Sections 12-20(slightly condensed)
|The Rev. Florence Li Tim O|
The story of ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate provides us with a recent example of mutual discernment and decision-making within the Anglican Communion. The background to the story was a period of debate and disagreement both before and after the ordination to the priesthood of Florence Li Tim-Oi in 1944.
The story gathered pace in 1968, when the Diocese of Hong Kong & Macao brought the question of women's ordination to the priesthood to the Lambeth Conference. The Conference was not ready to respond [and said],The story gathered pace in 1968, when the Diocese of Hong Kong & Macao brought the question of women's ordination to the priesthood to the Lambeth Conference. The Conference was not ready to respond [and said],"The Conference affirms its opinion that the theological arguments as at present presented for and against the ordination of women to the priesthood are inconclusive." The Conference recommended that before any regional or national church or province made a final decision to ordain women to the priesthood they should consider carefully the advice of the Anglican Consultative Council.
The Bishop of Hong Kong & Macao sought out the advice of the Anglican Consultative Council at its first meeting ... in 1970. The...Council advised the Bishop of Hong Kong The Bishop of Hong Kong & Macao sought out the advice of the Anglican Consultative Council at its first meeting ... in 1970. The...Council advised the Bishop of Hong Kong & Macao that if, with the approval of his Synod, he were to proceed to the ordination of a woman his action would be acceptable to the Council, and that the Council would use its good offices to encourage all provinces of the Communion to continue in communion with that Diocese. The resolution passed (for: 24; against: 22).
The 1978 Lambeth Conference addressed a situation where Hong Kong, Canada, the United States and New Zealand had all ordained women to the priesthood and eight other provinces had accepted the ordination of women in principle.
In response, the Conference ... stated, "The Conference also recognises…the autonomy of each of its member Churches, acknowledging the legal right of each Church to make its own decision about the appropriateness of admitting women to Holy Orders"…This resolution passed with 316 for, 37 against, and 17 abstentions.
In 1985 the General Convention of the Episcopal Church (USA) expressed the intention "not to withhold consent to the election of a bishop on the grounds of gender." Aware that such a possible action would indeed affect the whole Anglican Communion, the then Presiding Bishop brought the question to the newly established Primates' Meeting in Toronto.
The Archbishop of Canterbury and the primates requested ...a committee to prepare a paper for the 1988 Lambeth Conference after requesting the opinions of the provinces of the Communion…The [committee's report] presented two options to the Lambeth Conference: first, to counsel restraint in the hope that the moral authority inherent in a gathering of all the bishops of the Communion would find a response at the provincial level. Second, if a province went ahead, persuaded by compelling doctrinal reasons, by its experience of women in the priesthood and by the demands of mission in its region, and with the overwhelming support of the dioceses, such a step should be offered for reception within the Anglican Communion.
In response, ... Lambeth 1988 ... recommend[ed] courtesy and respect and open dialogue with those who differ, and asked the Archbishop of Canterbury, in consultation with the primates, to appoint a Commission… The Commission on Women in the Anglican Episcopate ... worked throughout the period between the Lambeth Conferences of 1988 and 1998. A monitoring committee of the Commission made a report to Lambeth 1998.
Anglicans can understand from this story that decision-making in the Communion on serious and contentious issues has been, and can be, carried out without division, despite a measure of impairment.
By Ann Tottenham
Suffragan Bishop of Toronto (Credit Valley)
|The Rt. Rev. Ann Tottenham|
The Windsor Report on the nature of the relationships among the different national church provinces of the worldwide Anglican Communion makes interesting reading. I commend it to your interest and attention...
Having said that, I also need to say that there are a number of controversial parts of the report that are likely to be the matter of much discussion in the months ahead...
One of the topics "Recent mutual discernment within the Communion" is presented to show that the Anglican Communion has dealt successfully in the past with controversial issues. Its thesis is that existing Anglican Communion "Instruments of Unity"- the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council, and the Primates' Meeting - provide the structure for dealing with major changes in the Anglican tradition.
In fact, this section is a breath-taking re-writing of Anglican history that few women would recognize as either helpful or appropriate.
The story begins with the ordination of Florence Li Tim Oi in Hong Kong in 1944. The Japanese occupation of Hong Kong during World War II meant that Anglican priests were prevented from crossing to the unoccupied colony of Macao to bring the sacraments to the people there. Faced with this pastoral crisis Bishop Hall decided to ordain Tim Oi who was already serving as a deacon in Macao...Bishop Hall was in no position to consult any of the "Instruments of Unity" before making this decision and, in fact, was later roundly condemned by them.
After the war, despite censure and pressure from the 1948 Lambeth Conference and two successive Archbishops of Canterbury, Bishop Hall did not require Tim Oi to renounce her ordination. She surrendered her licence to practise as a priest and continued her faithful service to the church in China...
Finally, in 1971 the newly formed Anglican Consultative Council, which included lay people as well as priests and bishops, met in Kenya and voted by a narrow margin to allow the diocese of Hong Kong to ordain women.
Tim Oi now in her 70's was able to resume her priestly ministry and we were honoured to have her spend her final years in Canada. In light of her lonely suffering and rejection by the Anglican Communion, the use of Tim Oi's experience as an example of the effective working of the various "Instruments of Unity" shows, to say the least, disrespect for a courageous woman.
The real lesson which Anglicans can learn from the on-going struggle over the ordination of women is not the one cited in the Windsor Report. The real lesson... is that when unity and fellowship become the first priority for the Church the result is the endless postponement of decision-making and the inequitable treatment of those most closely involved with the issue.
Later in the Windsor Report (Section 126) the statement is made that a common mind about the ordination of women bishops has been reached and that the "Instruments of Unity" have decided that the current degree of impairment is one "which the Communion could bear." The "impairment" referred to is that various national churches, including the Church of England, do not recognize either women bishops ordained elsewhere in the Communion or the priests of either gender that these women have ordained.
This, to my mind, is not an acceptable level of impairment for a body which refers to itself as a "communion" whose unique source of unity is our common identity in Christ.
The ordination of women to the priesthood and to the episcopacy became possible only because individual provinces, like Canada, exercised their autonomy in the face of the various "Instruments of Unity" which exhorted them to delay, to exercise caution, to do nothing that might offend any other province in the communion.
As I reach the end of almost twenty-five years in active ordained ministry as both priest and bishop, I realize that without the actions of courageous individuals and autonomous provinces this ministry would not have been possible in my lifetime.
Reprinted with permission from The Anglican, Diocese of Toronto. (Slightly condensed.)