A series of essays in the Episcopal Church
By the Rt. Rev. Ann Tottenham
Bishop Suffragan of Credit Valley, Canada, Diocese of Toronto
The Windsor Report on the nature of the relationships among the different national church provinces of the worldwide Anglican Communion makes interesting reading. I commend it to your interest and attention and suggest that there are parts of the report, particularly in the sections A and B, which would lend themselves well to parish Lenten study groups.
Having said that, I also need to say that there are a number of controversial parts of the report that are likely to be the matter of much discussion in the months ahead. There is also one section that caught my attention and which is not likely to be the subject of much further discussion. It deals with an issue that is important to me and to many other clergy of our Church and diocese.
Section A deals with background material and sets the scene for the principles and recommendations which follow. One of the topics, "Recent mutual discernment within the Communion" is presented to show that the Anglican Communion has dealt successfully in the past with controversial issues. Its thesis is that existing Anglican Communion "Instruments of Unity"- the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council, and the Primates' Meeting - provide the structure for dealing with major changes in the Anglican tradition.
"The story of the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate provides us with a recent example of mutual discernment and decision-making within the Anglican Communion." (WR A.12) In fact, this section is a breath-taking re-writing of Anglican history that few women would recognize as either helpful or appropriate.
The story begins with the ordination of Florence Li Tim Oi in Hong Kong in 1944. The Japanese occupation of Hong Kong during World War II meant that Anglican priests were prevented from crossing to the unoccupied colony of Macao to bring the sacraments to the people there. Faced with this pastoral crisis Bishop Hall decided to ordain Tim Oi who was already serving as a deacon in Macao.
It should be noted that Bishop Hall was in no position to consult any of the "Instruments of Unity" before making this decision and, in fact, was later roundly condemned by them. After the war, despite censure and pressure from the 1948 Lambeth Conference and two successive Archbishops of Canterbury, Bishop Hall did not require Tim Oi to renounce her ordination. She surrendered her licence to practise as a priest and continued her faithful service to the church in China as far as she could through terrible years of suffering during the Cultural Revolution.
Finally, in 1971 the newly formed Anglican Consultative Council, which included lay people as well as priests and bishops, met in Kenya and voted by a narrow margin to allow the diocese of Hong Kong to ordain women. Tim Oi now in her 70's was able to resume her priestly ministry and we were honoured to have her spend her final years in Canada. In light of her lonely suffering and rejection by the Anglican Communion, the use of Tim Oi's experience as an example of the effective working of the various "Instruments of Unity" shows, to say the least, disrespect for a courageous woman.
The real lesson which Anglicans can learn from the on-going struggle over the ordination of women is not the one cited in the Windsor Report (A.21) which says that "decision-making in the Communion on serious and contentious issues has been, and can be, carried out without division, despite a measure of impairment" .The real lesson derived from the story of the ordination of women is that when unity and fellowship become the first priority for the Church the result is the endless postponement of decision-making and the inequitable treatment of those most closely involved with the issue.
Later in the Windsor Report (D.126) the statement is made that a common mind about the ordination of women bishops has been reached and that the "Instruments of Unity" have decided that the current degree of impairment is one "which the Communion could bear". The "impairment" referred to is that various national churches, including the Church of England, do not recognize either women bishops ordained elsewhere in the Communion or the priests of either gender that these women have ordained. This, to my mind, is not an acceptable level of impairment for a body which refers to itself as a "communion" whose unique source of unity is our common identity in Christ.
In fact, the ordination of women to the priesthood and to the episcopacy became possible only because individual provinces, like Canada, exercised their autonomy in the face of the various "Instruments of Unity" which exhorted them to delay, to exercise caution, to do nothing that might offend any other province in the communion.
As I reach the end of almost twenty-five years in active ordained ministry as both priest and bishop, I realize that without the actions of courageous individuals and autonomous provinces this ministry would not have been possible in my lifetime.
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