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Ordination of female priests and consecration of female bishops

The worldwide Anglican Communion, 1998 to now

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This topic continues from the previous essay

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A quotation worth repeating:

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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1998 to now: The gradual acceptance of female ordination within the Anglican Communion:


1998: By this date, a slim majority of the provinces had decided to ordain women. There was little controversy at that year's Lambeth Commission concerning female deacons and priests. Female ordination had become almost a non-issue. In South Africa, for example, Bishop Duncan Buchanan of Johannesburg noted that of the two bishops in that province who strongly opposed women priests, one has retired and the other is about to retire. He said:

"On the whole it has been a huge and wonderful non-issue and I mean that in the best way. It is not that people have gone the same way, but that people have respected each other's point of view...Those of us who have ordained women to the priesthood have done so supported by an enormously loving brethren also in the episcopate who have disagreed with us."

Eleven female bishops attended the 1998 Lambeth Conference. 8 were from the US, 2 from Canada, 1 from New Zealand. All but one had been ordained as a priest between 1978 and 1984. They were thus pioneers from the beginning of their ordained ministries as deacons and priests. Bishop Katie Sherrod said:

"Nearly all can tell tales of painful marginalization, even, in a few cases, of being spat upon, shouted at, verbally abused...With each bishop, however, such tales are told only rarely and then reluctantly, and usually, only to illustrate how much progress has been made." 1

A few conservative bishops protested. Almost 50 bishops planned to hold a parallel meeting. Others decided to attend the main conference, but not participate in liturgies or Bible studies if female bishops were present. At least one decided to not pose for the official group photograph if female bishops were included. Most of the protesting bishops were members of the Episcopal Synod of America (ESA), a conservative-reform group which had serious theological concerns over female ordination.

Barbara Harris, an African-American, is the bishop suffragan of Massachusetts (USA) and the second female bishop consecrated in the Anglican Communion. She had received death threats during her consent process. At the 1998 Lambeth Conference, she commented:

"The people who are unappreciative of our presence here are probably just avoiding us...People have been very solicitous and kind."

A group of women bishops and conservative male bishops prepared a resolution on female ordination. It stated that bishops should not be compelled to act against their conscience by ordaining or licensing female priests. It was moved by Bishop Penny Jamieson of Dunedin (Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia). She commented:

"During our discussions there were deep and real disagreements. Our small group began by being suspicious of each other, but as trust between us began to grow it became our prayer that we could agree on an amendment that we could offer to this Communion as a way of deepening our communion in the heart of God while and because of our respect for our differences." 

The resolution was approved by the conference on 1998-AUG-6.

Included in the resolution was a call to the provinces that they allow "appropriate Episcopal ministry" as needed. This apparently refers to a practice in which a parish that was opposed to women priests could "declare themselves out of communion with ordained women and those who recognize their orders." 2 These congregations could then be cared for by a second bishop who is male -- often called a "flying bishop" -- rather than by their own diocesan bishop. The flying bishop would serve congregations upon request, either in addition to or as an alternative to the diocesan bishop.  This is a radical departure from Anglican tradition which had always recognized the authority of only a single bishop within each diocese.

bullet Status as of 2004:
bullet In most religions, denominational policies and beliefs are profoundly affected by local and regional customs. Religious groups tend to follow -- rather than lead -- secular trends towards women's rights. Thus, there remain many provinces in the world that still do not permit female ordination. Anglican provinces in much of the far East, for example, will probably refuse to accept women for ordination until firm cultural beliefs about the roles of women are overturned. This could take many decades.

bulletBishops in three dioceses in the U.S. also refuse to ordain women. However, this position will probably not survive the retirement or death of their present bishops.  More details.

bulletMany more provinces refuse to consecrate women as bishops. As of 2004-OCT, the Church of England still refuses to consecrate priests as bishops if they happen to be female.

bulletIt may well take generations before sexism is totally abolished in the Anglican Communion, and women are allowed to fully serve in all positions within the church.

bullet 2008-MAY-22: Australia consecrated Kay Goldsworthy, 51 as its first female bishop: The sex discrimination commissioner welcomed the action as a "... turning point for the church and the nation as a whole." Twenty one Anglican bishops from Australia and New Zealand were among the 800 persons in the congregation who were present to show their support. However opponents to sexual equality, including Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney and David Mulready of Northwest Australia were notably absent because they boycotted the consecration. The Diocese of Sydney will not recognize her as a legitimate bishop. Bishop Goldsworthy said: ""We have been a while catching up in Australia. Twenty years ago we weren't yet ordaining women as priests, but the time has come and I know that the great majority of Australian Anglicans warmly welcome this day, and the fact that there is no longer any discrimination against women in pastoral leadership." 3,4

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The years when some Anglican provinces started to ordain women as priests:

We are unaware of any Anglican denomination in recent history which has stopped their practice of ordaining women. However, many have gone in the opposite direction. Below is a partial list with the approximate dates of either:

  • the approval of female ordination in principle or
  • the ordination of their first women as a deacon or priest:

We are attempting to add to this list and firm up the dates shown:

bullet1942: Anglican communion, Hong Kong. Florence Li Tim Oi was ordained as a priest on an emergency basis. Some sources report 1943 or 1944.

bullet 1968: The Lambeth Conference recommended that women be considered for ordaination as deacons.

bullet 1971: Anglican communion, Hong Kong. Joyce Bennett and Jane Hwang became its regularly ordained priests.

bullet 1974: Episcopal Church, USA: 11 women were ordained as priests in Philadelphia.

bullet 1975: Four women are ordained as priests in Washington, DC

bullet 1976: The General Convention of the Episcopal Church, USA votes to allow female ordination; the 15 previous illegal ordinations are regularized.

bullet1976: Six female priests are ordained by the Anglican Church in Canada.

bullet1977: Five female priests are ordained by the Anglican Church of New Zealand.

bullet 1983: A woman priest is ordained in Kenya.

bullet1983: Three women priests are ordained in Uganda.

bullet1987: Women are ordained as deacons in Australia.

bullet1987: A woman deacon is ordained in England.

bullet1990: Women are ordained as priests in Ireland.

bullet 1992: Church of England voted to allow the ordination of women. About 470 male clergy left the church in protest;many joined the Roman Catholic Church. 58 subsequently returned. 5

bullet 1992: Ten female priests were ordained in Australia.

bullet 1992: Archbishop Desmond Tutu of the Anglican Church of South Africa ordained Margaret Vertue, a female priest. She was elected bishop in 2012.

bullet 1992: The first women are ordained as priests in the Philippines.

bullet1994-MAR-12: The first female priests of the Church of England were ordained in Bristol Cathedral.

bullet1998: General Assembly of the Nippon Sei Ko Kai (Anglican Church in Japan) approves female ordination to the priesthood.

bullet2000: There remained about 1,000 congregations in the Church of England who refused to accept the authority of women priests. 6

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The years when some Anglican provinces started to consecrate women priests as bishops:

Currently, only the Anglican provinces of Canada, U.S., Polynesia, New Zealand, and Scotland allow women as bishops. The Anglican Church in Ireland has authorized women bishops in principle, but has yet to appoint one. As of 2004-OCT, there were 11 female bishops in the Anglican Communion.

bullet1988-SEP-24: The Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. elected Bishop Barbara Clementine Harris as suffragan bishop of Massachusetts. She was consecrated as bishop on 1989-FEB-11. - the first woman in the Anglican Communion to attain this office. She had been ordained as a priest in 1980-OCT. 7 Some objected to her consecration as bishop because of her gender; others objected on educational grounds -- she had extensive experience in public relations but only a few years of college before she was ordained. Some may have objected because of her race; she is black and only about 5% of Episcopalians share her race. But the latter is not obvious from the accounts at the time. (Sources differ greatly as to dates; the above appear to be accurate).
bullet 1989: Anglican Church of New Zealand. Penny Jamieson was elected as the seventh Bishop of Dunedin, the first diocesan bishop to be elected in the Anglican Communion. She was consecrated as bishop on 1990-JUN. The head of New Zealand's Anglicans at the time, Bishop Whakahuihui Vercoe, refused to attend her ordination. In an interview, he said it was not then, and still was not, culturally the right time to have a female bishop. She commented that her challenge to be the only bishop in a traditionally male hierarchy was "very much a call from God, and God has never lacked courage". She retired in mid-2004. No more female bishops were elected in the province until 2008. 8

bullet1995: The Anglican Church of Canada elected its first woman bishop: Victoria Matthews, as suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Toronto, ON. She was later translated (elected bishop for a second time) as diocesan bishop in Edmonton, AB, becoming the first woman bishop in the Anglican Communion to be translated.

bullet 1998: Women bishops appeared for the first time at the Lambeth Conference. There was some sullen non-cooperation, but little overt hostility, from the male bishops. 9

bullet2002: The Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. ordained Carol Joy Gallagher as suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Southern Virginia. She was the first indigenous woman to join the episcopate of the Anglican Communion.

bullet 2003: The Scottish Episcopal Church became the first Anglican province in the UK to allow female bishops.


2012: On APR-05, Genieve Blackwell became the first female Anglican bishop to be appointed in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) in Australia. She became the regional bishop for Wagga Wagga.10

On JUL-19, Revd Ellinah Ntombi Wamukoya, 61, became the bishop-elect of Swaziland and the first female Anglican bishop among the 12 provinces in Africa. She is the 24th non-retired female bishop within the Anglican Communion. 11

Canon Margaret Vertue, the senior priest in a diocese which includes most of the poorer suburbs of Cape Town was elected bishop of the diocese on OCT-03. She and Rev'd Ellinah Ntombi Wamukoya, bishop-elect of Swaziland, will be consecrated together by Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, head of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. 12

Status in 2012:

bullet Anglican Provinces in Aotearoa, Australia, Canada, Cuba Ireland, New Zealand, Polynesia, Scotland, Southern Africa, Swaziland, and the United States have appointed or elected female bishops as of mid-2012.

bulletThe Church in Wales considered but rejected consecration, as noted below.

bullet The Church of England has been considering allowing women to be consecrated as bishops. However, during 2012-JUL, they decided to postpone depate until at least 2012-NOV.

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A vote in the Church in Wales (In Welsh: Yr Eglwys yng Nghymru) to reject female bishops -- this time:

bullet2007-DEC: More than 100 clergy signed a letter that was submitted to Britain's Church Times newspaper. They warned that they would not accept women as bishops. A spokesperson, Rev. Alan Rabjohns, explained that the matter was a question of authority and whether the Church in Wales had the right to overturn two millennia of precedence. He noted that Christ was a male and that he chose only male disciples. (Actually, according to the Gospels, he enlarged his initial 12 disciples to total 70, and their gender makeup is unknown.)
bullet2008: The Church in Wales considered but rejected the consecration of female priests as bishops. As in most Anglican provinces, the bishops, priests and laity must independently agree to major changes by a two-thirds majority. In the case of the Church in Wales, on 2008-APR-02, the bishops voted unanimously in favor, the House of Laity backed the bill 52 to 19, but the House of Clergy voted only 27 to 18 in favor -- 60%. The clergy vote was three short for the measure to become canon law.

The Archbishop of Wales, Barry Morgan issued a statement saying:

"Like this bill, the bill to ordain women to the priesthood (in Wales) was initially defeated but it came back to the governing body, and was passed 11 years ago. This is not the end for this bill either. It will not go away and it will not be ignored; it is something the Church in Wales will have to grapple with. But it saddens me that we will have to go through the whole process and all the work involved again." 13

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Related essays on this web site:

bulletFemale ordination:
bulletIn the Episcopal Church, USA.
bulletIn Australia, England, and Scotland
bulletTreatment of sexually active gays and lesbians:
bulletIn the Anglican Communion
bulletIn the Episcopal Church, USA.
bulletIn the Anglican Church of Canada

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References used:

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

  1. Katie Sherrod, "First female bishops find warm welcome at Lambeth Conference," Anglican Communion News Service, Note 1705, 1998-AUG-3.
  2. "The Eames Monitoring Group Report," 1997-AUG, at:
  3. "Australia to get its first female bishop," Earth Times, 2008-APR-11, at:
  4. "Australia appoints woman bishop," British Broadcasting Corporation, 2008-MAY-22, at:
  5. "Anglican Church of England Synod considers women bishops; Could be further obstacle to future union of Christians,", 2000, at:
  6. 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:
  7. "Yale Bulletin & Calendar: Honorary Degrees," 1999-May 31-June 21, at:
  8. "Queen's Birthday Honours: Right Rev Dr Penny Jamieson," The New Zealand Herald, 2004-JUL-06, or 2004-JUN-07; who knows? See:
  9. Katie Sherrod, "First female bishops find warm welcome at Lambeth Conference," Anglican Communion News Service, 1998-JUL-30, at:
  10. Elizabeth Byrne, "NSW's first female Anglican bishop appointed," ABC News, 2012-APR-05, at:
  11. "Swaziland: First Female Anglican Bishop for Africa Elected in a 'Spirit-Filled' Atmosphere," AllAfrica Global Media, 2012-JUL-19, at:
  12. "Second female Anglican bishop elected by Southern Africa," Anglican Journal, 2012-OCT-09, at:
  13. "Church in Wales says 'no' to women bishops," Ecumenical News International, 2008-APR-03, at:
  14. Louie Crew, "Female Priests in the Episcopal Church," at:

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See our news feed on women's issues. It shows 20 current news items, and is updated every 15 minutes.

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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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