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Twenty Fifth Anniversary of the Ordination of Women to the Priesthood

Posted on: July 29, 1999 10:00 AM
Related Categories: ACO, ordinands, women

An address on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the ordination of women to the priesthood, by the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion at the Church of the Advocate, Philadelphia, 29 July 1999.

As Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, it gives me great joy and pleasure to be with you today as we celebrate the gift of priesthood. The Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church have a great deal for which to be thankful in the fact that 25 years ago there was a re-awakening which took place of what it means to be a priest of Jesus Christ in the Church Catholic.

We owe a debt of gratitude to those who were ordained 25 years ago, because you helped all of us as Anglican Christians to become more aware of the gift of priesthood. I firmly believe that one of God's gifts to the Church is the gift of ministry, the ordained ministry, and the ministry of the laity. The priesthood of all believers has always included women, but because of what happened here 25 years ago, the ministry of women has been given full and comprehensive expression in all the Orders of Ministry.

The Lambeth Conference last year received a report of the Eames Commission. This includes a report of the "monitoring group" which was set up by recommendation of the Joint Standing Committees of the Primates and the ACC meeting in Edinburgh in 1995, to monitor the question of the ordination of women to the priesthood and to the episcopate around the Communion. It is clear that, in the years since Anglicans first ordained women at the Church of the Advocate, this has been a time of learning and growing for our Communion. As with any development in the life of the Church, there has been a period of reception, which the Eames Commission understands to be "a long and spiritual process."

I have extracted a chart based on the Eames Monitoring work, which indicates just how far along this process of reception is in our Communion. True, there continues to be a variety of positions on this matter from place to place, but, as a Communion, we need to learn to live together with courtesy, tolerance and respect, and with a commitment to discern the truth together. Certainly, one part of reception is to make sure that women's ministry is not only tolerated, but affirmed and celebrated.

One remarkable fact uncovered in the Eames Monitoring process can be seen in the chart. There you will find that the acceptance of women priests is something that transcends geographic, cultural, and theological divides. Churches in the global north, the south, of Anglo-Catholic or Evangelical heritage have all taken steps in this direction. Churches in countries as culturally diverse as the United States, Uganda, Japan and Southern Africa all ordain women. The evidence seems to suggest that the gifts which women bring to the priesthood of the Christ's Church are celebrated ever more widely in this diverse Communion of ours.

So, as we gather today, we give thanks to God for bishops, lay persons, priests and deacons, women and men, in this Church who kept the faith within our tradition, who gave to the Church Catholic a wonderful new expression of an already bountiful gift. To you we say thank you. To bless, to pardon, to proclaim the word of God and to celebrate the sacraments is a gift and a mystery that comes to us empowered from the Holy Spirit.

We celebrate that sacrament in our Church today. We thank God for the Catholic priesthood, we thank God for those women in our own lives who have helped us in our earthly pilgrimage to be more like Christ who is the same yesterday, today and forever. Or, in the words of the Collect for ordination: "... let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made; your Son Jesus Christ... Amen."

John L. Peterson

29 July 1999