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Female ordination

Ordaining female priests in the Church of England.

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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 had left.

Timeline of the major steps leading to ordination of women:

Steps towards eliminating gender discrimination in the Church of England:
bullet 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.

bullet 1930: The experience of 1920 was repeated.

bullet 1935: The Archbishop's Commission discussed women's ordination and turned it down.

bullet 1944: Florence Li Tim-Oi was ordained as a priest in Hong Kong during wartime emergency.

bullet 1968: Lambeth Conference discussed female ordination but found arguments "inconclusive."

bullet 1971: The Anglican Consultative Council passed resolution 28 which authorized bishops to ordain women if they have the approval of their province.

bullet 1974: Three bishops "irregularly" ordained eleven women in the U.S.

bullet 1975: General Synod of the CoE determined that "there are no fundamental objections to ordination of women to priesthood."

bullet 1976: The Episcopal Church (USA)'s General Conference voted to allow the ordination of women and to accept the irregular ordinations of 1974.

bullet 1984: Synod decided to ordain female deacons.

bullet 1992: Ordination of women was given final approval. "Flying bishops" were created for those parishes who cannot accept gender equality.

bullet 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."

GRAS coordinator, 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 bishops" were:

"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."

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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 priests." 3

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 Visitors."

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:

bullet Consecrating women as bishops in the Church of England
bullet Policies concerning sexually active gays and lesbians:
bullet In the Anglican Communion
bullet In the Episcopal Church, USA.
bullet In the Anglican Church of Canada

References used:

  1. "Anglican Church of England Synod considers women bishops; Could be further obstacle to future union of Christians,", 2000, at:
  2. 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:
  3. Victoria Combe, "I'm not sure I see myself in a mitre," The Telegraph, 2002-AUG-28, at:
  4. Pierre W. Whalon, "Flying Bishops Revisited," Anglicans Online, 2000-OCT-20, at:
  5. 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

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