50 years of women priests

Stockholm, 19 September

The (Lutheran) Church of Sweden is about to mark the fiftieth anniversary of its decision in 1958 to ordain women as priests, and cathedrals in all of the church’s thirteen dioceses are to hold services to celebrate the anniversary.

‘With our jubilee, we wish to celebrate that the Church of Sweden is a church of equality, and that we can deepen this conviction together in the future,’ said the Revd Boel Hossjer Sundman, the church’s project manager for the commemorations.

A special celebration service will take place at Uppsala Cathedral on 23 September at the beginning of the denomination’s governing church assembly. A seminar the previous day will focus on church leadership in a changing world. The events will culminate with the diocesan services on 27 September, the date in 1958 on which the Church of Sweden took the decision to open its priesthood to women.

The first three women ordained on 10 April 1960 were Elisabeth Djurle, Ingrid Persson and Margit Sahlin. Now, 1915 of the church’s 4386 priests are women, according to April 2008 statistics.

Opponents of women priests in the church set up their own breakaway diocese in 2003 for like-minded Lutherans, who believe the ordination of women is against Christian faith and tradition. ‘There is no place for us any longer in the Church of Sweden,’ Bengt Birgersson, a Lutheran priest, who was the prime mover in setting up the new grouping called the Mission Province, said at the time.

The Church of Sweden is encouraging parishes and dioceses to take part in the celebrations to mark the anniversary of its ordination of women. An anniversary book will be presented to the church assembly. In the publication, writer Lina Sjoberg and photographer Sanna Sjosward depict in 20 portraits the 50 years of history since the ordinations began.

‘The 1958 decision is something to be proud of, but life has not always been easy for the ordained women. They have faced bullying and harassment as well as encouragement and appreciation,’ the Church of Sweden said in a document about the anniversary. ‘Ever since 1960, many women

have faced opposition and discrimination, but even more have received support from elected representatives, bishops and colleagues, and experienced great joy in their work,’ it further noted.

The Lutheran church is also cooperating with the Museum of Work in Norrkoping, and an adult educational organization to produce an exhibition on women as priests, while a documentary film has been produced to provide a starting point for discussions on career choices, the situation of professional women, discrimination and leadership. This piece originally appeared in Ecumenical News International

America 1

The historical fiction of The Episcopal Church

There’s a lot of pressure on Episcopal middle-of-the-roaders these days. With traditionalist dioceses lining up like planes on the tarmac waiting for takeoff, the pressure is on the Left Behinds to define their own Episcopal identity. Because doctrine is off limits, the only thing left to rally around is the church as institution. Not an institution with a purpose or even a variety of purposes, but simply as an institution pursuing its own survival.

A faithful Episcopalian is no longer one who faithfully stands by the Creeds, the Prayer Book and (heaven forbid!) the Scriptures. A faithful Episcopalian is now one who stands behind the Presiding Bishop and the General Convention. To paraphrase the jingoist sentiment of another era, ‘My church, right or wrong!’

No longer one faith

It is troubling to note the shift of TEC from an institution centred around a long religious tradition to one centred around rules, regulations, and real estate. Even more troubling is watching the leadership of The Episcopal Church act more and more like this is the way it ought to be – the way it has always been – and to watch them feign indignation at those who cling to an historic faith as the proper object of Christian loyalty. There is no one ‘faith’, they retort. And even if there were, to make demands about it is to be divisive and exclusive. Today’s loyalists have no stomach for standing

on principle. It is sobering to watch the bishops and clergy of TEC pretend a new history into existence, and then equate conformity to this fabrication with faithfulness to the Gospel.

The programme of pretence has engulfed the laity as well. In the Fort Worth area alone we hear of Via Media, Steadfast Episcopalians, North Texas Episcopalians, North Texas Remain Episcopal and Mid Cities Episcopalians, all lining up to oppose the traditionalist bishop, his clergy and the lay majority. Similar organizations, or branches of the same, pop up throughout the remaining enclaves of Episcopal conservatism in Albany, South Carolina, Central Florida, Pittsburgh and elsewhere.

The new establishment

Not since the Viet Nam era have we witnessed such a dramatic display of wrapping oneself in the institutional flag. ‘Hell no, we won’t go!’ comes readily to the lips of the greying clergy, only now with a biting irony. The American Counter Culture, firmly embedded in the mainline denominations, must now call itself the Establishment. Worse, it must wax indignant at the protestations of a new minority.

The new majority came to power championing the cause of every minority it could add to its letterhead. Like the generation that surprised itself by coming of age, they were not prepared to be a majority, to become the Establishment. They were certainly never prepared to see themselves as driven by Establishment concerns, power and property. But what else is there?

The causes espoused by the new majority are calculated to grant legitimacy to the new Establishment. The Millennium Development Goals project (to cite the most recent example) is an obvious fit, precisely because MDG’s are unassailable by popular criticism. They are politically correct and thus culturally orthodox. Their popular enthusiasm certainly has no relation to the UN’s track record in practical solutions to global problems particularly on such a grand scale.

Take the rest of the ’causes’ championed by the mainline churches – female clergy, environmentalism, gay liberation, opposition to war, just to name a few -which of these was not pre-certified to mediate approval by the secular establishment? Who risks anything to back the ‘prophetic’ programme of today’s Episcopal Church?

The new church has become the old Establishment, and it’s embarrassing. Still, that is not what puts pressure on Episcopalians today as the steady trickle of defections threatens to haemorrhage. The real pressure is on for TEC to pretend that it stands in historic continuity with the Christian Church across the ages, the Church of the Bible and the creeds. What is the only possible evidence TEC has to make such a claim? Well, we hold deed on the old properties, and we have attached our name to some worthy projects. So we must be the Church of the prophets, apostles, and martyrs.

The most to be pitied

The new Episcopal loyalists have redefined loyalty based on the only thing left, the institution. Doctrine is divisive. Morality falls under the general category of public relations. The political shell of the American Church is now a social advocacy group in vestments. Its adherence to its own creed is dismissed as superfluous.

One can argue the merit of subscribing to the Christian faith in our time. One can argue that Christians are ‘the most to be pitied’ after all (or just plain stupid) based upon what we know today about history or biology or physics. One cannot argue that the institution that goes by the name ‘The Episcopal Church’ is the same historic movement that formerly called itself by that name. Such a statement is historically indefensible. It is a fiction.

As the House of Bishops prepares to expel Bishop Bob Duncan for ‘abandonment of communion, they must put forward the absurdity that leaving the communion of the Episcopal Church and aligning with a church with which the Episcopal Church is presently in communion is abandoning communion.

Here it is hard to fathom what ‘communion is purported to mean. Whatever it means, it does not mean standing in continuity with those churches who received the same faith that the Episcopal Church received when it separated from the Church of England. It refers to the Episcopal Church as a national, legal entity, which traces only its development as an institution to the Church of England.

Institutional succession is not the same as communion. Here the Lutherans have an important corrective to our doctrine of succession. Apostolic succession’ must refer primarily to the succession of the faith of the apostles, with the succession of hands being secondary. In our tradition we assume the succession of faith but only insist on the succession of hands. And increasingly we wink at the reference to faith and acknowledge only the power of the apostolic office. The succession of hands is good theatre in support of an important principle – the need to pass on the faith from generation to generation. Take faith out of the equation and all you have is theatre. It’s all for show.

Notice the word ‘communion’ hasn’t yet entered into the equation. The apostolic communion would be the church’s claim that, by standing in communion with the apostles through sharing the faith they received from the Risen Lord, one is standing in communion with the Lord himself. Abandonment of communion is a serious matter because it implies the abandonment of the apostolic faith and, by extension, the Lord of the Church. In the case of Bishop Duncan abandonment of communion means – you guessed it -abandonment of the institution.

An institutional shell

Episcopal Church leaders are becoming hardened in their pretence that the Ordinal is really a ‘living document’ -that reference to ‘the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them’ are traditional words that borrow divergent meanings from novel ‘contexts’. I hear more and more clergy defending this position, with feigned outrage at those who rebel at the church’s abandonment of historic doctrine. I know how the clergy are drilled in the critical analysis of texts. They know the historical background of the Prayer Books. They know that ‘received’ does not refer to the legislative fiat of the most recent General Convention. If they have grown dull, it is because they have chosen to do so.

The Episcopal Church has become a legal shell with timid survivors who cannot make anything but institutional statements in support of institutional ends. Doctrine has been bargained away. All that remains are familiar phrases, emptied of meaning, retained for occasional use in public relations. Even these have largely fallen out of use, replaced by secular hot button phrases like ‘justice’ and ‘inclusiveness’ – words which never mean anything in particular but always adapt themselves to institutional ends.

Today’s Episcopalians are under pressure to pretend that nothing of substance has changed over the centuries. For the most part they are not wearing it well. The Revd Canon J. Gary L’Hommedieu is Canon for Pastoral Care at the Cathedral Church of St Luke, Orlando, Florida, and a regular columnist for www.virtueonline. org where this piece first appeared

America 2

Vote to depose

After nearly two days of prayerful and solemn closed-door sessions, the House of Bishops on September 18 voted by a two to one majority to depose Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh. The vote authorizes Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to remove Duncan from ordained ministry.

The vote total was 88 to 35 in favour of deposing Duncan, according to Episcopal Church spokeswoman Neva Rae Fox. There were four abstentions. ‘The House of Bishops worked carefully and prayerfully to consider the weighty matter of Bishop Duncan. The conversation was holy, acknowledging the pain of our deliberations as well as the gratitude many have felt over the years for their relationships with, and the ministry of, Robert Duncan,’ Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said in a statement after the meeting.

House judgement

‘The House concluded, however, that his actions over recent months and years constitute ‘abandonment of the communion of this church’ and that he should be deposed. Concern was expressed for the people of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh in the face of leadership which has sought to remove itself from the Episcopal Church.

‘In the days and months ahead, this church will work to ensure appropriate pastoral care and provision for the members of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, so that mission and ministry in that part of Pennsylvania may continue in the name of Jesus Christ and in the tradition of the Episcopal Church,’ she added.

Duncan did not return telephone calls seeking comment. A statement on the diocesan website said the ‘purported deposition…will not change the agenda for the October 4 Diocesan Convention, or change Bishop Duncan’s status as a bishop in good standing within the Anglican Communion. ‘The action of the House of Bishops, which was taken in a closed meeting… contravenes numerous canons of the Episcopal Church,’ the statement said.

Bishop Jon Bruno of Los Angeles in a statement said the vote was not a referendum on Duncan’s beliefs, but a direct result of his attempts to ‘lead large numbers of people out of his diocese’ and into affiliation with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone (of South America) even after Jefferts Schori and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams called for an end to such actions. He noted that a Title IV Review Committee certified in 2007 that Duncan has abandoned communion of the Episcopal Church, defined by the canons as ‘.. .an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship of this Church…’ [Title IV.10.1].

Unlawful action

Duncan characterized the deposition as unlawful, but added that he will not challenge it prior to the end of the diocese’s October 4 convention unless ‘forced to do so by the leadership of the Episcopal Church,’ according to the statement on the Diocese of Pittsburgh’s website. Pittsburgh convention delegates will be asked to consider the second reading of a constitutional change that would realign the diocese with the Southern Cone. ‘With the passage of that constitutional change, the diocese will be free to welcome Bishop Duncan back as its bishop,’ according to the statement.’

‘This is of course a very painful moment for Pittsburgh Episcopalians. The leadership of The Episcopal Church has inserted itself in a most violent manner into the affairs and governance of our diocese. While we await the decision of the diocesan convention on realignment… we will stand firm against any further attempts by those outside our boundaries to intimidate us,’ said the Revd David Wilson, president of the Standing Committee.

The Revd Jim Simons, also a standing committee member, said in an interview he opposes the realignment and chairs a group known as the Across the Aisle

Steering Committee (AASC), so named because of a diversity of membership, both conservative and progressive, who reached across the aisle to one another because of their commitment to remaining with the Episcopal Church.

Diocesan reactions

Simons said he was surprised and saddened by Thursday’s vote. ‘I thought it would be much closer,’ said Simons, who is also rector of St Michael’s of the Valley, Ligonier, Pa. ‘I’d have thought there’d be more bishops who would have waited until our convention vote to make this decision.’

He said he expects that some members of the diocese will regard the action as premature, even ‘heavy-handed and they are going to say they cannot stay in a church which acts this way’ Rich Creehan, a media advisor to the AASC, said Duncan and his family remain in the prayers of the entire diocese.

He estimated that as many as 30 of the diocese’s 66 recognized congregations will remain with the Episcopal Church. About 325 people attended a recent gathering to show support for the church, he added in an interview. ‘There are a lot of anxious feelings about where we’ll be after convention, but we’re sticking with the image of a big tent, in which everybody will be welcome.’

The Revd Pat McCaughan is Episcopal Life Media correspondent for the dioceses of Province VIII and the House of Bishops. She is based in Los Angeles

This piece for the Episcopal News Service first appeared September 18, 2008


Ordination of women: pastoral provision -A Statement by the Bench of Bishops

September 2008

At the time of the Governing Body’s decision in 1996 to enable women to be ordained to the priesthood, the Bishops of the Church in Wales agreed to the appointment of an assistant bishop to provide additional episcopal care for those who could not in conscience accept that decision. This Bishop came to be known as the Provincial Assistant Bishop [PAB]. The role of the PAB was to minister with the express permission of the Diocesan Bishop, and parishes were issued with guidelines about the exercise of that ministry. At that time there was concern in some parts of the Province about the implications of the ordination of women priests, and the appointment of the PAB was part of the Bench’s public commitment to providing a continuing place in the Church in Wales for those opposed to such ordinations.

From 1996 to the end of June this year, Bishop David Thomas served as the Provincial Assistant Bishop. At the last Governing Body meeting, the Archbishop expressed the gratitude of the Bench for his faithful ministry, and in particular for the way in which he worked closely with the diocesan bishops. The diocesan bishops have continued to provide support for all clergy and parishes, regardless of whether they had asked for the ministry of the PAB, and consequently clergy and parishes opposed to the ordination of women have continued to play a full part in the life of their respective dioceses and in the life of the Province.

We are now twelve years on from the Governing Body decision to allow women to be ordained as priests. Bishop David Thomas retired at the end of June, and the Bench has now reviewed the need for a continuation of additional episcopal care. Our discussions have focussed on the needs of the Church in Wales, not on the personal ministry of Bishop David Thomas. Consequently our conclusions should in no way be seen as a reflection on his ministry as PAB.

We reaffirm as diocesan bishops our commitment to securing a continuing place in the life of the Church in Wales for those who cannot in conscience accept the ordination of women to the priesthood. However, we no longer consider that the continuation of additional episcopal provision for one part of the Church on grounds of belief or doctrine on one particular issue is either necessary or consistent with Anglican ecclesiology. All Church in Wales clergy and parishes are in communion with their respective diocesan bishop, regardless of whether or not they agree on every issue. Episcopal oversight and care for all within each diocese is the responsibility of the diocesan bishop.

There remains a continuing place in the Church in Wales for those unable to accept the ministry of women priests, but we do not believe that this is contingent upon appointing another Provincial Assistant Bishop and it is therefore our decision not to appoint. Whilst bringing a particular arrangement to an end, we remain committed to serving every person and every parish within our respective dioceses and we will continue to be sensitive in our appointments, both in terms of the views of parishes and in ensuring that clergy from different parts of the Church are given the opportunity to progress in their ministry.