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Ordination of female priests and consecration of female bishops

The worldwide Anglican Communion, 1960 to 1997

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bullet "I've often thought of my ministry as a wedge plowing a field that is hard, leaving behind something softer that's ready for new life." Bishop Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island, the first female dean of an Anglican cathedral

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Concerning the Anglican Communion itself:

The total membership of the worldwide Anglican Communion is approximately 76 million. Each of the 38 national or multi-national churches, called "provinces," has wide powers of self-government. They independently decide who are eligible for ordination as priests and consecration as bishops. The leader of each province -- the Primate -- and the bishops meet every ten years at the Lambeth Conference. They attempt to reach general agreement on basic matters of faith and social policy. The meetings are held in years that end in an "8."

Even though all 38 provinces share the Christian religion, the Anglican tradition, and the text of the Holy Bible, they are embedded in very different cultures that consider gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity very differently. In such conflicts, culture tends to trump religion, tradition and scripture by being the paramount consideration in the treatment of women, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender persons and transsexuals. The result is a multi-decade battle before sexism, homophobia, and transphobia are overcome in the selection of candidates for ordination as priests, consecration as bishops, and selection as primates. In the meantime, older teens and young adults leave the Anglican Communion in droves because of what they personally view as an intolerable level of bigotry.

In 1998, the General Assembly of the Nippon Sei Ko Kai (Anglican Church in Japan) voted to accept female priests. With this development, most provinces now consider women for ordination. A few provinces have consecrated women as bishops. Sadly, most still refuse.

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1960 to 1997: The gradual acceptance of female ordination within the Anglican Communion:

There has historically been a threefold ministry in the church, consisting of deacons, priests, and bishops. Prior to the mid-20th century, all provinces in the Anglican Communion had refused to consider any female candidates as eligible for ordination to the priesthood, no matter what their qualifications or talents. There was little discussion on the matter. However, in the 1960s, the evolving feminist movement began to have an impact on the Anglican Communion, particularly in the developed world. Discussions of the unthinkable began. By 1974, the first female priests were ordained in the U.S. By 1998, debate had been confined to the sizeable minority of provinces which still banned the ordination of women. However, progress has not been uniform. Even in 2008, the Church in Wales refused to allow female ordination.

The important stages of this controversy are worth considering, because they could form a model for the Anglican Communion's consideration of the role of homosexuals in church life:

bullet During the 1960s: There was a growing acceptance in western cultures of the need to give women equal opportunity as a moral imperative. This was largely driven by secular groups, very liberal religious groups, and individuals. Debate intensified within the Anglican Communion concerning female ordination as priests and even their consecration as bishops.

bullet 1968 Lambeth Conference: Five resolutions were passed concerning the ordination of women:
bullet Resolution 34 stated that the theological arguments for and against female ordination are both inconclusive.

bullet Resolution 35 and 36 asked the provinces and the Anglican Consultative Council to continually exchange their views on female ordination.

bullet Resolution 37 asked any province that was seriously considering female ordination to not proceed until obtaining the advice of the Anglican Consultative Council.

bullet Resolution 38 was initiated by Women in the Anglican Communion. It recommended that provinces involve women as much as possible in worship services pending resolution of the female ordination question. 1

bullet 1974: Three bishops of the Episcopal Church, USA irregularly ordained eleven women. Massive outrage surfaced in the Church and throughout the rest of the Communion.

bullet 1975: The Anglican Church of Canada authorized female ordination.

bullet 1976: The Episcopal Church, USA passed a resolution declaring that "no one shall be denied access" to ordination into the three orders of ministry: as deacons, priests or bishops, on the basis of their sex.

bullet 1980s: Additional provinces started to ordain qualified women to the priesthood. Debate intensified within some provinces over whether female priests should be eligible to be consecrated as bishops.

bullet 1988 Lambeth Conference: This was a critical time for the Anglican Communion. Female ordination remained a hot topic. There was a concern that the Episcopal Church, USA might shortly consecrate a woman as bishop.

Resolution 1 was adopted by a vote of 423 to 28, with 19 abstentions. It begins:

"That each province respect the decision and attitudes of other provinces in the ordination or consecration of women to the episcopate, without such respect necessarily indicating acceptance of the principles involved, maintaining the highest possible degree of communion with the provinces which differ."

This resolution recognizes that each province is autonomous and has the authority to decide for itself whether to ordain women or to consecrate female priests as bishops. 2

bullet Part "c" of the resolution also recommended that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, appoint a commission to monitor female ordination. The main purpose of the group was to preserve the unity of the church during this critical time. There was considerable concern that one or more provinces would break away from the Anglican Communion. None ever did. The commission's formal name was the "Archbishop of Canterbury's Commission on Communion and Women in the Episcopate" It became generally known as the Eames Commission because it was chaired by the Most Reverend Robin Eames, Archbishop of Armagh in Ireland.

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bullet 1989: The fear that a woman might be consecrated as a bishop materialized when the Anglican Church of New Zealand consecrated Penny Jamieson as the seventh Bishop of Dunedin. Later that year, the Episcopal Church, USA consecrated Barbara Harris, an African-American woman, as bishop.

bullet 1994: Three official reports of the Eames Commission were published in one volume, "The Eames Commission, The Official Reports." The Commission was disbanded, but was replaced by the Eames Monitoring Group which continued to observe the female ordination issue in the Communion.


1997:The Eaves Monitoring Group issued a report. saying that the Communion wanted to "...uphold legitimate provincial autonomy while at the same time fostering a care and consideration for those ...." who opposed female ordination. The commission felt that their "...guidelines ...have helped Anglicans maintain the highest degree of communion with those who, with integrity, hold quite opposite views about the ordination of women." They estimated that there were "well over 4,000" female priests in the Communion, as well as "10 women bishops of which 6 are diocesan bishops."

  • The provinces of Australia, Burundi, England, Kenya, Philippines, Scotland, Uganda, Wales, West Africa, and West Indies accepted women as deacons or priests.

  • Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, and Southern Africa had accepted, in principle, women to all three ministries of the church: as deacons, priests and bishops.

  • The provinces of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia had joined Canada and the US by actually having women functioning in all three levels.
They reported that some English groups which are:

"...opposed to women's ordination continue to feel marginalized. Others believe the Church of England went too far in accommodating conscientious dissent....The reports from the Provinces indicate occasional or even more general attitudes of contempt for opponents on both sides of the continuing debate. Communion in diversity requires charity and respect. ... The Province of the Anglican Church in South East Asia continued its opposition to ordaining women. They said, "It is wrong to consider the open process of reception where the principle is wrong and not accepted...there is no debate where scripture, tradition and common sense are clear." 3

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following sources were used in the preparation of this essay. Some of the hyperlinks have probably become broken since.

  1. Jan Nunley, "Women's ordination mandatory, but opponents' rights respected," Episcopal News Service, 1997-AUG-7. Available at:
  2. Katie Sherrod, "First female bishops find warm welcome at Lambeth Conference," Anglican Communion News Service, Note 1705, 1998-AUG-3.
  3. "The Eames Monitoring Group Report," 1997-AUG, at:

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Copyright 1996 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2012-OCT-10
Author: Bruce A. Robinson
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