The Windsor Report 2004

Recent mutual discernment within the Communion

  1. The story of ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate provides us with a recent example of mutual discernment and decision-making within the Anglican Communion.

  2. The background to the story was a period of debate and disagreement both before and after the ordination to the priesthood of Florence Li Tim-Oi in 1944. The story gathered pace in 1968, when the Diocese of Hong Kong & Macao brought the question of women's ordination to the priesthood to the Lambeth Conference. The Conference was not ready to respond because, as it stated in Resolution 34, “The Conference affirms its opinion that the theological arguments as at present presented for and against the ordination of women to the priesthood are inconclusive”. The Conference recommended that before any regional or national church or province made a final decision to ordain women to the priesthood they should consider carefully the advice of the Anglican Consultative Council.

  3. The Bishop of Hong Kong & Macao sought out the advice of the Anglican Consultative Council at its first meeting (in Limuru, Kenya) in 1970. After lengthy debate the Anglican Consultative Council advised the Bishop of Hong Kong & Macao that if, with the approval of his Synod, he were to proceed to the ordination of a woman his action would be acceptable to the Council, and that the Council would use its good offices to encourage all provinces of the Communion to continue in communion with that Diocese. The resolution passed (for: 24; against: 22).

  4. What needs to be noted is that Hong Kong did not understand itself to be so autonomous that it might proceed without bringing the matter to the Anglican Consultative Council as requested by the Lambeth Conference 1968. Furthermore, action was only taken with the co-operation of the Instruments of Unity.

  5. The 1978 Lambeth Conference addressed a situation where Hong Kong, Canada, the United States and New Zealand had all ordained women to the priesthood and eight other provinces had accepted the ordination of women in principle. In response, the Conference passed Resolution 21: Women in the Priesthood, which in part stated, “The Conference also recognises…(3a) the autonomy of each of its member Churches, acknowledging the legal right of each Church to make its own decision about the appropriateness of admitting women to Holy Orders”. The Resolution also noted that such provincial action “has consequences of the utmost significance for the Anglican Communion as a whole”, and that “The Conference affirms its commitment to the preservation of unity within and between all member Churches of the Anglican Communion”. This resolution passed with 316 for, 37 against, and 17 abstentions.

  6. In 1985 the General Convention of the Episcopal Church (USA) expressed the intention “not to withhold consent to the election of a bishop on the grounds of gender”. Aware that such a possible action would indeed affect the whole Anglican Communion, the then Presiding Bishop brought the question to the newly established Primates' Meeting in Toronto, Canada[3]. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the primates requested the Primate of Australia, John Grindrod, to head a committee to prepare a paper for the 1988 Lambeth Conference after requesting the opinions of the provinces of the Communion. This report's first chapter was entitled 'Listening as a Mark of Communion'.

  7. The Grindrod Report presented two options to the Lambeth Conference: first, to counsel restraint in the hope that the moral authority inherent in a gathering of all the bishops of the Communion would find a response at the provincial level. Second, if a province went ahead, persuaded by compelling doctrinal reasons, by its experience of women in the priesthood and by the demands of mission in its region, and with the overwhelming support of the dioceses, such a step should be offered for reception within the Anglican Communion.

  8. In response, Resolution 1 of Lambeth 1988 stated: “That each province respect the decision and attitudes of other provinces in the ordination or consecration of women to the episcopate, without such respect necessarily indicating acceptance of the principles involved, maintaining the highest possible degree of communion with the provinces which differ”. This long resolution went on to recommend courtesy and respect and open dialogue with those who differ, and asked the Archbishop of Canterbury, in consultation with the primates, to appoint a Commission to ensure the process of reception, to monitor and encourage consultation and to offer pastoral guidelines for the churches of the Communion. This resolution passed with 423 for, 28 against, and 19 abstentions.

  9. The Commission on Women in the Anglican Episcopate ('The Eames Commission') worked throughout the period between the Lambeth Conferences of 1988 and 1998. A monitoring committee of the Commission made a report to Lambeth 1998.

  10. Anglicans can understand from this story 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. We need to note that the Instruments of Unity, i.e. the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates' Meeting, were all involved in the decision-making process. Provincial autonomy was framed by Anglican interdependence on matters of deep theological concern to the whole Communion.