Ordaining female priests
in the Church of England.
Ordination of women as priests in the Church of England:
This was lengthy process taking 74 years -- approximately equal to three generations of potential female priests, or the length of two professional careers. Some critics wondered why the Church of England was given its role as the established church when its policies of misogyny were at such variance with the rest of society.
The three Houses -- the Bishops, clergy and laity -- of the General Synod of the Church of England finally approved the ordination of
women priests in 1992. The first group of about 1000 women were ordained in 1994. About 470 male clergy left the church in protest
soon after; 58
subsequently returned. 1 Many
of those who left were accepted by the Roman Catholic Church even though
they were married. By 2005, some sources estimate that a total of 720 priests
Timeline of the major steps leading to ordination of women:
Steps towards eliminating gender discrimination in the
Church of England:
1920: Women's ordination was placed on the agenda of the
Lambeth Conference, but was not discussed. This is the main
coordinating conference among all Anglican provinces.
The experience of 1920 was repeated.
Archbishop's Commission discussed women's ordination and turned it down.
1944: Florence Li Tim-Oi was ordained as a priest in Hong
Kong during wartime emergency.
Conference discussed female ordination but found arguments
1971: The Anglican Consultative
Council passed resolution 28 which authorized bishops to ordain women
if they have the approval of their province.
bishops "irregularly" ordained eleven women in the U.S.
1975: General Synod
of the CoE determined that "there
are no fundamental objections to ordination of women to
1976: The Episcopal Church (USA)'s General
Conference voted to allow the ordination of women and to accept the irregular ordinations of
1984: Synod decided to ordain
1992: Ordination of
women was given final approval. "Flying bishops" were created for
those parishes who cannot accept gender equality.
1994 The first women priest was ordained.
After 1994, steps were begun to allow female candidates to be
consecrated as bishops. Now, almost two decades later, no significant progress has been made to end sexism in the Church of England.
Acceptance of women priests:
By late 2001, about 20% of the ordained clergy were
women. Stephen Bates, religious affairs correspondent of The Guardian,
assessed how completely women had been integrated
into the priesthood. Some female priests complained that they are
heavily discriminated against. Some claimed that they have been accused of
being Witches. Some male candidates for the
priesthood refused to be touched by female priests during
ordination, believing them to be tainted.
An organization, the Group for the Rescinding of the Act of Synod
(GRAS) reported that there were many reasons for this rejection:
"...fear of conflict,
misogyny, the bishops' wish to present a united front to the world, a
devotion to the old boy network or, in some cases, to a closeted gay
network, laziness, indifference, an excessive concern about what Rome thinks
and a habitual stance of not taking women seriously."
The Rev Mary Robins, said:
"We live in a country which supports human
rights but has a state church which discriminates against women."
At the time that female ordination was approved, the synod made special
allowances for those clergy who were opposed to the action. Three "flying
"nominated by the archbishops as provincial episcopal
visitors to undertake episcopal duties in those parishes who have petitioned
their bishop for alternative arrangements in the light of their opposition to
the ordination of women."
GRAS wants these arrangements rescinded.
Christina Rees, a member of the archbishops' council - the church's
executive - said:
"There is deep prejudice against women and it seems to
be perfectly all right for certain people to behave towards women in ways
that would not be acceptable in other professions. They are called witches
and priestesses with the tribal, pagan connotations that implies."
In 2001, Vivienne Faull, the Provost of Leicester
Cathedral, was interviewed by The Telegraph. She was one of the first group of
women to be ordained in 1994. Some have suggested that she might become the
first female bishop of the Church of England. She commented on her experiences
in the seven years since she was ordained:
"If we received anonymous letters with
satanic or violent content, we took them straight to the police and we
received a fair number at Coventry."
"No allowances are made for family life. Many women priests have small
children or elderly relatives to care for, but this is never taken into
account. The jobs are shaped around the lives of men with wives who will
perform the role of entertaining guests, keeping home and providing meals."
"I think the priesthood will become a profession dominated by women,
particularly if the Church becomes more marginal," she says. "Men will be
less attracted to working in the Church because it offers less social
status. Women worry less about this. Also, being a good priest demands the
feminine traits of caring and nurturing. I predict that once initial doubts
about women clergy are dispelled, parishes will actively seek women as their
As of the year 2000, there were about 1,000 congregations in the Church
of England who refused to accept the authority of women priests. 2 They were
led by one of three "flying bishops" who guides conservative
congregations throughout England. Their formal name is "Provincial Episcopal
By the year 2000, only three out of the 44 dioceses in the Church of England
still refused to ordain female priests. 4
In mid-2008, about one quarter of the Church of England clergy are women, and
about half of students training for ordination are women. 5
Related essays on this web site:
"Anglican Church of England Synod considers women bishops; Could be
further obstacle to future union of Christians," Archbishops.org, 2000,
Stephen Bates, "Church of England Takes Cautious Step Toward Female
Bishops. England's Anglican branch has resisted the trend toward women bishops
accepted in the U.S., Canada, and New Zealand," Guardian Unlimited,
2000-JUL-10, at: http://www.beliefnet.com/
Victoria Combe, "I'm not sure I see myself in a mitre," The Telegraph,
Pierre W. Whalon, "Flying Bishops Revisited," Anglicans Online,
Muriel Porter, "Accepting women bishops," Unleashed column, Australian
Broadcasting Commission, 2008-JUL-10, at:
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Copyright © 1996 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2012-NOV-21
Author: Bruce A. Robinson