The Ordination of Women

The ordination of women has historically been a controversial issue in the Christian Church. The argument against it is usually that Jesus only had male apostles, and therefore ministry belongs to the male world. Others are opposed because of some New Testament texts such as 1 Timothy 2: 11-15 which speaks of the need for women to keep silent and in submission and also says that a woman is not permitted to have teaching authority over a man.  Contrast that with the teaching and theology of the Episcopal Church. First, women’s ordination is seen as an issue of justice. But more importantly, it is considered a gospel issue. For while it is true that the 12 apostles of Jesus were male, he had a cadre of women, some of whom are named in scripture, who were key followers and financial supporters of his mission. And in Romans 16, Paul refers to as many women as men when he speaks of the leaders in his churches. And then there is Mary Magdalene, who stayed at the foot of the cross when the apostles fled, and who was the first witness to the resurrection. From the earliest days, Mary was called the “apostle to the apostles.”

The first woman ordained as a priest in the Anglican Communion was Li Tim-Oi in the diocese of Hong Kong and Macao in 1944. It was not until July of 1974 that the first women were ordained in the Episcopal Church in America. Known as the Philadelphia Eleven, because of the city in which they were ordained, their ordination was considered “irregular” until delegates to General Convention in 1976 voted to approve the ordination of women to all the orders of the church. Ten years later, the first woman was consecrated bishop in the diocese of Massachusetts. Her name was Barbara Harris. In 2006, Katharine Jefferts Schori was called to serve as the first Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church

James Edwards-Acton