Deputies turn down call for more conversation on women’s ordination

August 3, 2003

After 27 years of ordained ministry by women, the time for talking is over, deputies stated Sunday afternoon.

Deputies approved a heavily amended resolution (A017) that would have requested $50,000 for a national conversation “to assist the whole church to promote, explore and develop ways to facilitate the ordination of women in every diocese and their full and equal deployment throughout the church.” The resolution also would have called for a day of dialogue and reflection at the next General Convention.

The conversation was to be in response to a report of the Task Force on Women’s Ordination, which over the past triennium arranged visits to the three dioceses of the Episcopal Church — Fort Worth, San Joaquin and Quincy — led by bishops who do not ordain women.

As passed, however, the resolution only gives thanks “for the work of the Holy Spirit within our communion through the life-giving ministry of ordained women.”

The Rev. Gay Jennings of Ohio, chair of the communications committee that recommended the amended version, said the cognate committee representing both bishops and deputies was unanimous in deleting almost all of the resolution because “not one person who testified before the committee thought a national conversation … was a good idea.”

Some, she said, “called the resolution a slap in the face given their testimony” about their frustrations that some bishops refuse to ordain women. At the committee hearing, women also spoke of difficulties they face living and working in dioceses where ordained women are made to feel unwelcome. Most of those who testified, she said, felt that the use of $50,000 to discuss again the need for all dioceses to uphold the practice of the church “would be incredibly poor stewardship.”

The Very Rev. Cynthia Black of Western Michigan gave some taste of that reaction when she said she would support the amended resolution but did so “with a very sad heart.” It is 27 years “since this church approved the ordination of women,” she said. “In 27 years, the majority of dioceses have been able to experience the wonderful ministries of ordained women. And this is the best that we can say about them?”

The Rev. Canon Elizabeth Kaeton of Newark also asked that “all ordained women” among the deputies stand up as a way to “acknowledge their presence among us and celebrate their ministry in this church.”

As a member of Executive Council who heard the reports about the visitations, James Bradberry of Southern Virginia said he understood the sentiment behind the amendment. He called the work of the task force’s visiting committees “extraordinary” and said Executive Council was told that “in some instances they were received in what one can describe as a hostile manner.” In at least one diocese, “they tried to contact people in the diocese who wanted to be heard and I think made a valiant effort to do it” but felt frustrated in those efforts, he said.

In drafting the resolution, Executive Council felt "we had gone as far as we reasonably could go in this triennium given the nature of the work,” Bradberry said. He acknowledged that he himself “did not find our resolution in Executive Council to be very satisfactory” and stressed that he was “extraordinarily sympathetic to the people of the dioceses who felt we let them down. That was not our intention.”

The Rev. Thomas E. Hightower of Fort Worth, however, defended the practice of the diocese, where the official visitors complained they were greeted with hostility. “In the Diocese of Fort Worth this very morning, a woman stood at the altar in my parish … just as she has almost every Sunday for eight years and in the diocese for the past 15,” he said. The woman is a “valuable, respected and honored member of my staff. She has my utmost respect.”

While Bishop Jack Iker of Fort Worth will not ordain women as priests, he permits women in the diocese to pursue ordination and to be ordained through the Diocese of Dallas.

Puerto Rico welcomed

Having struggled with parliamentary procedure in their efforts to approve the inclusion of Puerto Rico as a diocese of the Episcopal Church, deputies gave an enthusiastic welcome as the diocese’s deputation was officially seated. Waving a small Puerto Rican flag, the Rev. Wilner Millien led the deputation onto the floor of the house amid a standing ovation.

Puerto Rico’s journey to this moment could be likened to a four-story building, Millien told the deputies, dating back to the 19th century with the first Anglican church in Puerto Rico, through the association of the diocese with the Episcopal Church as a missionary district in 1901. The third floor, he said, was the designation in 1979 of Puerto Rico as an extraprovincial diocese, as dioceses outside the geographical boundaries of the Episcopal Church were invited to “work together in the formation of new provinces.” An effort over a number of years to draw Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Puerto Rico together in a province ultimately failed.

“Today, we are giving birth to the fourth story” as the diocese becomes “partners in full communion with this province of the United States,” Millien said. “For this we are grateful, we are happy and we are ready,” he said. “We want to bring what we have, ourselves, our culture, a way of praying, a way of singing, a way of dancing, a way of saying to God that we love him.”

Other actions

Deputies also approved a resolution calling on dioceses to establish committees on alcoholism and drug dependency that would provide educational programs for clergy, church staff and congregations (A123). The resolution was amended to indicate that dioceses should also provide “adequate” insurance coverage for diocesan clergy and church staff for mental health and addiction.

In other business, deputies voted to:

  • authorize Executive Council to appoint a task group in consultation with the Church Pension Fund to study employment policies and practices in the dioceses and parishes of the church and to consider policy recommendations to the next General Convention that would address issues of equity and justice for church employees working in circumstances of affluence and poverty (A006). The resolution requests allocation of $10,000.
  • discharge a resolution (C012) retaining the ethnic ministries desk because that action was already covered in an earlier resolution.
  • establish an Institutional Wellness and the Prevention of Sexual Misconduct Task Force and request allocation of $50,000 (A023).

These resolutions now go to the House of Bishops for concurrence.

Deputies concurred with the House of Bishops in:

  • requesting that the Standing Commission on Ministry Development work in consultation with the dioceses of the church and the North American Association of the Diaconate to study the role of deacons in the councils of the church, the dioceses, and congregations and to report to the next General Convention (A119);
  • authorizing continued use of Enriching Our Worship 1 & 2 (A091);
    approving liturgical calendar inclusions for Enmegahbowh, Florence Nightingale and Philip the Deacon (A093);
  • authorizing trial use of commemorations for Janani Luwum, archbishop of Uganda and martyr; William Temple, archbishop of Canterbury; and Clive Staples Lewis (A094 and A095);
  • authorizing trial use of a commemoration for Philander Chase, bishop of Ohio and Illinois (A096 and A097);
  • adding Tikhon for commemoration in the Lesser Feasts and Fasts (C009);
  • adding the Rev. Dr. John Roberts for commemoration in the Lesser Feasts and Fasts (C013);
  • ratifying actions of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (A041);
  • establishing a practice of redeploying world mission funds historically committed to the church’s financial covenants with former international jurisdictions of the church to other areas of the church’s global engagement (A151). For the next triennium, the amount made available would equal roughly $1 million, with a lesser amounts expected to be available in the three following triennia, reported Bonnie Anderson, chair of the Joint Standing Commission on Program, Budget and Finance.

Deputies approved a number of resolutions listed together for consent:

  • concurrence with the elections of Bishops Wendell Gibbs of Michigan, and Katherine Jefferts Schori of Nevada to the Board of Clergy Deployment (X005);
  • concurrence with the election of the Rev. Dr. Robert Wright as historiographer (X006);
  • concurrence with election of the Rev. Canon Carl Gerdau as registrar (X007);
  • concurrence with election of the Church Pension Fund as recorder of ordinations (X008);
  • giving thanks for the Episcopal Church and Visual Arts (D024).