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Ordination of Women in Ecumenical Perspective: Workbook for the Church's Future edited by Constance F. Parvey . Faith and Order Paper 105. World Council of Churches, Geneva, 1980

Ordination of Women
in Ecumenical Perspective:

Workbook for the Church’s Future

edited by Constance F. Parvey
Faith and Order Paper 105
World Council of Churches, Geneva, 1980

Preface 1
Introduction: How This Book Came To Be 3
I The Partners in the Discussion 7
II The Continuing Need for Dialogue 20
III For Those Engaged in the Debate: the Pro and Contra 29
  Introduction 41
IV Balancing the Theological Past:
Male and Female Imagery
V Women and Men as Living Images of God:
New Initiatives of Women in Ministry
VI Dialogue: a Starting Point for Partnership in the Church 54
VII Workbook for the Church's Future 60
  Postscript 65
  Appendix I: The Preacher and the Priest:
Two Typologies of Ministry and the Ordination of Women
  Literature 75

Acknowledgments: Special thanks are extended to all the participants in the Klingenthal consultation,, particularly for their helpful comments in shaping the final draft of this document; to Stephen Cranford, Glenys Huws and Jean Scott for their help in preparing the initial outline; to Bonnie Arends and Claire Robert for their work on the bibliography; to colleagues at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva who gave helpful criticism and editorial assistance; to Karen Foget who designed the cover; to Yvonne Itin and Isa Schmidtkunz for their staff support throughout the entire consultation process; and to Brigalia Barn and Lukas Vischer whose previous work on the debate tutored mine.


Ordination of Women in Ecumenical Perspective: Workbook for the Church’s Future is a book about ministry. It is not another work of academic scholarship on the issues of the ordination of women, and should not be approached as such. It is occasioned by an ecumenical and international consultation of women and men in ministry. Though the paragraphs may appear “smoothed out”, there is commitment, purpose, conflict and passion behind and between the lines. The threat is that the issue of ordination of women endangers the goal of unity; the challenge is that it calls the churches to become an instrument of true reconciliation where real division is identified.

In the ecumenical movement, learning to understand and to respect the diverse origins and experiences of one another is the only way towards finding common starting points. The research and dialogue on which this work is based reflects attempts to reach out to one another, understand, pull back, clarify and try again. The process is painful, yet continuous and necessary. The purpose of this volume is to foster this discussion among the churches by:

- providing a workbook to aid them in their dialogue on this issue;

- helping the women and men in the churches that do and do not ordain women to appreciate its ecumenical context and its challenge;

- helping those engaged in the debate to further their understanding of each other and to be mutually corrected and enriched;

- making a contribution to the background materials on ministry for the ongoing Faith and Order work on “One Baptism, One Eucharist and a Mutually Recognized Ministry” and to the “Community of Women and Men in the Church Study”.

Designed as a workbook to promote the goal of Christian unity by facilitating the way, it can be used in bilateral and multilateral settings and, on local levels, as the basis for conferences, discussions, courses in seminaries, etc. A single church, confessional family or independent researcher can also use it, together with the bibliography, as an aid in reflection on the ministry of women and men in the light of the larger ecumenical context of ministry, global and local human needs, and the search for Christian unity within the unity of all humankind. There can be no Christian unity that divides person from person, male from female.

Finally, this book, stimulated by a challenge within and among the churches, can be instrumental in helping enlarge both the vision of ministry and the vision of true community by pushing the ecumenical partners to learn beyond the borders of their immediate space and time. The issues stretch further than the limits of our present institutional Church life and further than the time frames of past and present in which we mostly live. The nature of the issue forces us to glimpse, by way of our ecumenical association, that promise of God for the Church that it is, and can be, a reconciling community.


How This Book Came To Be

“Ordination of Women in Ecumenical Perspective” is the title of a consultation held at Château Klingenthal, near Strasbourg France, in August-September 1979. Sponsored by the Community of Women and Men in the Church Study of the World Council of Churches, the consultation was the first of three specialized meetings planned for the study by the Faith and Order Commision, of which it is a part.(1) At the invitation of the Lutheran Church of Alsace and Lorraine, 30 participants - theologians, pastors, biblical scholars, church leaders, administrators, students -gathered at the eighteenth century château, as guests of the Goethe Foundation, owner of this cultural centre. The host was the centre’s director, Dr Marie-Paule Stintzi. Nearby on the mountainside, overlooking the village, was the pilgrimage site of the patron saint of the area, Saint Odile, a ninth century holy woman who brought the Christian faith to the people of this part of Europe. Also nearby, and taking a keen interest in the proceedings, was Mme Marie-Louise Caron, presiding superintendant of this Lutheran jurisdiction and the first woman pastor to hold such a post in the Lutheran churches of the world.

The consultation's purpose was to seek a common approach to the controversial issue of women’s ordination in an ecumenical context, this within the overall search for a true partnership of women and men in the Church.

The Community of Women and Men in the Church Study was recommended at the 1974 Accra meeting of the Faith and Order Commission. The study desk was set up in Faith and Order in January 1978, to work in cooperation with the Sub-Unit on Women in Church and Society.

Among its specialized, tasks, outlined at the Loccum Meeting of the Faith and Order Standing Commission in 1977, were to

  1. a) search for a sign of unity;
  2. b) explore issues of theological language, symbols and images;
  3. c) participate in the “Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry” consensus process with attention to the section on the ordination of women.

The document which follows represents one step towards fulfilling this mandate.


(1) The Community of Women and Men in the Church study is a ACC programme, located in the Faith and Order Commission and carried out in cooperation with the Sub-unit on Women in Church and Society. The three specialized consultations of the study deal with “Ordination of Women in Ecumenical Perspective”, “The Bible and the Community of Women and Men in the Church Study”, and “Towards a New Theology of the Human”.

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