Plenary targets women's ministries
by E.T. Malone, Jr.
The Lambeth Conference yesterday approved an amended resolution stating that bishops should not be compelled to ordain or license women. The resolution also calls on provinces to provide for special episcopal ministry as a means of maintaining unity in the Anglican Communion.
Bishop Penny Jamieson (Dunedin, New Zealand) 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...as a way of deepening our Communion in the heart of God while and because of our respect for our differences.''
She suggested voting on the four sections of the amendment separately, but the bishops chose not to do that. The third section contained language calling on the provinces to provide ``appropriate episcopal ministry,'' an apparent reference to allowing episcopal ministry in addition to, or as an alternative to that of, the diocesan bishop.
That section also stated ``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.
Bishop Victoria Matthews (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.
Suffragan Bishop Barbara Harris (Massachusetts, US), 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 in the US and the Church in the provinces of Canada and New Zealand. Indeed, the canon concerning ordination of women was made mandatory last year at our General Convention.''
Bishops affirmed the amendment by an 80 percent majority.
Bishop Catherine Roskam (New York, US) said:``It doesn't mean anything in terms of our own polity. Sudsidiarity applies. Moreover, the other difficulty 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 (Maine, US) 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.
Traditionalist Bishop Keith Ackerman (Quincy, US) said he had no reaction and just wanted to be ``a loyal Anglican.''
In other business, the bishops quickly approved the resolution on international debt and economic justice.
Sub-section chair Bishop Peter Selby (Worcester, England) told them the goal had been to provide ``the kind of resolution that could be taken home by all members of this Conference'' no matter what country or what national political positions had been taken on debt.
The resolution asks them to challenge their dioceses to fund international development programmes, cooperate with people of other faiths in advocacy programmes and to commit themselves to support a series of requests of both creditor and debtor nation governments, including establishment of a Mediation Council.
Earlier in the plenary, the bishops first considered resolutions of Section Three (``Called to be a Church in a Plural World''). After nearly a 20-minute exchange focusing on whether it required adherence to literal interpretation of the Bible or not, Resolution One passed without amendment.
One of two resolutions moved to debate status, Resolution One reaffirms the primary authority of the scriptures, urges biblical texts to be handled respectfully, coherently and consistently in the best traditions and scholarship. It also invites provinces to promote biblical study at all levels and all ages across the Communion.
Nan Cobbey, Katie Sherrod and Sarah Moore contributed to this article.