The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia is preparing to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the province’s first ordination of women to the priesthood. The New Zealand church was one of the first in the Anglican Communion to ordain women when, in 1977, it ordained five women.
The year earlier, six women were ordained by the Anglican Church of Canada. In 1974, 11 women were “irregularly” ordained in Philadelphia, two years before the ordination of women was authorised by the US-based Episcopal Church’s General Convention, and three years before the province’s first “regular” ordination.
The first woman to be ordained in the Anglican Communion was Florence Li Tim-Oi, who was ordained in China in 1944 because of a shortage of male priests. She relinquished her priesthood at the end of the War, but was reinstated in 1971 when Hong Kong ordained two further women as priests.
The Council for Anglican Women’s Studies in New Zealand is calling on Anglicans across the province to celebrate the 40th anniversary on 3 December, and has produced a commemorative Eucharist liturgy, prepared by the Archdeacon of Auckland, Carole Hughes, and a group of advisers from the three Tikanga, or cultural streams, of the province.
The new liturgy, which also had input from the bishop of Waikato and Christchurch, Helen-Ann Hartley and Victoria Matthews, and the assistant bishop of Wellington, Eleanor Sanderson, takes care to celebrate all women’s contributions to church leadership in the province’s islands, while highlighting the ministry of female priests.
Throughout the Anglican Communion, 16 provinces have now ordained women.
In New Zealand, at least 500 women have been ordained to the priesthood. The first ordinations 40 years ago saw Jean Brookes, Wendy Cranston and Heather Brunton ordained by the Bishop of Auckland; while Cherie Baker and Rosemary Russell were ordained by the Bishop of Waiapu.
“There are stories that we need occasions like this to retell – to prevent them being lost,” the Revd Jean Brookes, one of the first women ordained in New Zealand, told Anglican Taonga. “There is an enormous variety and richness in the ministries women have exercised. For example, we cannot forget the remarkable ministry of many women who chose to remain as deaconesses, who were in ordained ministry already and valued the continuity of that special ministry, even as others moved into the priesthood.”
“In the early days we often came up against people who would not accept our ministry,” Rosemary Russell, another pioneer of women’s priestly ministry in the province, told Anglican Taonga. “We just had to be determined to keep on despite that. But at some point over the years, it just ceased to be a problem. People’s fears were not realised.
“Now female clergy are so much part of church life that gender doesn’t seem to make much difference. In fact the church would grind to a halt without women in priestly ministry.”