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Report of the Joint Commission on Ordained and Licensed Ministries, 1970 Appendix B in 'Women Priests: Yes or No?' By Emily C. Hewitt and Suzanne R. Hiatt

Report of the Joint Commission
on Ordained and Licensed Ministries, 1970

Appendix B in Women Priests: Yes or No?
By Emily C. Hewitt & Suzanne R. Hiatt, Seabury Press, New York, 1973, pp.105-119


The Joint Commission on Ordination and Licensed Ministries was established by Special Convention II, and its members were appointed by the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies. Pursuant to the joint Rules of the two Houses, the Commission makes this report to the Sixty-Third General Convention.

The Commission has met in compliance with the direction of the resolution creating it, “to study the question of the ordination of women and the licensing of women as Lay Readers, giving special attention to the advisability of amending Article VIII of the Constitution and Canons 34, 49 and 50:” Such study has resulted in the entire Commission unanimously reaching the following conclusions:

1. All members of the Body of Christ, both male and female, are called to the work of the ministry. The Holy Spirit gives all members of that Body the power to share with Christ the mission for God and for the world, regardless of their sex.

2. The inferior social role and status given women in other cultures may have been a valid reason for denying them the special ministry of the ordered priesthood and the ordained and consecrated episcopate. In the culture where the Episcopal Church is now at work, however, the equality of the social role and status of men and women is a valid reason for insisting that women no longer be denied any ministry, general or special, which is empowered by the Spirit of God alone.

3. Every moment that the Church continues categorically to deny either the ordered priesthood or the consecrated episcopate to a person competent to hold those offices in our culture today, because she is a woman, it does far more than exclude one woman from a specific ministry or a specific apostolate. Such a denial is also a continuous signal from the Church that all persons in the category of woman are intrinsically inferior creatures who should also serve only as auxiliaries to men in the general ministry and the general apostolate of all believers. Untold numbers of women within and without the Church are receiving the Church’s signals “loud and clear”!

4. The language of the Constitution, Canons and Ordinal of the Prayer Book permits the opening of the priesthood and the episcopacy to women by the interpretive action of a single Convention. The urgent needs of the Church and the World impel the conclusion that the short route of interpretation should be taken rather than the long, tortuous, uncertain and unnecessary route of amending the Constitution, Canons and Prayer Book.

5. Opening the priesthood and episcopacy to women would be consonant with the actions taken by the House of Bishops in its 1966 Meeting in response to the Report of its Committee to Study the Proper Place of Women in the Ministry of the Church. It would also be consonant with the Report of the 1968 Lambeth Conference Committee on “Women and Priesthood,” and it would not violate any restrictions placed on any part of the Anglican Communion by the Resolutions of the Conference itself. Such action would be responsive to the recent memorials and petitions to this Convention, including memorials from the Dioceses of Central New York, Maryland and Ohio.

6. Canon 49 generally disqualified women as licensed Lay Readers by restricting the office to “a competent male person.” The disqualification has already been removed by Special Convention II. That Convention opened the office to women by: (a) amending the Canon through deletion of the word “male”; (b) interpreting the referent pronouns “he,” “him” and “his” to be generic words which included females as well as males.

In the light of these conclusions, supported by the subsequent portions of this Report, the Commission recommends adoption of the following resolution by the 63rd General Convention


Whereas, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church has interpreted generic words to include both males and females; and

Whereas, the interpretative authority of General Convention extends to include the words “Bishop,” “Priest” and “Deacon,” together with the referent pronouns “he,” “his” and “him” where these words appear in Articles II, III and VIII of the Constitution, the Canons pertinent to ordination, and the Ordinal of the Book of Common Prayer; therefore, be it

Resolved, the House of ..........................concurring, That the Sixty-Third General Convention of the Church affirms that women have equal rights with men in the Episcopal Church, in cluding the right to seek and accept ordering to the diaconate and to the priesthood and ordination and consecration to the episcopate; and it further affirms the right of the Church to ordain and consecrate women as well as men; and be it further

Resolved, the House of ...........................concurring, That the General Convention hereby interprets the words “Bishop,” “Priest” and “Deacon” together with the referent pronouns “he,” “his” and. “him,” and other related words, wherever these words appear in the Constitution, Canons, Ordinal of the Book of Common Prayer and other official documents with regard to ordination and consecration, to include both males and females.

Joint Commission on Ordained and Licensed Ministries:

The Rt.. Rev. Dean T. Stevenson, S.T.D., Chairman

The Rev. Henry H. Rightor, D.D., Virginia Theological Seminary, Secretary

The Rt. Rev. David K. Leighton, D.D.

Miss Pauli Murray, J.S.D., Massachusetts Mr. William M. Passano, Maryland

Deaconess Frances Zielinski, Central House for Deaconesses, Illinois


The idea of opening the priesthood to women is no outrageously new concept or fad. In March of 1916 William Temple wrote: “Personally I want (as at present advised) to see women ordained to the priesthood.” Temple’s biographer, F. A. Iremonger, commented, “He championed the cause of women, not because they were women but because they were human beings whose personality was sacred in the sight of God . . .” [William Temple, Archbishop o f Canterbury (London and New York: Oxford Press, 1948), p. 305].

Since the time of William Temple’s statement, thinking and writing on the subject of women and the ordained ministry has continued in the fields of missions, biblical studies, theology, doctrine, sociology, etc. Instead of attempting to plough the same ground again, an appropriate portion of the comprehensive Report of the House of Bishop’s Committee to Study the Proper Place of Women in the Ministry of the Church (1966) is attached as Appendix 1 to this report.

Annex B: Progress Report to the House of Bishops, 1966


The 63rd General Convention can open the priesthood and episcopate to women without delay. In 1946 the House of Deputies opened its membership to a woman deputy. By passing one resolution to seat Mrs. Randolph H. Dyer of Missouri that House interpreted “Laymen” in Article I of the Constitution to be a generic word which included both males and females.

The 1970 Convention can interpret “Deacon,” “Priest” and “Bishop” together with the referent pronouns “he,” “his” and “him” to be generic words which include both males and females. Thus, by going the route of inclusive interpretation of words susceptible of such interpretation in the Constitution, Canons and Prayer Book Ordinal, this one Convention can affirm that women have equal rights with men to seek and accept ordering to the diaconate and priesthood and ordination and consecration to the episcopate; it can, further, affirm the right of the Church to ordain and consecrate women as well as men.

On the other hand, Convention can go the route taken by the House of Deputies in 1949. By opting to interpret the same word, “laymen,” to be an exclusive word which did not include females, it refused to seat three women chosen as Deputies by their dioceses. By electing to go only the route of constitutional amendment to open its membership to women, that House forced the Church to wait 24 more years before its women members could be represented by one of their own sex.

The story of interpretation versus amendment of Constitution and Canons is succinctly told by excerpts from the Convention journals of 1946 and 1949.

The Journal of General Convention, 1946 reports the action of the House of Deputies on page 102 as follows:

The Secretary inquired of the House if there were any objection to the seating of any member whose name was called. The Rev. Tom G. Akeley, of Maine, inquired what the rule might be in regard to seating in the House a woman who had been elected as a deputy. The Hon. Augustus N. Hand, of New York, said interpretation of “laymen,” “person” and “man” in statutes was all inclusive. He moved that Mrs. Randolph H. Dyer of Missouri, be seated. Dr. Spencer Miller, Jr., of Newark, offered a substitute that the matter be referred to the Committee on Elections. Mr. A. D. Cochran of Oklahoma moved as a substitute for both motions that the seating of Mrs. Dyer be referred to the Committee on Constitution and Canons. The motion was lost. Mr. Anson T. McCook, of Connecticut, informed the House that if it wished a Canon dealing with such questions it could refer the matter to the Committee on Canons, but meanwhile he called for judge Hand’s motion. Carried.

The action of the same House in 1949 is reported as follows on page 102 of the Journal o f General Convention, 1949:

Resolved, That the women deputies from the following dioceses be not seated: Nebraska, Olympia, Missouri and Puerto Rico, as not eligible under Constitution, Article I, Section 4. The resolution was adopted, 321 votes to 242.

If Convention wishes to open the priesthood and episcopate to women, it will also be faced with the choice of giving an inclusive or exclusive interpretation to “Deacon,” “Priest,” “Bishop,” “man,” “brother” and their referent pronouns in the Ordinal of the Prayer Book. Again, if it interprets them to exclude females, amendment of the language will be required.

There is a substantial difference, however, in revising the Prayer Book and amending the Constitution and Canons; Prayer Book revision is an even more formidable task. For example, almost from the time of its last revision in 1928 there has been a general consensus that the Office of Visitation of the Sick is unsatisfactory. The substantive changes that were needed would require the amendment of language which could only be made by revision of the Prayer Book. Revision is such a monumental undertaking, however, that the Office stands unchanged, just as it appeared in 1928.

On the other hand, changes in the Prayer Book can be easily made where the language is susceptible of fresh interpretation. This was illustrated by the action of the General Convention of 1949 relative to the use of intinction in the administration and reception of the Holy Communion. There has never been any question that administration of the wine from a common chalice, separate from the administration of the bread, is the only method of administration expressly intended and directed by the Prayer Book Offices and by Scripture and the unbroken tradition of the Church “from the Apostles’ time.”

Without altering any of the language of the Prayer Book Offices, however, the Convention of 1949 adopted a resolution permitting a bishop having jurisdiction to authorize intinction as an alternative method of administration (Journal of General Convention, . 1949, pp263, 264).

SUMMARY: To summarize, the history of Convention’s deliberations about intinction, like their deliberations about seating women in the House of Deputies, reflects a tacit agreement that the authors of neither the Prayer Book nor the Constitution contemplated such possibilities. Surely there is also agreement that the same authors did not contemplate the ordering of women to the priesthood nor their ordination and consecration to the episcopate.

There must also be agreement, however, that Convention has on many occasions treated the Prayer Book, the Constitution and the Canons as “living documents” which can be interpreted by simple resolutions to extend their provisions beyond the original intent, where the language was susceptible of such interpretation, without amending the language used.

Convention, then, will be faced with two possible questions:

1. Does the Convention want to open the priesthood and episcopate to women?

If the answer is “No,” the matter is closed. If the answer is “Yes,” a second question remains:

2. What route should be taken to open these orders to women?

The Joint Commission unanimously agrees that the only way to accomplish this purpose, in a fashion that is responsive to the need, is through adoption of the resolutions recommended at the outset of their Report.

In Canon 49, which was both amended and interpreted at Special Convention II to give women equal rights as licensed lay readers, an amendment was necessary to delete “male,” a word which was obviously not susceptible of interpretation as a generic word which included both male and female. There are no such words used in the Ordinal, Constitution or Canons relative to ordination to the priesthood or consecration to the episcopate. The generic words which are used can all be interpreted and left unchanged at Houston, as the “he,” “him” and “his” of Canon 49 were at South Bend.

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