MAN, WOMAN, AND PRIESTHOOD
(Edited by Peter Moore, SPCK London, 1978)
10. A Fractured Church
(Robert E. Terwilliger)
ROBERT E. TERWILLIGER (b. 1917) is Bishop Suffragan of Dallas in the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. After serving as rector of churches in New York and Los Angeles, he became Director of Trinity Institute, New York City, and Adjunct Professor of Theology at the General Theological Seminary. He is co-editor of "To Be a Priest" (1975), the Presiding Bishop's book on ministry.
The Episcopal Church in the United States suffered a trauma on 16 September 1976. Late in the afternoon, the House of Deputies of the General Convention meeting in Minneapolis balloted on the resolution that it should concur with the House of Bishops that 'these Canons for admission of Candidates for the Ordination for the three Orders, Bishops, Priests, and Deacons shall be equally applicable to men and women'. The great auditorium of the Convention Center was crowded with several thousand people. The. chairman called for a five-minute period of silent prayer. Then the balloting began. This was a vote by orders according to diocese. The measure was passed, but by a very slender margin; indeed, if six votes had been different, it would not have passed. The. Convention then adjourned. The great multitude departed in silence with a tremendous sense that something momentous had taken place, the consequences of which could not be foreseen Naturally there was jubilation in the minds of those who were protagonists of this action, but there was also grief and shame in the hearts of those who had fought against it. Had the Episcopal Church decided or divided?
The preceding day the House of Bishops had considered this resolution. There had been a controlled debate of two hours and then the vote. 95 bishops had voted for the resolution, 61 against, and 2 abstained. The action was passed, therefore, by less than a two-thirds majority, even though the motion had been made by the Bishop of Colorado that a two-thirds vote should be required. That motion was defeated. As soon as the vote had been announced, the Bishop of Eau Claire read the following statement which had been prepared in a continuing conference of many days by a large group of bishops who were opposed to this decision:
We stand committed to the Episcopal Church, and we are determined to live and work within it. We cannot accept with good conscience the action of this House. We believe to do so would violate our ordination vows to be faithful to and to defend the word of God in Holy Scripture.
Furthermore, we cannot acknowledge the authority of this General Convention to decide unilaterally and in the face of the expressed disapproval of our Roman, Old Catholic and Orthodox brethren a question which ought to be decided by an ecumenical consensus.
The ordination and consecration of women priests and bishops will raise for us . . . how far this church can accept such ministrations without fatally compromising its position as a Catholic and Apostolic Body. We ask our brothers in this House to take to heart our resolution. We ask the whole church to take note of our unshaken loyalty to the Episcopal Church, its teachings, its spirituality, its priesthood, and its sacraments.
Immediately after this reading, thirty-seven bishops lined up to sign this document publicly in the presence of the whole House. When the vote in the House of Deputies was taken a similar statement was immediately made by a deputy of the Diocese of Milwaukee, and the signatures of those deputies who wished to express their repudiation of this action of the Convention were fixed to it. Thus the Convention itself was the formal beginning within the Episcopal Church of division on this new ministry.
In order to understand the intensity of this moment it is necessary to remember the brief, turbulent history of the previous six years. The first time that the issue of the ordination of women to any holy order in the Episcopal Church was seriously considered came in 1970. In that year the Convention affirmed that those ordained to the Order of Deaconesses should be considered members of the Order of Deacons, and that henceforth the Order of Deacons should be open to women. This created a situation which was strange. Deaconesses who had been 'set apart' according to the canons of the Church, but never believed that they had received sacramental ordination suddenly discovered that they were, as it were, retroactively ordained. In the same Convention an attempt was made, without much preparation or warning, to approve the ordination of women to the priesthood. This was defeated. Women began to be ordained to the diaconate almost immediately, and without much protest. It seemed to be a reasonable development with a scriptural and traditional precedent. The only question which was raised, and which continues to be raised, is whether deaconesses properly have a liturgical and sacramental function, or whether their order is to be considered primarily one of practical service. It has to be said that in the minds of most clergy and laymen the question of the ordination of women deacons is quite separate from the question of the ordination of women to the sacerdotal orders.
The drive for the ordination of women to the priesthood began immediately after the 1970 Convention. There were organized bodies which spared no effort to promote it. Conspicuous among them was the Episcopal Women's Caucus. Every opportunity was taken to present the cause of women's ordination, not only in church groups but also in the media. It became apparent that secular newspapers, radio, and television were favourably inclined to the idea. It was also obvious that the church press, which was officially supported by the national establishment, was prepared to propagandize for this purpose. Funds from the United Thank Offering of the Women of the Episcopal Church were used for the support of presentations of a 'consciousness-raising' nature for women's ordination. All of this was in preparation for the forth- coming Convention in Louisville in 1973, when once again the issue would be presented for decision. Throughout the diocese of the Church resolutions were prepared and voted on concerning the question to be sent to the General Convention for consideration. In preparation for the action of diocesan conventions, debates were held throughout the Church. Very often notable protagonists on both sides would be invited to present their case, and to answer extensive questioning. This was also a time of pamphleteering, in which a considerable amount of literature, much of it highly emotional, was produced. Whenever an episcopal election occurred, the candidates were presented at least partially in the light of their positions on this matter.
Demonstrations for women's ordination were a commonplace in this triennium. One which attracted a considerable amount of attention occurred in 1973 when the Archbishop of Canterbury (Michael Ramsey), the Cardinal Archbishop of Malines, and the Prior of the Taizé Community had come for the annual National Conference of Trinity Institute of New York City. At an opening service which brought together about three thousand people in Riverside Church, a demonstration of women in favour of the ordination of women took the form of a procession down the aisle following the Archbishop. It was headed by banners in red and white with the dove symbol of the Holy Spirit with a female sex sign on the head. The subject of the conference was 'The Holy Spirit'. Such demonstrations proved to be counterproductive, because they created as much antagonism as support. This demonstration occurred because the Archbishop had expressed himself against the ordination of women on ecumenical grounds, and the director of the Institute was also against it.
The Coalition for Apostolic Ministry came into existence as a committee which was first engaged in preparing and supporting a resolution presented in the Convention of the Diocese of New York. After this resolution failed to pass, the group did not disband, but extended its membership to become national. This was a company of bishops, priests, and lay men and women who were committed to the maintenance of male sacerdotal order in the Episcopal Church. They were interested not simply in preventing the ordination of women, but more substantially in the reaffirmation of the nature of priesthood in a biblical and traditional manner. There was a main office in New York City, and chapters of the Coalition extended throughout the dioceses of the Episcopal Church in the United States and of the Anglican Church in Canada. The Coalition was not simply a group of one-churchmanship, but included both Evangelicals and Catholics. As time passed, it became the centre of the growing opposition to women's ordination. Older bodies like the American Church Union also conducted a very vigorous programme along the same lines. A group called the Fellowship of Concerned Churchmen with strong lay leadership appeared to support this cause. These groups at this stage seemed to work in harmonious interaction.
Many women were accepted in the seminaries of the Church as regular students preparing for ordination. It was considered inevitable that such ordination should be authorized, and therefore diocesan commissions and bishops were in many cases prepared to approve women candidates. It was also understood that the existence of a large number of women theological students living in such expectation and of a large number of women who were already ordained deacons and awaiting priesthood would be a powerful pressure on the Church to act. On one hand it was said, 'The women are waiting'; but on the other hand many were feeling that the women were being exploited. The seminaries became the centres for education for women's ordination. This was particularly true of the theological schools in New York City, the Union Theological Seminary, which is interdenominational, and the General Theological Seminary, which is the official seminary of the Episcopal Church.
The debate on the ordination of women developed certain stereotyped forms. When eventually we came to the Louisville Convention it was apparent that nothing much new was being said. Those of us who were appointed to the Committee on the Ordination of Women met for days each morning at eight o'clock and listened to presentations for and against. In all there were ninety speeches made in the hearing.
The arguments in favour of the priesthood of women were on several levels. Some said that it should be done as a matter of simple justice. The issue was the right of women to be ordained at a time when there was a new consciousness of the necessity of recognizing all forms of human oppression for what they really were. For centuries the Church had not spoken out at all or had prevaricated in the matter of slavery. This was a cruel failure on the part of Christians which was often wholly unrecognized by them. The rights of black people had been increasingly granted in recent years. Now it was time for the rights of women also to be granted. The failure of the Church to extend ordination to women was a form of the oppression of women. Episcopacy and priesthood were forms of power in the ecclesiastical power structure. The time had come for the Church to give them to the female majority of the population. Implicit in all this is the notion that there is a right to ordination and that sacerdotal service in the Church is a job or a profession, and can properly be understood as such. In this connection there has been a continuing suggestion that the Christian Church is behind the secular society in recognizing all matters of justice. This argument naturally produced an atmosphere of tension in debate because the person who dared to suggest that women should not be ordained was being singled out as an oppressor.
A second, emotionally effective assertion was that God is now calling women into the ministry. This is a time when the Holy Spirit is moving in the Church to produce female vocation to priesthood. This assertion is not so much a matter of argument as a matter of testimony. Those who believed that they have been called to the priesthood told their story. Sometimes this was an account of many years of apparently hopeless waiting. Several elderly women who had wanted to be priests from their girlhood spoke of this long vigil of depression and then of expectation. Inherent in this witnessing was a very strong pietistic concept of vocation. This is congenial to the religious orientation of many American Christians and of many Episcopalians who have been reared in the various forms of Protestant subjectivism. A call is conceived as primarily a persistent inner urge accompanied by moments of intense feeling. The idea of the vocation being the call of the Church itself, the call of the Body of Christ historical and present, was strangely lacking in the consciousness of Episcopalians.
The present agitation for the ordination of women in the Roman Catholic Church greatly assisted this argument. The movement seems to be particularly strong among more radical nuns. The extraordinary unsettlement of Roman Catholic religious communities in the United States has created a tremendous crisis of identity for their members. Unsure of their own vocation in their orders, they have been seeking for a new identity in ordination. This trend was considered supporting evidence that the Holy Spirit is calling the women in other Catholic communities to the priesthood.
On a more theological level, the argument for the ordination of women produced a re-examination of the idea of priesthood itself. What seemed to be most stressed was the idea of the priest as the representative of 'the community'. It was notable that this phraseology was very common. The priest is the representative of Christians who are gathered together in 'the body'. The priest is the one who leads them into the presence of God. Priesthood has been deficient, because not all of the members of the community have been represented by it. There were even some instances when women's groups had discussions as to whether they should have the Eucharist celebrated by a man, because a man could not properly represent them. This is admittedly an extreme instance. Basic to these notions is the idea that the ground of ordination is baptism: in baptism is given the essential membership which finds a special focus in the priestly ministry. The priestly ministry is not different in kind, but only in function. Baptism obliterates the sexual distinction. The favourite quotation for this is from St Paul in the third chapter of Galatians, 'For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus' (w. 27-8). Indeed it was suggested that if the Church does not ordain women, it should not baptize them. In the debate it was strange that Paul was so often quoted as the authority in this instance, but denounced in his expressions elsewhere about women's place in the Church.
Concerning the maleness of Christ and the priesthood of Christ, the maleness was disparaged as an element in the true matter of the incarnation. Christ did not become a man, but he simply became human, human apparently without sexuality, as an essential attribute of his particularity. Inevitably the masculine image of God came under attack. This has increasingly been a centre of agitation. The parable of the woman seeking for a coin, and Jesus' words over Jerusalem, that he would have gathered God's people as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, were both quoted as evidence of the femininity of God, and the femininity in Jesus. In fact, it was not uncommon to say not that God is beyond sexuality, but that God is androgynous. Jesus' choice of male apostles and the continuation of this principle by the Apostolic Church were discounted as a matter of cultural conditioning. The society of the first century did not recognize the place of women, and Jesus had to conform to it in order to create an acceptable apostolate. This relativizing of Jesus sometimes became quite radical. The Christology of much of this propaganda was obviously not Nicene. It has often been pointed out how frequently those who have been protagonists of women's ordination do not speak of Jesus, but only of Christ. It is also interesting that so many speak of Jesus as a 'Christ figure', and apparently have an equal place for other 'Christ figures' of other religions, past and present. In any case, it was stated that there is nothing in the New Testament which suggests that we should never try anything new. The whole history of Christianity and of Anglicanism has had a place for innovation. This is a time for another innovation that need not be governed by obedience to the example of Jesus, the precedent of Christian history, or any other authority, except the present impulse which is attributed to the Holy Spirit.
The consequence of this kind of thinking was to suggest that theological arguments contrary to it were not only mistaken but wicked. Indeed, a curious phrase for such was invented—'sinful theologies'. It must be pointed out that, in spite of the propaganda which cheapens this ideology, some serious theological thought was undertaken to promote it.
Those who oppose the ordination of women saw the issue as basically Christological: Jesus in choosing male apostles simply remained consistent with God's incarnation in him as a man. He never showed himself 'culturally conditioned' in any essential way having to do with the matter of justice. Indeed, in matters of sexuality he broke the mores of his own time in his open, loving relation to women, and may be considered the Liberator of women. The continuation of the tradition of male priesthood in cultures which have different views about the place of women, and even readily accepted priestesses, is a further evidence of the authority of the tradition of male priesthood. Indeed, the whole two-thousand-year-old consistency may be considered a revelation of the mind of the Holy Spirit. The ordination of women would then be a disobedience to the example of Jesus Christ, a violation of a manifestation of the Holy Spirit which has come to us in integrity, and, therefore, an impossibility for the Church. Those who expressed these views believed not simply that the ordination of women to the episcopate and priesthood is inappropriate, but that it is impossible—'it would not take'.
Not all of the opponents to the action took such a strong view. There was of course 'the ecumenical argument'. This simply said that we should not jeopardize our relations with the other major Catholic bodies by taking a unilateral action. Behind this was the conviction that the ecumenical progress of the past two decades is a work of the Holy Spirit which is visible beyond doubt. Therefore, to destroy it or weaken it would be a violation of the will of God.
All opponents of the action questioned the authority of one Church of the Communion to make such a grave decision on its own, since this violates one of the basic principles of Anglicanism. Our tradition has never claimed to have any faith of its own or any Scriptures, creeds, or ministry of its own. The ordination of women would be unfaithful to our trusteeship of the essential elements, as our Church has received them. This kind of decision could only be made ecumenically. The fact that an ecumenical council cannot meet at this moment does not mean that there is no consensus apparent. We have received strong official objection from the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches as well as the Old Catholic bodies. This in itself without a meeting could be considered a decisive deterrent. In the face of the suggestion that these other Churches are about to reconsider this tradition, it has been pointed out that there is a tremendous propaganda disturbance in the Roman Catholic Church, but the strength of it is unlikely to be as great as has been suggested through the media. Therefore the Episcopal Church in undertaking such a decision would be acting on the basis of a curious flaw in its constitutional and canonical structure which could conceivably lead it to destroy its own identity, if it proceeded in the same way in other matters—Scripture, creeds, and sacraments.
It became very obvious as the debate continued that the Episcopal Church was expressing not simply two points of view on the ordination of women, but also two very different conceptions of the nature of Christian faith. Not only was the debate emotionally intense, but it was also the manifestation of a theological fracture. Inherent in these issues could conceivably be principles so antagonistic as to bring about the destruction of Anglicanism.
In the United States there is an Anglican-Orthodox Dialogue between the Episcopal Church and the Orthodox Churches. This is of particular significance because there are more different Churches of the Eastern tradition in America than can be found in any other place in the world. In 1973 the question of ordination of women was raised in this dialogue. Inasmuch as it was obvious that the Orthodox would object, if such an action were approved, they were asked to make a statement on the subject before the event rather than after. Furthermore they were asked to give the theological grounds for their objection, and not simply an assertion of their objection itself. This conversation resulted in the following statement of ordination of women by the Orthodox members of the dialogue:
1. God created mankind as 'male and female', establishing a diversity of functions and gifts; these functions and gifts are complementary but not all are interchangeable; they presuppose a role of headship for man and a different but no less important role for woman as a guardian, witness and channel of life. There is every reason for Christians to oppose current trends which tend to make men and women interchangeable in their functions and roles, and thus lead to the dehumanization of life.
2. The biblical, conciliar, patristic and canonical evidence confirms that only men are eligible for the offices of bishop and priest. This scriptural and traditional evidence—reflecting and protecting the order of creation described above—cannot be challenged or relativized by references to historical or social changes, unless one rejects the very idea of God's Revelation in Christ once for all, transmitted to us by His Apostles and by the Church.
3. The Orthodox Church recognized a woman, the Holy Virgin Mary, as the human being closest to God. It is clear, therefore, that there cannot be any question about any inferiority of women in the eyes of God. The importance of recognizing the role of women in the life of the Church can and must be discussed and studied among Christians.
4. It is evident that if the Anglican communion takes the decisive action of admitting women to the priesthood and the episcopate the issue will involve not only a point of church discipline, but the basis of the Christian faith as expressed in the Church's ministries. It will obviously have a decisively negative effect on the issue of the recognition of Anglican Orders and on the future of Anglican-Orthodox dialogue in general.
The first major vote on the ordination of women to the episcopate and the priesthood came in the General Convention at Louisville, Kentucky, in 1973. During the triennium which preceded it, the House of Bishops had been studying the issue and testing its own mind. A commission to present the theological issues had reported, with statements prepared for and also against the proposal. In the House of Bishops' meeting of 1972 the resolution was presented that the House adopt this statement: 'It is the mind of this House that it endorses the principle of the Ordination of Women to the Priesthood and the Consecration of Women to the Episcopate', and that 'The Committee on Canons be instructed to prepare the necessary canonical changes to put this resolution into effect for presentation at the General Convention of 1973'. This resolution was passed with 74 in favour, 61 against, and 5 not voting. Therefore the ground for action at the Louisville Convention had been prepared in the House of Bishops.
The American House of Bishops is a body of pragmatic men. Most of them have been elected because of their pastoral and administrative abilities. Very few of them have any particular qualifications in the realm of theology. This is increasingly so, since the Church has chosen as a model for electing bishops the methods of selection for corporate executives. Even though these men are not theological experts, they are tremendously conscientious and hard-working. They very obviously try to respond to what seems to be the leading of the Holy Spirit for the future, but the result often appears to be a gradual conforming of the Church to current trends, whether in the Church or in secular society, rather than apostolic leadership. From year to year it was possible to discern a gradual change in the reaction of this House, from considerable caution to a position of advocacy. There were vigorous protagonists of the ordination of women who were tremendously vocal and received great attention in the secular media and in the church press. There were also opponents who presented an adamant refusal to accept the change. It seems fair to say that the proponents and opponents together may have constituted about half of the bishops of the Church. The other half were men who were trying on more or less pragmatic grounds to decide what seemed to be the natural and inevitable course for the future. It was this group who determined the vote. This is a vote which kept changing, and which could change again.
At the Louisville Convention the action on the ordination of women originated in the House of Deputies. A special committee on the issue had been appointed. After extensive hearings, a majority resolution and a minority resolution were prepared. The majority resolution was moved to 'proceed to provide for the ordination of women, as well as men, to the priesthood and the episcopate . . .'. A vote by orders was called for. This means that each diocese votes separately in its clerical deputation and in its lay deputation. If a majority of the four deputies in either order votes yes, the vote is affirmative. If a majority votes no the vote is negative. A divided vote with two affirmative and two negative counts as a negative vote. The purpose of this is, obviously, to prevent action on critical, divisive issues simply on the basis of a small majority. The result of this vote was, in the clerical order: 50 'yes', 53 'no', 20 'divided'; in the lay order, it was 49 'yes', 37 'no', 26 'divided'. Thus the resolution was defeated. It was said that a majority actually voted in favour of it, but there is no statistical way of determining this as true or false.
After the defeat of the majority resolution the minority resolution was presented. The essence of this resolution was that because of the deep division of the Church, the ecumenical consequences of such an action, and the need to separate the issue of the ordination to the episcopate from the ordination to the priesthood, there should be a churchwide study of 'the nature of the episcopate and the priesthood, and the Christian theology of human sexuality'. Furthermore, it was resolved that there should be formal ecumenical dialogue on these issues among the other Christian Churches. This resolution was also defeated, probably because those against the ordination of women did not wish the issue to be kept officially alive during the ensuing triennium and because those in favour of ordination considered it a delaying action. Thus the issue of ordination of women came to no resolution in the Louisville Convention. As a result, the whole matter led to a tremendous conflagration in the Church during the following three years.
The protagonists for the priesthood of women refused to accept the Louisville defeat. They constantly stated that a majority of the delegates and Episcopalians were actually in favour of it, but that their will had been thwarted by a peculiar method of voting. The opponents responded with a statistical analysis of the balloting which showed that there was no way of discerning how many within the delegations voted one way or the other. Furthermore, they stated that, since the theology of holy orders was at stake, a simple majority vote of an ecclesiastical legislature, that might be rescinded in three years, was a weird way for a Church to make theology.
Rumours began to spread that some bishops would ordain women anyway. It is important to remember that there were many women ready who had finished their preparation and who had already been ordained deacon. Many had been present, dressed in dericals, walking in a body in Louisville, and acting as a pressure group. They were divided as to whether to wait or to demand ordination then and there. As a demonstration in the Diocese of New York, several women deacons had formally been presented at the regular diocesan ordination to be made priests. The bishop refused, stating his regret, but blessed them.
Finally, on 29 July 1974, in the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia, three retired bishops undertook to ordain women deacons to the priesthood. They were Daniel Corrigan, formerly Bishop Suffragan of Colorado, Robert L. DeWitt, formerly Bishop of Pennsylvania, and Edward R. Welles, formerly Bishop of West Missouri. They were supported by José A. Ramos, Bishop Missionary of Costa Rica, who was present but did not join in the laying-on of hands. No permission had been secured for this episcopal act from the bishops where the women were canonically resident or from the Bishop of Pennsylvania. This ordination was declared by them to be a 'prophetic action', and it was understood to be an attempt to force the Church to accept women's ordination by presenting it with a fait accompli, after the precedent of civil rights actions. The result proved different from the expectation.
The Presiding Bishop immediately called a Special Meeting of the House of Bishops in Chicago for mid-August. The House declared the Philadelphia ordinations invalid in these words:
The necessary conditions for valid ordination to the priesthood of the Episcopal Church were not fulfilled on the occasion in question; since we are convinced that a bishop's authority to ordain can be effectively exercised only in and for a community which has authorized him to act for them, and as a member of the episcopal college; and since there was failure to act in fulfillment of constitutional and canonical requirements for ordination.
The statement as drafted largely represented the work of Arthur A. Vogel, Bishop of West Missouri. It was based on the publications of a Roman Catholic theologian, Josef van Beek, who later made a statement to the effect that he felt his position had been misunderstood. The House was later to pass an action which to all intents and purposes contradicted its Philadelphia resolution. At this meeting, however, the bishops were grateful for a device by which they could discredit the non-canonical ordinations. As was expected, the House later censured the ordaining bishops.
Immediately the newly ordained women began to celebrate the eucharist. These celebrations were generally forbidden by diocesan bishops, but without avail. Several priests who were disobedient were tried in ecclesiastical courts, and condemned, but no one was deposed.
Another similar ordination of two women was performed in Washington in 1975 by George W. Burnett, retired Bishop of Rochester. He suffered the same fate of censure from the House of Bishops.
The Presiding Bishop took the initiative of setting up a committee for dialogue on ordination and sexuality. The membership was 'open ended', and became primarily a forum for discussion, with most participants protagonists of women's ordination. Out of this came a pair of volumes in the form of collected essays, one on priesthood, To Be a Priest (edited by R. E. Terwilliger and U. T. Holmes), and one on sexuality, Male and Female (edited by R. Barnhouse and U. T. Holmes). Thus he effected part of the result the minority resolution at Louisville envisioned, that of stimulating dialogue in the Church on the theological, historical, and psychological grounds of the problem.
A dialogue meeting on the ordination of women was held between representatives of the Roman Catholic and Episcopal Churches. Most of those appointed on both sides were in favour of such ordinations, and the report was inconclusive. One prominent member of the Roman hierarchy gave an informal warning that an official pronouncement was shortly to appear from the highest authority, and that the interest in the subject itself seemed to be more centred in North America than in Europe. There seemed to be a strong reluctance on the part of the Roman delegation to say anything which could be construed as interfering with a domestic decision of the Episcopal Church, so much so that some felt that maybe the Roman Catholics wanted it tested out for them in Anglicanism. The anticipated statement did not appear from the Vatican until January 1977, some months after the vote in Minneapolis.
When the Minneapolis Convention of 1976 finally came, no one could be certain what would happen. The Church was in tumult. It had been demonstrated that the proponents of women's ordination were prepared to proceed, no matter what the consequences for the Church might be. They were willing to break the unity of the Church, and had already done so. This was a known and certain danger. What the opponents would do was unknown, but it was generally thought that they would not react so aggressively.
This time the resolution for the ordination of women was to originate in the House of Bishops. It was known that the House would pass it. What was unexpected was the shrinkage of support in the actual vote. At the meeting of the House in 1975, when a similar proposition was presented, only 39 voted against it. In Minneapolis the opposition rose to 62. This fact failed to register in the House of Deputies, where, as recorded at the beginning of this article, that House concurred by a majority of 6 dioceses out of 114.
The question then had to be faced: what to do with the women illegally ordained. After much debate the resolution was passed that they should be conditionally ordained (87 for, 45 against, 2 abstentions). Some bishops voted for the resolution, even though they did not believe a woman can receive ordination, for the sake of maintaining some kind of order in the Church. However the next day, after it was made known that some of the women would not accept conditional reordination and that a number of bishops who had such women in their dioceses would not enforce it, the House rescinded its action and chose another course (an option previously suggested and rejected), that there should simply be:
A public event, conducted by the appropriate Diocesan Bishop, which recognizes the sacramental elements found in the Philadelphia/Washington services and incorporates those elements into the now stated intention of the church to ordain women to the presbyterate. The proper context of the Philadelphia/ Washington service now provided by the newly legislated ecclesial intention, that earlier rite could be sacramentally completed and the person canonically commissioned to function as a priest without the necessity for an additional laying on of hands.
Thus the House to all intents and purposes nullified its Chicago statement about the invalidity of the Philadelphia ordinations in a resolution which was a masterpiece of ambiguity.
Throughout the Convention a large group of bishops who had a deep anxiety about the consequences of women's ordination kept meeting. At first it was to prepare a policy and a strategy for the Opposition. When the Convention finally approved the action, it was for mutual support in facing the anguished future. These meetings became prayer meetings as a bond developed in the things of the Spirit, a bond which has proved lasting.
Out of these meetings came a message of Pastoral Concern presented to the House and to the Church before adjournment. It was distributed to this body by the Bishop of Central Florida:
As bishops of the Church deeply committed to the unity of the Church, we would give a word of reassurance and hope to the many clergy and laity who are deeply disturbed by the action of the 65th General Convention to authorize the ordination of women to episcopacy and priesthood.
We find it most difhcult to accept this action. We believe that the consequences of it will introduce an anomaly into the ministry of the Church. However, anomalies have existed in the Church at other times in its history. One such anomaly similar to this one occurred during the Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries when great numbers of non-episcopally ordained ministers functioned in the Church of England. As was true then, so now, we are confident that anomalies do not destroy the Church. They in fact exist in every branch of Christendom. The authority of a convention or other council of the Church depends upon more than a majority decision on church legislation. In matters of Faith and Order it is generally accepted that consensus and not just majority agreement is necessary. Furthermore, that consensus must come from acceptance amongst the faithful throughout the Church before its authority is established. An election is not the final decision.
In this particular case there was not a consensus of the Church but a division of the Church. Less than a two-thirds majority in the House of Bishops, and a bare majority in the House of Deputies is no consensus. Therefore we would have to say that this action is not a clear manifestation of the mind of the Church. We would also point out that it is not irreversible.
There are many who will have a deep problem of conscience about receiving the Sacrament at a Eucharist at which the celebrant is a woman. This problem does not arise from anger or rancor, nor does it imply withdrawal from the Episcopal Church, but from a serious question as to the authenticity of episcopacy or priesthood conferred upon women as a result of the action of this Convention.
We send our assurance to anxious members of our Church. While living with this anomaly, we wait in confidence upon the leading of the Holy Spirit. We would remind one and all that our Orders as Bishops in the Church of God have not been invalidated; Catholic and Apostolic life can and shall continue in the Episcopal Church. We pledge to work within the Church for the re-establishment of our historic and Apostolic Faith and Order, while waiting upon the Lord. The Bishops and Priests of our Church must continue to celebrate the Sacraments, preach the Gospel, and pastorally support those who have been shaken by this crisis in ministry. Pray, beloved in Christ, for the unity of the Church.
The Proposed Book of Common Prayer, which had been in its various stages available for trial use since 1967, was passed on its first reading at this Convention. This had to be a constitutional change; therefore, it must be approved again in the next Convention. It is interesting that, while the Prayer Book issue was inevitably dealt with constitutionally, the ordination issue was dealt with canonically. That meant the latter could come into force without a second vote—and also, theoretically, could be rescinded by another vote in three years. The Prayer Book was passed in the House of Bishops by a voice vote, with only 1 negative vote. In the House of Deputies, it was passed by orders: in the clerical order with only 2 negative votes and 1 divided, and in the lay order with only 6 negative votes and 5 divided. This was consensus.
In the minds of some churchmen the 'new liturgy' and the ordination of women are bound together. The link here is more conservatism than Catholicism. The Proposed Prayer Book is basically a Catholic victory. There are disputed areas, such as the initiation rites, the ordination vows, and the deliberate elimination of much of the male imagery of God from the prayers and the psalter. However, the book is usable and some ways splendid, although it needs another revision from a theological and literary perspective.
For the ordinary layman the Minneapolis Convention's presenting him with a new prayer book and women priests created a considerable shock.
The pastoral problems produced by the ordinations took most bishops by surprise. They began during the Convention. Some bishops received communications from their priests saying that they could not celebrate the eucharist the following Sunday. Bishops in 'Catholic' dioceses found it necessary to issue reassurances that they would not ordain women and that their clergy were still in communion with chief pastors who would maintain the integrity of apostolic order.
Bishops who had voted for the ordination of women discovered that they could not meet the need of priests who were demoralized by this action. One such bishop said of one of his clergy, 'It is like trying to minister to a man when you have just run over his child.'
The return from the Convention was difficult. The Church was now different. It had divided, and not just into two parts but several. Those who could not accept the new ordinations were divided; a small vocal minority would make a formal schism; and some individuals would seek another communion. This last group has made evident a change in Christendom.
Previously, the Catholic Anglican who became distressed with his Church was tempted to become a Roman Catholic. Not so much so now, for the Roman Church has shown signs of losing its Catholic identity. Many of the most vocal advocates of women's ordination have been Roman. Furthermore, liturgical change in Rome has produced in America a curiously barren, almost Calvinist effect. The signs of the supernatural are curiously more visible in the charismatic than in the sacramental phenomena. Eastern Orthodoxy has provided a more attractive option. For some time, the quest for the transcendent has led many a seminarian and lay devotee on a spiritual journey to the Christian East rather than to the Far East. The new autocephalous Orthodox Church of America, even though its autocephaly is contested by other Orthodox Churches, is theologically strong, has an English liturgy, a will to be indigenous, and does not require celibacy for priesthood. A number of Episcopal priests and laymen have either gone that way or are looking that way. However it remains true that there is such a strong ethnic, even tribal, element in American Orthodoxy, fostered from years of maintaining national identity through religion, that this is a live option for few. The fact is that there is no place to go, and those who go now may return or wander.
The group of bishops who kept meeting in Minneapolis remained together, a band of about thirty who were determined to remain within the Episcopal Church to convert it. In December 1976 an informal meeting was called of any who wished to commit themselves to the vocation of restoring the Apostolic faith and order of their Church. There were fourteen bishops actually present at the gathering which met at the Church of the Ascension, and over three hundred other clergy and laymen. This Chicago Conference, presided over by Stanley A. Atkins, Bishop of Eau Claire, set forth a Statement of Action which affirmed 'the Faith and Order which this church has received'. It stated:
We believe that authority in these matters rests in the unbroken witness of Scripture and Tradition. We find that admission of women to the episcopate and priesthood is a change of such magnitude that it would require an ecumenical consensus, as it involves the Doctrine of the Incarnation. Lacking this, we cannot recognize women ordained under authority of the General Convention of 1976 nor their sacramental acts. We must refuse communio in sacris with this new ministry. We wish to continue in fellowship and communion with Anglicans throughout the world, for we believe that the historic Anglican tradition of Evangelical and Catholic truth is worthy of our affirmation, has a claim on our loyalty, and must be restored to its fullness.
The statement further called for the bishops to create an 'ecclesial entity', to implement this fellowship in its witness. 'Task forces' in spiritual life, theology, liturgy, education, strategy, constitution, finances, and litigation were proposed.
The Evangelical and Catholic Covenant was presented by the bishops at this meeting for any who wished to sign. The signing, beginning with the bishops, was solemnly done at the Eucharist. This is the Covenant:
We believe that the Evangelical Faith and Catholic Order which the Anglican Communion has received are God given. We solemnly covenant ourselves to uphold this faith and order within the Episcopal Church. We affirm the tradition of male priesthood ordained by the Father in his choice of the sexuality of his Son, the One High Priest, maintained in the appointment of Christ's apostles, and manifest as the mind of the Holy Spirit in the unbroken practice of the church in history. We believe that the ordination of women to the episcopate and priesthood provides no assurance of Apostolic authority for eucharistic consecration, ordination, absolution, and blessing. Therefore, we will not accept the sacramental ministrations of this new ministry.
After the Chicago Conference, a group of Covenant bishops met in Dallas to implement this mandate. The 'ecclesial entity' called for was seen as a mission. The task forces were appointed, and its life began.
The first project of the Evangelical and Catholic Mission was to hold a series of meetings of the Evangelical Catholic Congress throughout the United States. It is important to note that E.C.M. began and continues as an episcopally centred movement. A strong conviction had taken hold of these bishops that the ordination of women was but a symptom of a great and deep demoralization of our Church, the Anglican Communion, and Western Christendom, caused by the secularizing of the Christian community. The Mission's passionate protest is: 'Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.' With this awareness, they isolated four areas of crisis: Authority, Morality, Ministry, and Spirituality. In the Congress meetings bishops were to deal with these areas.
The Evangelical Catholic Congress meetings were held first in Dallas, New York, and Minneapolis. These were so vital that other centres asked for them—Anchorage, Alaska; Los Angeles and San Diego, California; Portland, Oregon; Camden, New Jersey; Boston, Massachusetts; and Orlando, Florida—before the 1977 House of Bishops' meeting. In all, over 3,000 churchmen attended.
The Congress meetings were affirmative and joyful. Their centre was eucharistic worship. Priests and laity who had felt overwhelmed by the secular dominance came to know the joy of real unity in a common purpose to restore the Church. E.C.M. believes that the problem of the Episcopal Church is spiritual, and that there cannot be a political solution to a spiritual problem. The spiritual problem of a Church can be solved only by a religious movement.
The ordination of women to the priesthood began in January 1977. No longer was this an idea, it was now a concrete situation. The Bishop of New York undertook to ordain a woman who had been active in advocating homosexuality as a Christian 'life-style', and who had declared that she had a lesbian sexual orientation. This caused a furore equal to that over the ordination of women itself. In the minds of some the two issues were united. This was not helped by those feminists in the Church who spoke of homosexual ordination as 'the next issue'. One of the tragedies of this outbreak was the refusal on both sides to distinguish between the inclination and the act. This event deepened the crisis.
For some time, a very conservative coalition had been gathering and speaking ominously about starting a new Church. Such groups as the Fellowship of Concerned Churchmen, the Foundation for Christian Theology, the Christian Challenge magazine staff, and a block in the American Church Union came together in a movement called Episcopalians United.
The Fellowship of Concerned Churchmen sponsored a conference in St Louis, beginning on 14 September 1977, with the express purpose of exploring the possibiliy of founding a new Church, which would consider itself the true continuing Episcopal Church. Some 1,700 people attended.
Ever since the Minneapolis Convention, parishes had begun to break away from the Episcopal Church. A non-geographical diocese of the Holy Trinity was formed, and another similar amalgamation was created in the San Francisco area. The retired Bishop of Springfield, Albert A. Chambers, gave these people episcopal ministrations. The press, which formerly had given great coverage and support to the ordination of women, now found the schism more interesting. Priests were charged by bishops with abandoning communion with the Episcopal Church, and were warned of deposition. when a parish severed its connections, it usually broke into two congregations. Lawsuits began for the possession of the property. Bishops had the responsibility of preserving it for the diocese, and at the same time, of dealing pastorally with the dissidents. Frequently, on the front page of newspapers and on the national television, bishops were to be seen, locked out of their Churches and having confrontations with clergy and laity.
Representatives of these parishes went to St Louis, as did hundreds of perplexed Episcopalians wondering if this could be the solution. Among the 1,700 were many observers, as well as curiosity seekers, wishing to be 'where the action is'.
The Presiding Bishop was there. John M. Allin gained the respect of many by his patient and pastoral presence there, even though he was denied the opportunity to speak. No one was permitted to speak, except those sympathetic to the declared purpose.
The Congress was presented with an 'Affirmation of St Louis', which accused the Episcopal Church in the United States and the Anglican Church of Canada of departing from the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, because they had altered the faith, order, and morality of the Church. Conspicuous was the fact that the new prayer book was united with the ordination issue in the charge.
Bishop Chambers and Bishop Clarence R. Haden of Northern California participated. Several other bishops were present as observers. Of these, only Bishop Chambers remained with the St Louis group.
At the conference, James O. Mote, Rector of St Mary's Church, Denver, Colorado, the first parish to break away, was elected a bishop of the Diocese of the Holy Trinity. After that time three others were elected by various groups to the episcopate of the dissident body. For months the new Church sought consecrators for their bishops. No other bishops of the Episcopal Church except Bishop Chambers and another retired bishop in poor health were willing to officiate. Bishops elsewhere in the Anglican Communion were approached. Consecrators were sought from the Old Catholic Churches. A deputation visited the Episcopal Conference held in Scranton and was not received. The Archbishop of Utrecht spoke to them privately, but their request was refused. A Swedish bishop was also approached, but did not respond. It appears that Catholic Christendom did not approve.
On 28 January 1978, Bishop Chambers together with Bishop Francisco J. Pagtakhan of the Philippine Independent Church— to which the Episcopal Church gave apostolic order some years ago—consecrated the four dissident bishops in the Augustana Lutheran Church in Denver, Colorado.
How large is the schism? It is difficult to say. The Diocesan Press Service of the Episcopal Church estimated that 3,400 people left in 1977 out of 2.9 million. There may be as many as 100 priests and lower than 100 congregations that will be lost to the schism; however, if the movement grows with its own episcopates, the future is unknown. However small the number the Episcopal Church can ill afford this attrition. There is a saying abroad that we are losing a member every fifteen minutes. But that is not true of this Church overall. The South and the Mid-West have been experiencing great new vitality. These are the prime areas of the new experiential movements and the new population shift. These are also the areas where the Church has maintained its identity and tradition while it has been renewed. The future will come from them.
The House of Bishops met in Port St Lucie, Florida, in late September 1977. Most of its members dreaded the meeting, the first since Minneapolis, with the distress of the intervening months between. This meeting proved to be a remarkable event for the recharting of the future.
The Presiding Bishop in his opening address told the House:
... my understanding of Christian Priesthood, of the interrelatedness of Christian Ministry, of New Testament imagery and symbolism, of the roles and interrelations of human sexuality, prevents my believing that women can be priests any more than that they can become husbands or fathers.
If the House found that fact impossible to accept, he would resign his office. This aroused great discussion, but when the test vote came on his remaining, no bishop voted against it.
The House also passed a Statement of Conscience pertaining to the ordination issue. This was a 'mind of the House' resolution that the canon passed in Minneapolis was permissive rather than mandatory. (It was noted and affirmed at Minneapolis that a bishop does not have to ordain anyone.) The critical paragraphs are these:
The basic Anglican position has been to insist upon that which is clearly discerned from Scripture interpreted by the Tradition of the undivided Church, and enlightened by Spirit-guided reason, while refraining from the imposition of that which cannot be so demonstrated. Some would claim that Scripture and Tradition forbid the ordination of women, but General Convention did not accept that assertion. Yet many believe the rightness of such ordinations has not from these basic sources been clearly demonstrated. One is not a disloyal Anglican if he or she abstains from implementing the decision or continues to be convinced it was in error.
We hold fast to the Anglican tradition which seeks to distinguish between what is required or not required of believers. Anglican comprehensiveness is not just trying to be gentlemen, not weak so-called 'tolerance', and certainly not numbers seeking. Rather it is this distinction between what must be believed by a Christian and what cannot be clearly demonstrated from basic Christian sources, together with the awareness that the Spirit leads the church into further penetration of the Truth (John 14.26, 16.13). Since Jesus Christ is the Truth, there can be no adding to the Truth, but there is a promise of deepened understanding of that Truth as the Spirit guides the church. It is tempting to cry to others as to ourselves, 'The Church—love it or leave it.' Yet to say it hastily assumes that we already know fully what it is, and what the church will be like when brought at last to 'nothing less than the full stature of Christ' (Eph. 4.13). Leaving this Communion or forcing others to leave interferes with the process of searching together for the that fuller penetration of the truth.
In the light of all this and in keeping with our intention at Minneapolis, we affirm that no bishop, priest, deacon or lay person should be coerced or penalized in any manner, nor suffer any canonical disabilities as a result of his or her conscientious objection to or support of the 65th General Convention's action with regard to the ordination of women to the priesthood or episcopate.
This House of Bishops meeting passed a reasoned resolution on the matter of homosexual marriage and ordination. The rise of the 'Gay Liberation Movement', with its demand for the recognition of homosexual marriage, and the ordination of an avowedly lesbian woman in the Diocese of New York caused a demand for the bishops to make a statement. The resolution emphatically reaffirmed the Christian position that marriage is only possible between members of opposite sex. Furthermore, it affirmed that no ordination to any holy order should be given to any known, habitually practising, or advocating homosexual.
The bishops also 'decried' Bishop Chambers' actions in supporting the dissidents with episcopal ministrations in dioceses against the will of their diocesan bishops. He had been flown to the meeting by special invitation and with the aid of individual gifts received from members of the House. He made his defence, but refused to say that he would not continue his activities. A group of some thirty bishops, who were of his mind except as regards schism, offered to take over his work as a 'bank of bishops' so long as it could be done canonically. After consideration, he refused to accept the offer. Nevertheless, this proposal was kept alive in an open letter issued by the House to the dissidents. A commission was authorized by the House to be available to the dissidents, to deal with them in the name of the Church, and to offer episcopal ministrations apart from ordination. The letter was free of rancour and sympathetic in its expression. It had a new pertinence and persuasiveness, since this meeting of the House had revealed a new situation in the Church.
The 1977 meeting of the House of Bishops disclosed something of the future. Most bishops arrived in a state of depression. The Episcopal Church was in trouble, and its plight had given it a 'bad press'. The refusal of so many churchmen to accept the ordination of women was a fact of life. How could the unity of the Church, the unity of Anglicanism, be preserved? The dominant concern of the meeting was unity in the presence of objection which could not be coerced.
The Presiding Bishop in his statement personified the problem. His confirmation in office, in spite of his statement, suggested where the solution might lie. This was a strange and effective use of his primacy to break the barrier created by Minneapolis. It is interesting that the suggestion was immediately made on the floor that the House reaffirm its approval of the ordination of women, but the attempt was never made. Obviously it would have revealed a falling-off of support. The statement on Conscience came naturally and inevitably without any organized political effort. So visible was the change in the climate of the House that the press proclaimed it the result of well-organized effort on the part of 'conservatives'. But there was no organized effort. What happened had resulted from a response to the realities of the grassroots Church.
What is the future? The Episcopal Church is now a divided Church. Two currents of sacramental life flow separately in the stream of its life. This will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. It is absolutely necessary to recognize that the main resistance remains within the Church. What the Church becomes depends in part on the strength of the spiritual vitality and persuasiveness of this resistance. It has the power of a minority— and it may not really be a minority at the lay level—a minority necessary to the Church and to the comprehensiveness of the Anglican tradition. Its success depends as much on the strength of its support of the mission of the whole national Church, whenever it can be given, as in its determined opposition to the violation of apostolic order.
The new, schismatic Church, which is provisionally calling itself the Anglican Church of North America, will have a moment of publicity which gives an outsize impression of its significance. If it is not to break apart, it must somehow control its already manifest internal divisions. The habit of schism is hard to break, as the history of sectarianism shows. Already it appears that one element of it, realizing how very small the new body is, wants a relationship with a greater Church, Roman or Eastern. The main problem, however, is one of spirit: negative spirit, full of anger and depression, attacking rather than affirming. Bitterness is not attractive. It is to be hoped that in the future a new awareness will come to this group of the necessity of converting rather than of just confronting the parent Church when it goes astray. In its isolation the new Church could become in heart another Donatist schism.
By January 1978 about 90 women had been ordained priests. The question about the future of this new ministry is being asked everywhere. Only one seems to have been elected rector of her own parish, a congregation reporting fewer than 100 members. Some have been appointed vicars of mission churches by their bishops. Others have found places on church staffs with two or more staff members. As was expected, a number have been employed in teaching and educational chaplaincies. Many of the women planned to have non-stipendiary ministries, continuing secular work they were already pursuing. One couple, the son and daughter-in-law of the Bishop of Massachusetts, were made priests together in an ordination which was made the occasion of great publicity. Where will such couples be deployed?
Whether this ministry is truly a ministry of the Episcopal Church depends on more than the majority vote of a church legislature. The question is—will it be received? The House of Bishops meeting at Port St Lucie obviously reflected the doubt about it in the Church. No wonder many of the women who had been made priests reacted in wrath, saying that their ministry had been demeaned. In a Church which reacts as pragmatically as the Episcopal Church, this issue is decisive. It is certain that there will be no quick change in favour of or against women priests, but if employment is difficult, even increasingly impossible, female priesthood will become less appealing as a vocational option.
Since Minneapolis, the Episcopal Church is becoming regional and parochial. This form of division arises when some bishops ordain women and some do not. When the diocese agrees with the bishop in either option, it is likely to intensify its support. Women priests will increase in numbers only in dioceses where they are in favour. Priests opposed to the ordination of women often seek to leave bishops and dioceses where they feel isolated or persecuted. Parishes which do not accept women priests feel isolated. If they maintain a sense of unity with the greater Church, they do so by finding their real satisfaction in associations with other likeminded Episcopalians. This brings the danger of the development of the 'overchurch', a form of ecclesial belonging which ignores the normal local church associations and aims at a more harmonious regrouping of Christians. The dangers of this are obvious, but have long been a characteristic of Anglicanism. How well can a national Church function with this regionalism which shows signs of developing into non-geographical coalitions of parishes and dioceses?
The Episcopal Church is now a fractured Church. The fracture has happened because of the nature of the issue of the ordination of women, a nature revealed in actual events as well as in theological debate. The suffering which our Church is now going through can be of use to the rest of the Anglican Communion and to Christendom if its lessons are perceived and learned. It may be our peculiar vocation to act out the priesting of women in Anglicanism so that its consequences may be shown. It is important to perceive exactly what kind of issue this really is.
The ordination of women to the priesthood is a theological issue. It involves the question of the nature of the sacramental ministry. Indeed, it is a question about the very nature of the 'element' in ordination. The sacramental acts of God come to us through outward and visible signs. These signs are essential to the integrity, to the covenanted assurance of the sacrament. In the minds of the ordinary, untheologically-minded man or woman—particularly woman—there is a grave question as to whether female priesthood can ever be priesthood at all, and whether a sacrament ministered by such a person is a sacrament at all. Is the Church by permitting female priesthood actually depriving the Church sacramentally? Furthermore, as this issue has been debated and as the drive for the ordination of women has proceeded, it has become apparent that what is involved is the very doctrine of God. It is not only feminizing the image of the priest, but feminizing the image of God. The priest stands as an image of Christ, who is the image of God. It is not at all surprising, therefore, that there has come a radical demand for the revision of all male images of God and for the biblical image of God to be replaced by, or at least modified into, an androgynous image. To know the history of the discussion and the movements of thought and feeling within the Episcopal Church is to make it absolutely impossible to say that we are not dealing with a theological question.
The theological question about women priests is also a sexual question. That is one of the reasons why the whole debate and action has been so emotionally intense. The issue is not the equality of the sexes, but the identity of the sexes in Christian priesthood. This is of particular importance in the United States at this time, when there is so much debate about the various aspects of androgyny. The deliberate attempt to remove the distinction between the sexes is one of the most vivid aspects of the current moment in the 'sexual revolution'. At the same time, we have a strong beginning of a movement against all of this, sometimes characterized by an almost reactionary rigidity. It is false to assume that the American future is inevitably one of confusion of sexual roles. It could even, in a short time and through another media-made push, develop into an exaggeration of sexual distinction.
Only the future can tell. In the meantime, one of the responsibilities of the Church is to maintain its continual witness to the goodness of creation in the distinction between male and female. This is perceived most vividly in those parts of our Church which are expanding, and which are experiencing strong religious movements. The desire for androgyny and, generally, the desire for the ordination of women are to be found primarily in those parts of the Church which are experiencing decline. In any case it is important to realize that the reason for the deep division within the Episcopal Church lies in the fact that we are dealing not only with the powers of religion, but also with the powers of sexuality, which are asserting themselves with vigour.
The ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate is also an issue about the nature of Anglicanism. It should be remembered that in the United States there is a very large proportion of Christians who have become Anglicans because they wished to free themselves from sectarianism and to have the joy of being members of the Church Catholic. Ours is not a state Church, but a Church which has throughout the whole of American history maintained itself with a sense of its identity in the presence of various forms of indigenous denominations. When the Episcopal Church unilaterally undertook to ordain women as priests, it acted in a way that violates the nature of Anglicanism. We have never claimed to have any faith of our own, any Scriptures of our own, any creeds of our own, or any ministry of our own. We never espoused the idea that sacerdotal ministry is the creature of a church legislature, to be defined and bestowed at the will of a majority vote—which could also be rescinded. The action of the Minneapolis General Convention, therefore, creates an anomaly in the very nature of Anglicanism which is acutely difficult for Episcopalians who have deliberately chosen this Church in order to get away from such questionable procedures. Because there is a deep-seated awareness of the problem, it is most unlikely that female priesthood will be popular. In a time when there is a new need for identity and assurance, such an action, which raises the deepest questions about the very nature of the Episcopal Church, is not likely to succeed.
Finally, we must realize the violence that has been done to Christian unity by a church legislature which could not hear the deliberate witness of the greatest Churches of Christendom addressed to it. At a time when we have been saying that the ecumenical movement was a great work of the Holy Spirit, we deliberately refused to act ecumenically. The consequences of this have been severe, and have only just begun. Furthermore, the unity of our own Church has been broken. There is no reason to believe that it will be restored until this action becomes a dead letter in the future. In the meantime, we need to realize that Christian unity is not simply a relationship of good feeling, and surely not just a shared crisis of identity, but a form of listening to each other, and sometimes of waiting for each other. This the Episcopal Church refused to do, and in consequence now finds itself broken and isolated. It is one of the tragedies of Christendom in our time that when we are on the verge of the most wonderful possibility of sacramental unity with Rome and even Orthodoxy, we have chosen to go our own way alone.