Dear People of God,
Thank you for your prayers for the bishops of the Anglican Church in North America as we met in conclave last week to discuss the ordination of women in light of the report of the Task Force on Holy Orders. I believe that the Lord heard your prayers and allowed us to find a way forward together as a province.
I am thankful for many things as I reflect on the bishops’ time together. First of all, I’m grateful for Archbishop Beach’s godly, non-anxious leadership that set our conversation in the context of prayerful listening to God and respectful listening to one another. His inviting the Unity Task Force into leadership of part of the process of the conclave expressed his humble wisdom as they astutely guided a key phase of our conversation.
Secondly, I thank God that the bishops are a community of leaders who are willing to extend charitable assumption to each other. As a body, we believe that each of us is committed, to the best of our ability, to following Jesus where He is leading us (even if we disagree on the issue at hand). Our statement expresses this mutual respect.
Thirdly, I’m thankful for the commitment our Province has to the mission of the Gospel. The founders of our Province agreed to accept the issue of the ordination of women as unsettled in order that the whole Body could engage in mission together. This is where the bishops still are.
People have had a wide range of responses to the Statement (if the ACNA Facebook page is at all representative!). Some have expressed relief that we are going to stay together as a province. Some are confused because it seems that the Statement merely affirms the original consensus that we have been working under. Some (on both sides) are disappointed that the Statement didn’t go further (in their hoped-for direction). Others are outraged. No one (that I’ve heard from) is ecstatic. This range of responses stems from the fact that the Statement is the work of a body that has “divergent conclusions regarding women’s ordination” (to quote from the Statement) and that refused to vote people off the island.
While every line of the Statement could be unpacked (and, quite likely, in different ways by each bishop), I want to explain my understanding of three phrases.
First, “insufficient scriptural warrant to accept women’s ordination to the priesthood as standard practice throughout the Province.” I take “insufficient scriptural warrant” to mean something akin to “proved thereby” (Article VI of the 39 Articles); definitely not, “has no biblical support,” as some have taken it to mean. Those who support women’s ordination certainly make their case from Scripture. The case made, however, is “insufficient” to require everyone to agree with it and to make it “standard practice.” I realize that each side finds this statement irritating. The pro side finds the biblical case to be compelling. The con side believes the practice to be unsupportable. Until the Lord reveals a third option that draws us all in, or calls one side to capitulate to the other, we will need to live respectfully in the tension of our disagreement if we are to walk together in mission.
Secondly, “recent innovation to” in my mind is different than “culture-driven departure from.” While it certainly raises the question of whether women held official leadership positions in New Testament times, the Church (generally speaking) has not ordained women to the presbyterate for a very long time. In that sense, it is recent. Those who are “pro” would argue that the ordination of women is an “innovation” that rediscovers ancient practice. Again, we will need to acknowledge each side’s deeply held convictions.
The third phrase, “especially female,” while received by some as patronizing, was a place of heart-felt agreement among the bishops. We all acknowledged (regardless of our position on the ordination of women) that the Church has often marginalized the ministry of women. In my observation, we have consistently relegated women to “helping” tasks to which men didn’t feel “called.” Like with the rest of the Statement, there will be deep (and painful) disagreement about what kinds of ministries and leadership roles are open to women. All of the bishops, however, saw the need to empower women more fully in their gifts for ministry.
Every issue that divides us reminds us of the “already/not yet” nature of God’s kingdom; with the pain pointing to the “not yet.” I will walk with each of you in the pain of our disagreement and in the joy of our common mission. I am committed to living out the spirit of the Statement. As I continue to support appreciatively women in ordained ministry, I will honor the consciences and support the ministries of those who disagree with me. I will also seek to inspire and to encourage transformational discipling and fruitful equipping for ministry for every member of our congregations.
Walking with you in the mission and the pain of God’s “already/not yet” kingdom,
A Statement from the College of Bishops on the Ordination of Women
Also published on the ACNA Website
September 7, 2017
In an act of mutual submission at the foundation of the Anglican Church in North America, it was agreed that each Diocese and Jurisdiction has the freedom, responsibility, and authority to study Holy Scripture and the Apostolic Tradition of the Church, and to seek the mind of Christ in determining its own convictions and practices concerning the ordination of women to the diaconate and the priesthood. It was also unanimously agreed that women will not be consecrated as bishops in the Anglican Church in North America. These positions are established within our Constitution and Canons and, because we are a conciliar Church, would require the action of both Provincial Council and Provincial Assembly to be changed.
Having gratefully received and thoroughly considered the five-year study by the Theological Task Force on Holy Orders, we acknowledge that there are differing principles of ecclesiology and hermeneutics that are acceptable within Anglicanism that may lead to divergent conclusions regarding women’s ordination to the priesthood. However, we also acknowledge that this practice is a recent innovation to Apostolic Tradition and Catholic Order. We agree that there is insufficient scriptural warrant to accept women’s ordination to the priesthood as standard practice throughout the Province. However, we continue to acknowledge that individual dioceses have constitutional authority to ordain women to the priesthood.
As a College of Bishops, we confess that our Province has failed to affirm adequately the ministry of all Christians as the basic agents of the work of the Gospel. We have not effectively discipled and equipped all Christians, male and especially female, lay and ordained, to fulfill their callings and ministries in the work of God’s kingdom. We repent of this and commit to work earnestly toward a far greater release of the whole Church to her God-given mission.
Having met in Conclave to pray, worship, study, talk, and listen well to one another, we commit to move forward in unity to carry on the good witness and work that God has given us to do in North America (Ephesians 4:1-6; John 17). We invite and urge all members of the Province to engage with us in this endeavor to grow in understanding the mission and ministry of all God’s people.
Adopted Unanimously by the College of Bishops of the Anglican Church in North America
The Church of Our Lord, Victoria, BC, Canada