Women in the episcopate topic “a bit dated”

Bishop Victoria Matthews, previously bishop in Canada and now in New Zealand, spoke on the sidelines of the recent General Synod of the Church of England. She was invited to speak on women in the episcopate.


Thinking Anglicans has the full text of her address. Some excerpts:

To begin with a disclaimer, the topic I am asked to address seems a bit dated. I do not say that as a criticism but as an admission. I have been in episcopal ministry for over 17 years, longer than I served in parish ministry and theological education combined.

When I was elected in Christchurch by the Electoral College of the Diocese, the medium level upset was the election of a Canadian bishop sight unseen, elected on reputation and references and not that I was a woman. There was also an upset that I was reputed to be an Anglo Catholic, yet had just been elected Bishop by a clearly evangelical diocese, but again the controversy was not about gender. You may remember that Penelope Jamieson, now retired, was elected in 1990 by the Diocese of Dunedin, New Zealand, as the first woman Diocesan in the Communion. This is not to say there was no concern about gender but simply that it was well down the list.

So again let me say that speaking about the idea of women in the episcopate does seem a bit odd to me….

Over 20 years on in the history of the episcopal ministry involving both genders, or as the Canadian Church said, bringing completeness to episcopal ministry, I no longer can actually seriously engage the argument about the validity of the sacraments celebrated by women. The sacraments we celebrate are valid and transform lives much as the sacraments celebrated by men in holy orders. That is because in the lives of the men and women the Holy Spirit has conferred gifts of grace. My successor in the Diocese of Edmonton was ordered deacon and priest by a woman in episcopal ministry who then was a co-consecrator at the episcopal consecration. In the USA there are a growing number of bishops all consecrated by the Presiding Bishop, also female. Apostolic Succession has not been endangered by these episcopal acts….

… in each of the 3 dioceses I have had the incredible privilege to serve, there have been those who do not agree with the ordination of women to the episcopate. In Edmonton the concern was Anglo Catholic and was about women presiding at the sacraments, and in Christchurch the concern is of the more Sydney minded evangelicals and has to do with women preaching. In every instance we have managed to work together with great respect and mutual support.

On the subject of the Roman Catholic church:

We all know that the actions of provinces such as Canada, the Episcopal Church, New Zealand and Australia in ordaining women to the episcopate has led to increased tension with other Communions specifically Rome and the Orthodox. It would seem this is particularly true if the Church of England takes the step. Frankly I do not understand that as I believe that the Church of England is one province of our beloved Communion and not the head Office.

Category : The Lead

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2 Comments
  1. Let’s take note of the fact that, until very recently, the UK did not allow mixer faucets in their bathrooms, and to this day bathrooms may not contain electrical outlets (despite the fact that GFCI technology makes this a non-issue in the rest of the civilized world). Bathroom light switches must be either outside the bathroom or a pull-cord from the ceiling.

    What does this have to do with women in the Episcopate? The UK can be pretty backward (it’s one of the nicest third world countries), and is totally unwilling to learn from what’s going on in the rest of the world.

  2. Rod Gillis

    The most engaging part of the Bishop’s address is contained in the following section:

    “Beginning in the late 60’s and early 70’s, the seminaries of the Communion began to emphasize the need to critique the tradition. Liberation theology, Black theology and feminist theology, to cite examples, began to highlight the gaps and oversights we had permitted in our reception of the Biblical narrative.”

    She really understates her point. In fact, critical theologies of the type she cites have radically debunked the credibility of gender segregation which is alive and well to various degrees in the Communion.

    Notwithstanding, the conversation, including the conversation in Canada, continues to be about, as the Bishop indicates, women’s ordination within a field of institutional sensitivities to Anglo-Catholics here and conservative evangelicals there.

    What is missing in the Bishop’s address, and in the corporate response by the church, is an unqualified commitment to gender equality as a matter of human rights.

    As long as there remain, as a matter of pastoral policy, no go parishes and no go “altars” for female priests and bishops, then the church’s commitment to equality is compromised. The ability of even a few parishes to block the full sacramental expression of female priests and bishops makes a statement about the equality or not of every single baptized female person. The presence of women in episcopal office is not a consolation prize in this regard.

    Bishop Matthews is careful to include in her address how her being a female in episcopal orders has not been overly upsetting in her work with some other bishops i.e. its not that bad, some of the boys are quite happy to work with me on some things. One wonders why validation must constantly be rooted in such ground.

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