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Conference grants freedom of conscience on women's ordination

Posted on: August 7, 1998 1:57 PM
Related Categories: Lambeth Conference 1998, women

by E. T. Malone, Jr.
Lambeth Conference Communications

The Lambeth Conference approved an amended resolution Thursday (August 6) stating that bishops should not be compelled to ordain or license women.

Bishop Penny Jamieson of Dunedin (Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia) moved the amendment, hammered out in a series of meetings between female and traditionalist bishops, and supported on the floor by a cross section of female, traditionalist and liberal male bishops.

"During our discussions there were deep and real disagreements," Bishop Jamieson said. "Our small group began by being suspicious of each other, but as trust between us began to grow it became our prayer that we could agree on an amendment that we could offer to this Communion as a way of deepening our communion in the heart of God while and because of our respect for our differences."

Approving 'flying bishops'

The third section of the resolution contained language calling upon the provinces to make provision for "appropriate episcopal ministry," an apparent reference to allowing bishops serve congregations in addition to or as an alternative to that of the diocesan bishop, often called the use of 'flying bishops.'

That section also said "that there is and should be no compulsion on any bishop in matters concerning ordination or licensing," a concession to traditionalist bishops who maintain that they are conscientiously opposed to ordination or deployment of women in their dioceses.

The resolution, titled "Unity of the Anglican Communion," was a reflection of the work and conversations of the Conference's Section Three (Called to be Faithful in a Plural World).

Canadian Bishop Victoria Matthews of Edmonton (Canada), a member of the small group that drafted the amendment, said, "At this Lambeth Conference I have been received with a gracious and generous spirit . . . and as one of the first generation of women bishops, I ask that we keep this same spirit of graciousness and generosity as we continue the process of open reception [of female clergy]." She said dissent can be creative for the mind of the church.

At odds with local policy

At a morning press conference before the plenary, Bishop Frederick Borsch of Los Angeles (USA) said he believed American bishops would strongly oppose the aspects of the resolution relative to women's ordination. But no male bishops from the United States participated in the floor debate.

Regarding the language in the resolution appearing to permit outside bishops to perform episcopal ministry in a diocese other than their own, Bishop Borsch said, "We have long recognized the fact of having only one bishop in a diocese. Anything different would be alien to our tradition."

He said he did not think continued North American ordination of homosexuals would cause a de facto schism with more African bishops flying in to minister to traditionalist groups.

Suffragan Bishop Barbara Harris of Massachusetts (USA), the first woman consecrated bishop in the Anglican Communion, voiced opposition to the third clause, saying, "While the language seems gracious it contravenes the canons of the Episcopal Church USA, and the discipline of the church in the Provinces of Canada and New Zealand.

Bishop Harris pointed out that the "canon concerning ordination of women in my own province was made mandatory last year at our General Convention. The bishop may indeed by conscientiously opposed to the ordination of women but cannot impose his or her conscience on a diocese. The phrase 'appropriate episcopal ministry' also opens the door for interferences in the autonomy of dioceses and provinces, which I believe is a very dangerous enterprise."

Prior to the plenary Bishop Matthews said, "I have no idea the number of years the process of reception of women clergy will take. The church grows into fullness of being by prayer and waiting on the spirit. I would hope that it would be a matter of time before all three orders of women clergy are accepted, but I could be wrong. The possibility of a reversal is there."

Traditionalists support resolution

Supporting the resolution, Bishop Geoffrey Rowell of Basingstoke (England), convenor of the small group that drafted the amendment, noted, "It safeguards the position of bishops who find themselves living under pressure and exercising leadership under pressure. The resolution recognises the traditionalist position as one that is expressive of Anglican loyalty as much as the position that favors ordination of women."

By a show of hands the bishops, by about an 80 percent majority, approved the amended resolution.

Reacting to the resolution's passage, Bishop Catherine S. Roskam of New York (USA) said the resolution "doesn't mean anything in terms of our own polity." The principle of "subsidiarity" applies, she said, in which local policies take precedence.

"The other difficulty," she said, "is that there's a kind of arrogance among bishops here that forgets there's the rest of the church. And I doubt the House of Deputies in the American church is going to take that one sitting down."

Bishop Chilton Knudsen of Maine (USA) said she felt the amendment was internally inconsistent, "because reception requires exposure and this limits exposure of people to the ministry of women." The resolution will be fodder for some traditionalists to dig in their heels in opposition to 1997 canonical changes within the American church, she observed.

Katie Sherrod contributed to this article.