|The Rev. Virginia Briant, the Rev. Michael Deck, Bishop David Somerville, and the Rev. Elspeth Alley, presented to the congregation after their 1976 ordination. (Vancouver Province photo)|
The celebration of the 30th anniversary of the ordination of women to the priesthood brings to mind the long struggle that preceded it. In that struggle, and it was, indeed, a struggle, I played a quiet but determined part.
I had thought, for a long while, that our church should be inclusive, rather than exclusive. The old Kaiser of Germany put it well when he said "The right place for women is in the church, bearing children and working in the kitchen." Centuries well before this, Dr. Johnson had said that a woman preaching was like a dog walking on its hind legs, not just a wonder but a miracle it should happen at all.
I think about Elspeth Alley who, in 1970 approached me about ordination. I encouraged her to enrol in the Anglican Theological College where she was treated rather like a dog. She was not allowed to use the dining room or the common room and certainly not encouraged to think of ordination. Elspeth persisted, often eating lunch in her car and sitting in the back of the classroom. On November 30, 1976 with Virginia Briant and Michael Deck she was ordained priest.
The service was wonderful with a packed congregation, a warm and enthusiastic atmosphere. It was marked but not marred by a couple of incidents. At the beginning of the service sidesmen, noting there was a full house, carried a large pew down to the front of the church and put it in place backwards. So we began with laughter.
In the ordination service, as in the marriage service, there is a place where the officiant asks if there is "any reasonable cause" why we should not proceed. When I did this there was a moment of anxious silence. Nobody moved or spoke. Then one of the attending clergy came forward, holding a rolled up paper. He came up to stand beside me holding his paper. We all sat down to await developments.
He stood there with shaking hands. I reached out and took his document of objection, unrolled it and held it for him to read. Silence in the congregation. I am sure some people thought I would cave in and send everybody home. But having come so far and worked so hard for this service I was determined to proceed.
|At the service to commemorate the ordination of women, Bishop David Sommerville receives communion from the Rev. Christine Rowe of St. Catherine's, North Vancouver.|
I thanked him for his statement but said that we were acting on the authority of the House of Bishops and General Synod and the service would go forward as planned. He took his paper and walked out amid sighs of relief. The first ordination of women to the priesthood went ahead as planned.
There was a long history of discussion about the place of women in the church. Several General Synods had discussed the question and taken the classic way to avoid making a decision. "Let's study the proposal. We need more information. Let's appoint a committee."
At last the decision could not be put off any longer and at the 1975 General Synod in Quebec the resolution was presented, voted on and passed to general relief and excitement. The bishops were still not sure of the wisdom of passing such a resolution. Amid the excitement there was rejoicing among those of us who had worked hard for this moment.
General Synod voted in three separate houses according to the mover of the resolution - bishops, clergy or laity. I was aware of the position of the House of Bishops and knew if they voted first the motion would be lost since the clergy would follow the example of the bishops. The resolution had to have a majority in all three houses. Knowing that the laity were in favour of the ordination of women I asked Ruth Scott, a much-loved and respected woman in the training of deaconesses, to move the resolution. I seconded it. To my relief and happiness the resolution won in all three ballots and the closed door swung open.
It fell to the bishops to arrange the next step. We feared that one of the in-favour dioceses would jump ahead of the whole church and go down in history as the first to ordain women priests. The bishops decided to hold all the ordinations across the country on November 30.
The whole church is richer for the ministry of women priests and old warriors like me can rejoice that what we were sure was God's will was being done.