Sydney Synod has spoken decisively on ordaining women as priests, with a clear majority of members voting to move forward and not revisit the debate.
In a secret ballot last night after an hour of speeches, approximately 70 per cent of lay members (235) voted no to introduce the General Synod canon, while 85 per cent of clergy (165) also voted no.
The ‘yes’ vote was 114 in the house of laity and 31 in the house of clergy.
The ‘no’ vote increased from the last ballot in 1996 and also from 1992, the first time the Synod held the debate.
The primary question centred on the decision to revisit the debate, with a secondary question debating the Synod’s mind on the issue of women as presbyters (priests).
It was a godly and gracious debate, with 10 speakers from both genders giving passionate arguments for their point of view.
Mover of the motion, the Rev Chris Albany, rector of South Hurstville in his closing address thanked the Synod for the debate, saying members had conducted themselves ‘as graciously as I’d hoped’.
Mr Albany said he joined in prayer with Archbishop Peter Jensen prior to the debate.
Rector of St Andrew’s, Wahroonga the Rev Philip Griffin moved to hold a vote by house, which would make the vote open.
However a successful move by layman Ian Miller meant that the Synod had a secret ballot, delaying the results until after the dinner break.
It was the end to an exhausting and stressful lead up to Synod for many members, who put hours into preparing speeches and talking to fellow Anglicans about the issue.
One of them was Archdeacon Narelle Jarrett, Principal of Mary Andrew’s College, who opposed the introduction of the bill on biblical grounds.
She spoke of the past 14 debates on the issue that polarised the Diocese and fractured friendships.
She says following the Archbishop’s election in 2001 and his announcement that he would not ordain women as presbyters, ‘trust was regained and we laughed in Synod and most importantly we regained a vision’.
Archdeacon Jarrett says the 120 women working mainly in full-time ministry in Sydney are ‘probably the best paid women in ministry in the world’ and the current enrolment of women into theological training has never been higher.
‘People keep saying to me there are no positions for women. There are,’ Archdeacon Jarrett says.
The issue of the ordination of women as presbyters has been debated worldwide for many years and at the Sydney Synod on a regular basis since 1977.
Synod agreed to the ordaining of women as deacons in Sydney in 1987 following legislation by the national church, and the first woman was ordained in 1989.
Sydney Anglican women’s group Equal But Different received 600 letters or emails from women opposing the legislation in the lead up to this year’s Synod.
Divisive issue causes some to walk away, says proponent
In moving the bill, Mr Albany said he rejoices at the opportunities for women in Sydney Diocese, but believes that God is calling some women and gifting them for the priesthood who are leaving the Diocese for ordination elsewhere.
‘It becomes the issue for some people so they walk away from this Diocese,’ Mr Albany says. “We also at times lose people to the church because this becomes an issue that closes them to the gospel.”
Mr Albany says the debate needed to be held for three reasons - firstly because it has been ten years since it has been raised in Synod, secondly the issue of women as bishops is currently being discussed at the church’s court of appeal, the Appellate Tribunal, and thirdly because it was an appropriate forum for dissenting voices to be heard.
Responding to arguments from the Scriptures against women as presbyters, Mr Albany says some parts of Scripture are not meant to be ‘universally applied to all situations’ but are meant to be read in the cultural context of the time.
Conservative evangelicals who oppose women’s ordination draw on the supreme authority of Scripture and the Bible’s view of godly male leadership as Christ loved the church. They draw on the Apostle Paul’s letters in the New Testament where he outlines a view of family and church life with men at the head.
Those with more liberal views argue that Jesus offers a more inclusive equality for women in leadership roles in the gospels. They say Paul’s letters should be read in light of the culture of the time.
In his opening address Mr Albany says he stands by the ‘plain reading of Scripture and core theological truth’ and says people should be allowed to ‘agree on the authority of the text but disagree about the meaning of it’.
Seconder of the motion, Caroline Bowyer, a parishioner of St Peter’s, Cremorne, said restricting the debate might be regarded as censorship.
Drawing on a theme of ‘change’ from the Archbishop’s Presidential Address, Ms Bowyer says ordaining women as presbyters could be a ‘new and exciting’ way to enact change for the revitalisation of ministry in the Diocese.
Others who spoke in favour of debating the canon included the rector of St Mark’s, Granville Canon James McPherson and senior assistant minister of St Andrew’s, Abbotsford, the Rev Jacinth Myles.
Synod won’t revisit debate
Solicitor Robert Tong opposed the motion, arguing that the Synod has consistently rejected this issue and the fresh debate has ‘enflamed some old hurts’.
He said there was no point in having another long debate that was unlikely to see the legislation approved.
Joining him was Louisa Pftizner, a lecturer at Youthworks College and staff member at Naremburn Cammeray parish.
The new Synod member said current members should not be drawn back into decisions that were made by previous Synods.
‘Nothing of significance has changed since the last Synod’s rejection of the canon,’ Ms Pftizner said.
‘God’s word has not changed in the last 10 years. It is not necessary for every generation to revisit every decision.’
She added that Anglican women in Sydney are committed to ‘proclaiming Christ in a way that’s appropriate for God’s family and they do not need or welcome this distraction’.
Academic Dean of Moore College Mark Thompson said he and others at Synod have ‘made up our minds’ on the issue and ‘we are not turning back’.
Dr Thompson disagreed with arguments that the meaning of God’s word was unclear or could be interpreted differently on this issue.
‘We have been told the Bible is unclear on this matter…but God has not left us alone to guess what any part of Scripture is saying,’ he said.
‘We have been given the whole of Scripture so we may test one part against another. It does not mean every interpretation is just our opinion.
‘God is a very good communicator -he is a good and generous God who loves his people…we have been convinced that the teaching of Scripture is authoritative. We rejoice in the word God has given us.’
Bishop of North Sydney Dr Glenn Davies closed the debate, asking those members who were in favour of women as presbyters to be prepared to put aside their preferences for the sake of unity.
‘We need to work together - the gospel unites us,’ Dr Davies said.