[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] When the ACC met for its 16th plenary meeting (ACC-16) in Zambia this month, female priests and bishops who were part of the ACC were able to celebrate the Eucharist within the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Lusaka, even though the province of Central Africa does not ordain women.
The provincial youth co-ordinator of Central Africa, the Revd Canon Bob Shiubula, co-ordinated much of the worship during the ACC. He described the position as similar to the protocol for foreign embassies. “There was a recognition that when the ACC sits here, it is almost like people behave in an embassy,” he said. “The American embassy will sit in Zambia but it will have rules of its own within itself. So we had to recognise that – it [the ACC] sits in Zambia, yes, but it has its own rules what governs it.
“And so the Archbishop and the other bishops sat down and agreed that within the confines of the meeting, the women priests could celebrate the Mass; but when we move out to our parishes, they are under the rules of the Central Africa Province. People have been happy and nobody has raised any concerns.
“When you go into our parishes women are extremely active – most of our Lay Readers are women. They may not consecrate the Eucharist but they distribute the Eucharist and they lead the whole worship service.”
Canon Shiubula says that there have been moves towards the acceptance of women’s ordination in the province and that “generally, acceptance is beginning to grow,” although he says that “we [have] still get pockets of disagreement.”
The Dean of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Lusaka, the Very Revd Charlie Thomas, says that the step-by-step approach towards women’s ordination in the Province was in part a desire by those advocating it to walk with those who are opposed.
“The ordination of women priests is a matter of time,” he said. “There have been dioceses, over the years, who have gone to the Synod and said we agree to ordain women to the Diaconate; and said ‘okay, that’s our position as a diocese, as a Synod, however we will not break it. We will wait for our brethren to join us. We will let them know how we fell.’
“And that unity – we kept the church together not because everybody agreed; but everybody agreed to disagree. This province has that beauty.
“There are several people who would ordain women to the priesthood tomorrow if they were together as one mind of the Province. That is part of the sacrificial waiting, sacrificial giving – not because we are in agreement but because we believe we want to do it together.
“There is a timing factor there – maybe God’s timing. If you travelled around the province there is a diversity of opinion about that.”
He explained that the “shock” of women priests has been taken away by the number of female clergy who have visited the Province from elsewhere in the Anglican Communion. Women priests “have stood at the altar and helped, or they were part of the worship; and the church is still standing. It hasn't fallen down,” he said.
“The timing is crucial because you have to take everybody with you on this. Where this issue faces a challenge in this Province is more the laity than the clergy. We are sensitive to that and so let’s wait until everybody is of one mind.
“It is a Christian thing to do – you don't run faster than others just because you are stronger than the weaker ones - you take them along. I think that is something the Communion can learn from us as a patient process.
“Waiting on the Lord can be quite irritating because He doesn’t answer according to your speed; but we are also careful not to run faster than our legs.”
One of the women priests who celebrated the Eucharist in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross during ACC-16 was the Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, chaplain to the House of Commons – the lower house of the UK’s Parliament.
“I find it deeply moving, in the first instance, to be invited to celebrate,” she said. “And to find afterwards that I am celebrating at an altar where they don’t normally allow women – one feels privileged to be in that position and does not enter into that act of celebrating without being aware of the many women who could potentially be in this particular role and celebrating themselves.
“I hope that what it has done is to give the dioceses even more confidence that it has happened and the cathedral hasn’t fallen apart! God’s praise has been made; worship has been offered – offered with dignity – and for folks to go away with a sense of ‘it was good to be here.’”