what we have learned.
But a nagging question remains that points us to some of why opposition continues. Where are the real men – not the ones who don’t eat quiche – the men straight and gay who claim to support us; the men who purport to embrace the concept that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female?”
Well, let us recount what has happened, for the lessons are long, hard and bitter. But our sister Maya Angelou reminds us that “history with all of its unending pain cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”
Early on, at Port St. Lucy, we got the “conscience clause” that said bishops who did not in conscience believe in ordination of women were not bound to ordain them. Then in 1988 we got an “episcopal visitor” resolution – that, incidentally quietly expired in 1994. That same year, however, we got silence at the Indianapolis General Convention. In 1997, after 23 long years, the ordination canons become mandatory. This was followed one year later by the deafening silence of OUR male bishops at Lambeth. And so, while women, in numbers, still predominate the church and virtually remain its most potent human resource, men still outvote us, whether they are vocal or silent. And that, too, is a part of what we have learned.
Fifteen years ago, as we marked the 10th anniversary of the Philadelphia and Washington ordinations, Bishop Tony Ramos, the preacher that day, reminded us: “…wholeness is far from our reach. The journey goes on, the struggle continues and we need to remain faithful to our call…” His words continue to ring true today.
Yes, Sue and Carter, it has been worth the effort, it has been worth the pain, it has been worth the joy and worth the halting steps forward toward wholeness and healing. And yes we have learned a lot. But, indeed, A luta continua – the struggle continues. That too, is what we have learned.
So where does all this leave us on this 25th anniversary?
It should leave us mindful of the words of the apostle Paul to the young church at Rome, heard in our second scripture reading: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; …If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceable with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. ‘No, if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
It should also leave us committed to press forward with a renewed determination to work toward eradicating the sexism, racism and homophobia which continue to permeate and pervade the church and in turn spawn some of the hate crimes we witness. And that includes demanding more in the way of concrete action on the part of the men who say they support us.
The strategy of the other side is unfolding with a clarity and a relentless kind of fury. Their march is on with priests being transferred to dioceses abroad, placing them under the oversight of bishops in Africa and Asia, then having them return to plant new churches not in communion with their dioceses and providing an opening for overseas bishops to come, uninvited, to this country and to invade the jurisdictions of bishops here. May I also note, parenthetically, that the unrelenting requests for financial assistance continue to pour in from some of the same diocesan bishops abroad who condemn us. The march is on disseminating mis-information and, in some instances, outright lies; soliciting ecclesiastic admonitions to the US church from other primates of other provinces; targeting so-called “revisionist bishops” and liberal dioceses, witch-hunting gay and lesbian clergy and seeking to discredit those who dare to fight for an inclusive church.
Thanks be to God for our pioneer women, for the bishops who ordained and supported them, for this parish which welcomed them and the church gathered that 1974 day, for the clergy and laity who embraced their priesthood and subsequently paid the price and for all who have followed in their courageous footsteps.
And so my sisters and brothers tonight Passover is remembered. But so also is Paschaltide. For we are an Easter people in a Good Friday world. So also is the truth expressed in that great South African hymn, “Siyahamba,” translated – We are marching in the light of God. Remember also the fact that “we’ve come this far by faith” and we trust our God for the next steps of the journey.
When we close our worship this night, we can sing with new appreciation, new understanding and new fervor, the words of James Weldon Johnson’s powerful poetic prayer:
“Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod, felt in the days when hope unborn had died; Yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet come to the place for which our parents sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered; We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered, Out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last, Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.”
Let there be peace among us and let us not be instruments of our own oppression.
Barbara C. Harris is Suffragan Bishop of Massachusetts, and acted as crucifer at the original ordinations twenty-five years ago.
ADDRESS BY the Archbishop of Cape Town at the 25th anniversary celebrations of the ordination of women hosted by the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia July 29 1999
I AM MOST HONOURED to have been invited by Bishop Charles to address you on this very important occasion. Despite the fact that we come to celebrate 25 years of women’s ordination in this diocese, it is perhaps ironic that I, a man, stand before you to address you today. However, I am also an African and that, I believe, is significant for two reasons.
Firstly, my being here challenges the narrow parochialism into which it is so easy to fall in the church; and I will say more about this later. Secondly, having an African to address you today is significant because many of the struggles that women face in the church and society are similar to the struggles of African people. So without wishing to speak for women, I speak from the context of Africa, trusting that some of the insights and experiences of Africa will resonate with the experiences and insights of women here.
What is the context of which I speak? Africa is a continent of enormous cultural wealth and diversity. It is the poorest continent on earth. Its per capita death from AIDS is higher than anywhere else in the world. It is a continent where in some places, such as Nigeria, the infant mortality rate is 84 in 1000, five times higher than other developing countries. Africa is a continent which suffers devastating drought, famine and flood. It is a continent in which at this time at least three major wars are being waged. It is a continent which has been colonised and plundered and continues to be held in colonial captivity by virtue of its economic dependence.
More specifically, though, I am a South African and speak from that context: a context as complex and paradoxical as anywhere in Africa. Mine is a country which is upheld internationally, as an example of hope and possibility for many, and yet it is a country plagued by violent crime. In Cape Town, the city where I live, gang warfare is rife. In the past month three young girls, aged 3, 6 and 14, have fallen prey to the violence of gangsterism. In a quiet country town, one of the women clergy of our province was murdered just 6 weeks ago. It is country where our new democracy is celebrated yet many of its children go to bed hungry at night, have inadequate medical care, little or no access to education and few employment opportunities.
The place of women in South Africa is even more complex. In our new democracy, with one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, which seeks to protect all persons, South Africa is nevertheless one of the “rape capitals” of the world, where a woman is raped every 26 seconds. Our government has one of the highest number of women parliamentarians in the world, yet very few women are in positions of leadership in our church. On the brink of the twenty first century, women in some parts of the country are still being accused of being witches and killed as a result of such accusations – a phenomenon not seen in America or Europe for centuries. Whilst you celebrate 25 years of women’s ordained ministry here, in my own province, the first women were ordained just short of seven years ago, and there are still dioceses in the CPSA where bishops will not ordain women.
Africa is a continent still wracked culturally, economically and socially by the effects of colonialism. Decades of economic plundering of natural resources and human labour have left Africa cripplingly indebted to European and American countries, multinationals and organisations. Just as women have been socialised into accepting that menial labour, lower wages, and poorer working conditions are their lot, so too, Africans have come to accept that raw materials are drawn from Africa and manufactured elsewhere, that technological skills and higher wages belong to people of the Northern hemisphere and not to the people of the Southern hemisphere.
Africans learnt well the lessons of the settlers who scorned local culture and tradition and imposed a western Christian culture. One of the heart-felt cries of the church in Africa today is for Africanisation: a rooting of the Christian faith in Africa, using African stories, symbols and models to interpret the faith, and affirming the goodness and wholeness of African culture and tradition. In this, it is not dissimilar from the feminist movement in its aims to critique patriarchy and lend support to the transformation of the church into a more inclusive, whole and healthy place for women and men. As patriarchy has devalued women, taught them that they are of less worth than men, so too colonialism taught Africans that their traditions and culture were uncivilised and unChristian.
Africans and women have lessons to unlearn together. And it is important that we unlearn and learn together. Despite the widely acknowledged global village, in many places the church seems to be retreating into a narrow congregationalism, which denies our membership of a worldwide church and our interdependence upon one another. One of the great riches of the Anglican church is its rich diversity. However, both here in the United States and elsewhere, we see individuals and congregations seeking to break away from the larger body for reasons of difference and an unwillingness to live with and wrestle with differences and otherness. We have seen the development of flying bishops, to counter the effect of the ordination of women. Congregations unwilling to grapple with issues of sexuality break away from our broad family.
Not only therefore, because our African and feminist concerns often co-incide, but also because we are one church, I think it is important that we share with one another, our insights, concerns, hopes and dreams. What then, are some of the contributions which we in Africa can offer to our search for a more whole, inclusive and Christ-like church?
– understanding our humanity
It has been correctly said that African people have a sense of the wholeness of life. Religion or spirituality is not a separate department, nor is the religious community separate from a “wider” community. The life of the community is religious, and it has no separate secular dimension. The sacred / secular dualism which feminist theology seeks to challenge simply does not exist in the African world view. However, through a Christian perspective which labeled as syncretistic, “unChristian” and “unGodly”, traditions and practices of African society, a new dualism emerged.
Allow me to offer some concrete examples of what I am speaking about. In a number of Southern African communities, it is customary to slaughter a cow and invite the community to a feast to celebrate the birth and naming of a child. However, some missionary Christians proclaimed this a pagan practice, with the result that many families will bring a new born child to church for baptism, and then, as an entirely separate ceremony, go home to slaughter and feast. Two rituals which, if linked, could provide both a powerful witness to the significance of the new life begun in baptism as well as joining the community in a traditional celebration of new life, become separated. The sacred and secular are separated.
Similar contradictions emerge at the unveiling of a tombstone of a deceased member of the family. Traditional African belief may regard the event as an opportunity to receive the deceased in another mode of existence as a living spirit in the company of ancestors and saints, whilst the church regards the occasion as one of thanksgiving for the life of the deceased. Again the two sets of beliefs exist alongside one another, but the traditional beliefs are largely unspoken before the Christian minister. However, modern African theologians, along with feminist theologians (and Chung Hyun Kyung here springs immediately to mind) remind us that there is no “pure” form of Christianity. It all comes in a cultural package.
Instead of rejecting or outlawing traditional cultural practices, these should be celebrated. allowing an enriching of faith as well as its rooting and grounding in a particular community. The women’s movement has done well to remind us that religion is not separate from domestic life, from childbirth, from friendships and conversation. No part of life is excluded from relationship with God.
There is a saying in many African communities that a person is a person through people. “I am, therefore we are”, as the saying goes which underlines our African understanding of humanity. In other words, we discover our humanity in relationship to others. Tiyo Soga speaks with and for Africa when he says “Thina ma Afrika singumzi wobuzalwana nobuhlobo ngokudalwa” (“By nature we Africans are a family of friendship and relatedness”.) This insight is not unique to Africa, but it is so profoundly entrenched there, that one cannot begin a discussion on what it means to be human, without this understanding. And it is an understanding which is very different from many traditional Christian anthropologies which concentrate on the individual, the individual’s sins, and the individual’s salvation. However, in Africa, my identity and indeed my salvation, is not separated from that of the community to which I belong. This understanding of what it means to be human offers an important challenge to the individualism that is prevalent, not only in the west, but in many urban settings in my own country and which is manifested in the church too, in the congregationalism I have just referred to. When we refuse to allow difference in our communities and when we ostracize those who are other, we deny ourselves and others the opportunity to be fully human. African culture invites us to embrace the other, to recognise ourselves in the other and to discover a fuller and richer humanity. This understanding of our humanity echoes, of course, the profound insights offered by the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, which celebrates a loving communion of free, self-determining, creative persons.
Lest it should be thought, however, that women are free, and encouraged to find their fulfillment in African culture, I hasten to add that many African societies are patriarchal. Traditional communities have rigidly defined roles for women and the idea of a woman free from suzerainty of her father or husband is rare. Equally rare is the idea of a woman who has a profession of her own or who chooses not to be married. Here there is much that feminist theology has to offer by way of a different vision for women in African society. I shall say more of this when I come to look at issues of leadership and power.
So too, the opportunity for most African women to explore spirituality or even to find space and time for quietness and stillness, is a luxury few can afford. Most African women in traditional societies are homemakers, child-rearers and farmers. In the less traditional, more urban environments in South Africa women are frequently the only bread winners, mostly through domestic work which entails travelling long distances daily to the more affluent areas of the city. The cities themselves are violent, the threat of rape and mugging ever-present. Though no longer on the statute books, racism persists, and black women suffer the triple oppression of race, class and gender. Just how far we have to travel in the search for a communion of kenotic, embracing love, which not only accepts, but rejoices in diversity, is illustrated by the story of Gugu Dlamini. Gugu Dlamini lived at KwaMancinza, near the east coast city of Durban. She was HIV positive, and chose to tell people in her community of her status so that she could use her position to heighten awareness of HIV/AIDS and help in the fight against the disease. Last December she was killed by members of her own community, a scapegoat for their anger and fear. Her femaleness, her willingness to name her illness, her “otherness” was too fearful for those who took her life. The dream of community is still a long way off as we in South Africa look for ways to heal the divisions.
Images of God
Notwithstanding the view of some Christian missionaries to Africa, that Africans have no concept of God, in the African world-view God is an all-pervading reality. The way African people experience God is portrayed in the names given to God – names which are descriptive of God’s character. For our purposes though, what is interesting, is that God is not imaged simply in male terms. Some say God is father. Others say God is mother, or even grandparent. It is indeed only through the introduction of Christianity that many African Christians are willing to abandon altogether traditional cultural and religious ideas and subscribe to a gendered notion of God who gives priority to males above females. African understandings, far from being shut out as pagan and uncivilised, have much to offer current theological debates about the masculine language usually used for God.
The experience of women in Africa however, does provide the opportunity for a re-evaluation and revaluing of some of the classical understandings of the Christ. African women’s experience is unquestionably an experience of struggle – struggle against poverty, disease, oppression, war. The Christology of African women is thus centred on Jesus the friend, liberator, healer and companion. God in Christ affirms the goodness of women, helps them bear life’s burdens and challenges those who oppress women. So that even where the images of traditional African culture have been lost, there is access, through Christ, to God who is love.
Issues of Leadership and Power
I referred earlier to the fact that African culture is patriarchal and excluding of women. One of the areas of life where this is most apparent is in the organisation of leadership in traditional society. In Southern Africa, the leaders of families, clans and tribes are hereditary leaders and always male. Their power is far reaching, and unchallenged, even by healers and prophets. So as much as Jesus’ radical egalitarianism and servant leadership is a challenge to church and societal hierarchies in the West, it is perhaps even more so in Africa – a reminder that traditional culture cannot be uncritically assumed to be helpful in indigenising the Christian faith. However, leadership in African communities, whilst exercised by men, is always exercised in consultation with the community (including the community of the ancestors), so leadership should not be seen as the equivalent of a totalitarian autocracy.
The whole question of power is probably one of the most important issues to be addressed by the church world-wide. Christianity, we are aware, was shaped and formulated in the context of the Roman empire and has, in its organisational structures been modeled on imperial hierarchies since the 4th century. Jesus’ subversion of traditional power structures (for example by washing feet, and by befriending the undesirables and outcasts) has been systematically ignored by the church throughout its life. One of the concerns of women is that the ordination of women, far from changing the situation, will simply lead to the creation of female clericalism alongside male clericalism. African women justifiably comment that Christianity, far from liberating them, has simply set up an image of Western middle class womanhood that has no relevance for Africans. One model of domination has been replaced by another.
Perhaps 25 years on is a good time to evaluate the effect of women’s ordination on the ordained ministry generally. Has the ordination of women changed the shape and style of ministry? Has the church seen the evolution of a ministry that seeks to serve rather than be served? Has the introduction of women’s voices in the North, also led to a listening to the women of the South?
The Journey Onwards
Christianity has ancient roots in Africa. Origen, Tertullian, Cyprian, Augustine of Hippo, to name just four, are African theologians who have shaped Christianity. Africa has contributed significantly to Christian theology in the past, and I am suggesting that it has the potential to do the same today. African Christians, amongst other liberation theologians, have helped to expose the biases of Western Christian theology which has excluded some and led to the domination of others for centuries.
African theology – so named for the first time in 1965 at the All Africa Conference of Churches – is concerned to draw into creative dialogue, the Christian faith and traditional African culture. This dialogue, while primarily for the people of Africa, has resulted in fresh insights for Christian theology more broadly, for example in reconsidering the value of non-canonical writings, including local myths and stories.
African woman theologians in turn, in 1989, established the Circle of Concerned African Woman Theologians, which has promoted the writing of African women. Mercy Amba Oduyoye is probably the most well known of these women. And again, whilst their writing is specifically for the women and men of Africa, their insights are of immense value for all who espouse liberation, who seek ways to transform the church and society.
In this dialogue between North and South, Africa and America, Africa, as in the early centuries of the church, has much to offer Christian theology. If I were asked to identify the single most important aspect of this contribution, I would identify the concept of hope. How ironic that sounds, given some of the statistics I quoted at the beginning of this address. How can a continent plagued by war, famine, AIDS, poverty, offer models of hope, especially to the North, with its economic prosperity and all that goes with it? I would like to suggest that it is in Africa, in the face of war and famine and disease, that we know our need of God. It is amongst the women of Africa that we treasure a Christology which reminds us of Jesus’ special care for the little ones and the outcast. It is in the face of the struggle to find our identity and express our Christian faith in a uniquely African way that we discover the riches of every tradition and culture. Are not these signs of hope precisely what our rather tired, cynical late twentieth century world needs? Rather than riches and success and self importance, is not the message of Jesus that those who know their need of God are those who are blessed (Matthew 5:3).
Professor Lesslie Newbigin, a one-time bishop of the church of South India, was returning to his homeland, England, after doing missionary work on the Asian subcontinent, and was asked, “What is the greatest difficulty you face in moving from India to England?” His answer was straight forward and carries with it a strong message. He said, “The disappearance of hope. Even in the most squalid slums of Madras, there was always the belief that things could be improved. In England, by contrast, it is hard to find any such hope.” This world is a place where we can easily become despairing, yet we dare not be hopeless. The 1978 Bangalore Commission on Faith and Order described hope thus: “it is a resistance movement against fatalism. Those who believe in God know the power of His love. It is this love that creates persons and societies.”
All of us, from industrial and developing countries alike, should commit ourselves to a hope that refuses to accept an unjust and tarnished world order.
My own country, South Africa, has its own special contribution to make in this discovery of hope. What sustained us even in the darkest moments of our history was the unshakable faith in God who reigns supreme in the world and wills only what is good for the whole of creation. The miracle of a relatively peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy can, to a very large degree, be attributed to the goodness of God. Despite 300 years of colonial, racial oppression, and 50 years of a reign of terror, we have experienced two peaceful democratic elections and 5 years of democratic government. We are, against all the odds, learning to be an inclusive society.
Yes, Africa, astonishingly, has this message of hope to offer. And just as 25 years ago, an extraordinary ordination offered a sign of hope to members of a despairing church, so too Africa has this sign to offer today. In some ways they are two very different signs, and yet both suggest that which we should, as Christians, always be looking for, namely the hope that out of death, comes new life.
As we celebrate this 25th anniversary of women’s ordination at the dawn of a new millennium, I believe that one of the major challenges facing the Anglican communion is to discover ways of strengthening the bonds of affection which bind us together through the inculcation of an ethic of living with difference and otherness. We are different, and our church is a church of enormous differences. But our God is also a god of difference and diversity. That is the essence of the Trinity. The mystery of the Trinity is that in their unity, the persons of the Godhead are preserved in their separate relatedness. As human beings, created in God’s image, we too are invited to reflect that unity in diversity. We live as distinct individuals, and yet are part of a web of relationships. We need to acknowledge our differences, and respect one another’s uniqueness, but these differences need not constitute a basis for opposition. Instead they suggest the basis for reflecting the diversity of God, and all of God’s creation.
Is this then the indication of where our journey should now take us? From our different sides of the world, with our different experiences and different expressions of the Christian faith, we have the opportunity to challenge the parochialism I have been speaking about. We have the opportunity to challenge the cynicism and hopelessness of our world. We have the opportunity to challenge the exclusivism which prefers men above women, whites above blacks, rich above poor, straight above gay. Our Trinitarian God invites us to demonstrate that in our very differences, we can embrace one another, celebrating otherness, and discovering our deep, Godly unity in those differences. God invites us to celebrate the different gifts which women and men bring to the ordained ministry and the diversity of the human family in the Anglican communion.
God invites us to live lovingly across our differences, with tolerance, forbearance, kindness, and generosity. And if this sounds like an impossible dream, God invites us to trust God’s own transforming power at work in us to bring us to our full potential as human beings who are created in God’s image.
For this is a kairos moment: we are at the doorstep of the next thousand years in the history of humankind. The first Christians stood on the threshold of the first millennium in a state of hopelessness after the crucifixion of Christ. But God raised Him from the dead: hence our age is one of hope, an age of new beginnings, an age of the resurrection faith. May the God of Grace, the God of Truth, the God of love and God of Peace be with you always.
Winston Njongonkulu Ndungane is Archbishop of Cape Town and Primate of the Church of the Province of Southern Africa.
AN ADDRESS on the anniversary of the ordination of women to the priesthood, by the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion at the Church of the Advocate, Philadelphia, 29 July 1999.
AS SECRETARY GENERAL of the Anglican Communion, it gives me great joy and pleasure to be with you today as we celebrate the gift of priesthood. The Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church have a great deal for which to be thankful in the fact that 25 years ago there was a re-awakening which took place of what it means to be a priest of Jesus Christ in the Church Catholic.
We owe a debt of gratitude to those who were ordained 25 years ago, because you helped all of us as Anglican Christians to become more aware of the gift of priesthood. I firmly believe that one of God’s gifts to the Church is the gift of ministry, the ordained ministry, and the ministry of the laity. The priesthood of all believers has always included women, but because of what happened here 25 years ago, the ministry of women has been given full and comprehensive expression in all the Orders of Ministry.
The Lambeth Conference last year received a report of the Eames Commission. This includes a report of the “monitoring group” which was set up by recommendation of the Joint Standing Committees of the Primates and the ACC meeting in Edinburgh in 1995, to monitor the question of the ordination of women to the priesthood and to the episcopate around the Communion. It is clear that, in the years since Anglicans first ordained women at the Church of the Advocate, this has been a time of learning and growing for our Communion. As with any development in the life of the Church, there has been a period of reception, which the Eames Commission understands to be “a long and spiritual process.”
I have extracted a chart based on the Eames Monitoring work, which indicates just how far along this process of reception is in our Communion. True, there continues to be a variety of positions on this matter from place to place, but, as a Communion, we need to learn to live together with courtesy, tolerance and respect, and with a commitment to discern the truth together.
Certainly, one part of reception is to make sure that women’s ministry is not only tolerated, but affirmed and celebrated. One remarkable fact uncovered in the Eames Monitoring process can be seen in the chart. There you will find that the acceptance of women priests is something that transcends geographic, cultural, and theological divides. Churches in the global north, the south, of Anglo-Catholic or Evangelical heritage have all taken steps in this direction. Churches in countries as culturally diverse as the United States, Uganda, Japan and Southern Africa all ordain women. The evidence seems to suggest that the gifts which women bring to the priesthood of the Christ’s Church are celebrated ever more widely in this diverse Communion of ours.
So, as we gather today, we give thanks to God for bishops, lay persons, priests and deacons, women and men, in this Church who kept the faith within our tradition, who gave to the Church Catholic a wonderful new expression of an already bountiful gift. To you we say thank you. To bless, to pardon, to proclaim the word of God and to celebrate the sacraments is a gift and a mystery that comes to us empowered from the Holy Spirit. We celebrate that sacrament in our Church today. We thank God for the Catholic priesthood, we thank God for those women in our own lives who have helped us in our earthly pilgrimage to be more like Christ who is the same yesterday, today and forever. Or, in the words of the Collect for ordination:
“… let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ… Amen.”
John L. Peterson is Secretary General of the Anglican Communion.
FROM The Philadelphia Enquirer, 29 July 1999:
Episcopal women ordained priests in 1974 blazed trail
TWENTY FIVE YEARS AGO today, 11 Episcopal women turned outlaw: they traveled to the Church of the Advocate in North Philadelphia to be ordained as priests against the canons of their faith.
Today, the 10 surviving members of that revolutionary ceremony return to a heroine’s welcome, a day of celebration for the Episcopal Church’s 2,000 women clergy – and lingering controversy.
“It has not been an easy time since then,” said Luisa Miller, an Episcopal lay woman who is coordinating a luncheon and commemorative service. “One would think it’s old news, but there are still those who don’t accept women.”
Now it is the die-hard theological conservatives who comprise the Episcopalian out-group of clerics and congregations who threaten to break away due to liberalized attitudes on women and gay clergy, same-sex unions and inclusive God language.
The Episcopal General Convention, which had voted down women priests in 1973, changed the canons in 1976 and recognized the Philadelphia 11 for good measure.
The Rev. Nancy H. Wittig, 53, rector of St. Andrew’s in the Field in Somerton and the only current Philadelphian in the group, said she grew up in the church “realizing when they used the word ‘men’ they meant just men, not women.”
She felt a calling, enrolled in seminary and prepared for a day she considered inevitable. Wittig, then in North Jersey, joined Suzanne Hiatt, of the diocesan staff in Philadelphia, to line up nine other women and bishops (three retirees) gutsy enough to ordain them.
Still she wondered, she said this week, whether this was just the notion of a handful.
That changed, she said, when she stepped into the Gothic sanctuary at 18th and Diamond streets, domain of the legendary Rev. Paul Washington and cauldron of progressive causes.
“I was struck by the enormity and the excitement of the people who had gathered at the Advocate,” she said. “Sometimes you think you’re crazy and only two or three people think this way. We saw 1,800 people and realized this was something much bigger than us.”
How big was it?
While other American Protestant denominations had been ordaining women for decades — the first Congregationalist woman was ordained in 1853 – this reached another realm.
It was the first church that calls its clergy “priest” – direct stand-ins for Jesus Christ who administer the sacraments – to bestow that title upon a woman. And none of the three dozen other world Anglican Communions had taken the step (now almost half have done so).
“What was really supercharged about that ordination was the word ‘priest.’ And here were women being ordained not just to lead a service and read the Gospel, but to administer the Eucharist,” said Dr. E. Ann Matter, professor of religious studies at University of Pennsylvania. “The whole issue there is can a woman stand in the place of Christ, or do you need a man?”
The Catholic and Orthodox churches still say only a man can administer the sacraments.
So do about 100 conservative Episcopal parishes, calling themselves Forward in Faith of North America. They consider women’s ordination invalid – and keep pedigree lists of men and women ordained by female bishops, which they also consider inauthentic.
“We believe Jesus in his divine choice of men in apostolic leadership was making a definitive and eternal decision for the church,” said the Rev. David Moyer, of Good Shepherd Church in Rosemont on the Main Line, Forward’s president pro tem. “We do not have the freedom to change that.”
Moyer won’t be protesting, but he said, “I find it just incredible . . . this group just willfully and impatiently and self-righteously broke the canons of the church. How can you celebrate that?”
Today, it’s celebrated with a sold-out luncheon at the Downtown Club, then a service at Advocate at 5:30. Part of that service will be dedicating the Advocate as a National Historic Landmark.
Preaching will be Bishop Barbara Harris, a Philadelphia native who in 1989 became the first woman bishop, and now leads the Diocese of Massachusetts. She participated in 1974 as a laywoman and bearer of the cross. Now there are eight women bishops.
The shock waves from July 29, 1974, were felt almost immediately, triggering conversations like that of organizer Miller, then an uncomfortable Roman Catholic.
“I saw this great thing in The New York Times and I said to the Catholic Church, ‘I’m outta here,’ ” she said. “It is the most empowering thing that’s ever happened.”
Wittig, one of two originals now serving as a parish priest, sees her ordination as part of a church-shaking agenda on sexuality issues that has led to examination of gay ordination and same-sex unions, which she supports….
Twenty-five years later
A new robe and role for women
WHEN 11 WOMEN were ordained Episcopal priests in Philadelphia 25 years ago today, it was much more than an “equal employment opportunity” breakthrough.
The defiant actions of the women and the three retired bishops who ordained them at the Church of the Advocate continue to reverberate around the world. Many now see female clergy as God’s will; others see it as blasphemy.
Beyond that, today’s anniversary illustrates how the modern women’s movement is advancing along two tracks.
There are the “firsts” – individuals who become the first vice presidential candidate, the first senator, the first space commander, the first CEO.
And then there are the events that change the way women as a whole see themselves.
In that way, the ordination of the Episcopal women in 1974 was a little like the wholesale entry of girls into sports prompted by the passage of Title IX a few years earlier. That mini-revolution, culminating in the women’s World Cup soccer championship last month, changed forever the way many women saw their bodies and themselves – not frail and retiring, but strong and powerful.
The Episcopal ordination of women went even further: It helped to change the way many women saw themselves as spiritual beings. You can’t get much bigger than that.
The event prompted many women to convert to the Episcopal Church, where they felt themselves affirmed as religious people. Others recognized for the first time how much exclusion from the clergy had made them feel different – and less. They began to question other practices, other words, other ideas that they once had accepted.
The influence of women has led to more inclusive language in prayers – and in the words used to describe God. To some believers, these are unimportant, even frivolous issues. To others, they represent the most profound change – a change in identity.
It is only when we look at old newspaper clippings or speeches or television shows that we begin to see just how significant has been the change of attitudes about women’s capabilities.
It’s a change so profound that it has spawned a generation gap: many young women can’t imagine a time when anyone questioned women’s right to participate fully in all aspects of life.
Anniversaries like today’s suggest to their elders that, while they were in the midst of the revolution, they didn’t recognize it. They may wonder what they will learn about themselves when they look back 25 years from now.
The above two articles are reproduced by kind permission of the Editor, The Philadelphia Enquirer.