The ordination of women has been a controversial issue throughout the Anglican Communion. By 2012, however, 28 of the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion ordain women as priests and 17 have removed all barriers to women serving as bishops. Presented here is a timeline of events in the Anglican Communion and sources commenting on the development of the ordination of women in the Church of Ireland – a debate which commenced in the C of I in 1976 and led to the first ordinations in 1990 in Belfast Cathedral.
1968 - The Lambeth Conference, the meeting of all Anglican church leaders once every 10 years, recommended that women be involved as much as possible in worship at services pending resolution of the female ordination issue that had been debated with increasing intensity during the 1960s.
1971 - The Anglican Church in Hong Kong ordained two women priests and confirm the status of a third women priest who was originally ordained in 1944 during the Japanese occupation but stepped down from her post after the Second World War ended.
1974 - Three retired bishops of the Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of Anglicanism, irregularly ordained 11 women priests. These ordinations were declared illegal, but were later regularised.
1975 - Pope Paul VI wrote to then Archbishop of Canterbury Donald Coggan, a supporter of women priests, saying women cannot be ordained because Jesus’s 12 apostles were all men.
The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada voted to allow women priests and the first six were ordained the following year.
1976 - The Episcopal Church passed a resolution declaring that “no one shall be denied access” because of their gender to ordination into the three orders of ministry: as deacons, priests or bishops. It held its first regular ordination of a woman priest the following year.
1977 - The Anglican Church in New Zealand ordains its first five women as priests.
1989 - The Anglican Church of New Zealand consecrates its first woman bishop. Later that year, the Episcopal Church consecrates an African-American as its first woman bishop.
1990 - The Church of Ireland General Synod approved the ordination of women as priests and bishops in 1990, and ordained its first women as priests in that year. A long debate had commenced in 1976. On Saturday 24 June 1990, history was made in St Annes Cathedral, Belfast, when the Bishop of Connor, Dr Samuel Poyntz, ordained Irene Templeton and Kathleen Young the first two women priests in the C of I. “The Church of Ireland was the first Anglican Church in these islands to take the step of opening priesthood and the episcopate to women.” – Archbishop Eames preaching on the 10th anniversary of the admission of women to the priesthood in the C of I. No women have yet been ordained to the episcopate.
1992 - The Church of England General Synod approves the ordination of women priests. The first takes place in 1994.
1993 - Canada’s Anglican Church appoints first woman bishop.
2006 - The Church of England votes to ordain women as bishops. A Manchester University study finds that in the 12 years since women were ordained priests, most were given unpaid roles while male colleagues are largely found in paid positions.
The U.S. Episcopal Church elects Katharine Jefferts Schori as its first woman Presiding Bishop, or head.
2007 - The Episcopal Church of Cuba ordains its first woman bishop.
2008 - Australia’s Anglican Church appoints its first woman bishop.
2010 - The Church of England moves a step closer to ordaining women as bishops, but deep divisions remain that threaten a split between liberals and traditionalists.
– The General Synod, or parliament, votes in July in favour of giving equal status to male and female bishops, against the wishes of traditionalists and evangelicals.
– The Church fails to find a solution uniting the majority view that women should be consecrated as bishops and the minority who object on Biblical or theological grounds. The draft legislation goes to the dioceses.
July 9, 2012 - A final vote on woman bishops is put off until at least November after reform supporters objected to a concession to conservatives that would allow dissenting parishes to opt to follow a like-minded alternative male bishop if a woman were named to head their dioceses.
– The new Archbishop of Canterbury, spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, will inherit this when he takes over from Rowan Williams in 2013.
Address by Lord Eames:
Article on the ordination of women in the Church of Ireland by David McCready, Irish School of Ecumenics, published in proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy
The article describes and examines the process leading up to the ordination of women in the Church of Ireland in 1990. It starts by looking at the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when the question of women’s role in the Church was first raised. Next the immediate background to the debate is dealt with in the wider context of discussions about the issue in the Anglican Communion during the 1960s and 1970s; the focus then turns to the Church of Ireland itself. The article moves on to the actual debate about women’s role in the Church, dividing it into four phases. The first phase, from 1976-80, saw women priests accepted and then rejected; the second, from 1980-4, was taken up with the question of women deacons; the third, from 1984-8, saw ordination to the priesthood promoted, outside the General Synod, by the Women’s Ministry Group; the fourth, from 1988-90, was taken up with the final debates on the subject, ending with the acceptance of women’s ordination. In conclusion, the article asks why the debate took so long; and why it was that women priests were eventually accepted.