The Movement for the Ordination of Women
from Freedom From Sanctified Sexism - Women Transforming the Church by Mavis Rose, pp. 170-200.
Allira Publications, 17 Cervantes Street, MacGregor,
Queensland 4109, Australia.
Copyright: Mavis Rose 1996.
our website with the necessary permissions
Dr. Patricia Brennan, Founding President of the Movement for the Ordination of Women, has been dubbed a prophet by people within and without the Australian Anglican Church. As Patricia Wilkinson, she grew up in Hurstville in a working-class family, winning a scholarship to study medicine at Sydney University. While a student, she resided at Deaconess House for a short period, which brought her into close contact with women training for various forms of ministry in the Church. When a fully qualified doctor, Patricia Wilkinson served as a medical missionary in a remote desert region of Nigeria. While working in the mission field, she began to query the basis of her evangelism, in particular the assumption that if sinners didnt want my message about Jesus Christ they were all hell-bound. She also became aware of the lack of freedom and low status of Muslim women.
After a year in the mission field, Patricia Wilkinson returned to Sydney to be married to a missionary colleague, Robert Brennan, who was appointed director of a small Anglican missionary society, the Sudan Interior Mission, in Sydney. Dr. Brennan admitted that she would have liked in this period in her life to have specialised in medicine but as a married woman with three small children to care for, this was not possible. She did, however, help her husband in his work by sharing responsibility for training missionaries and editing the missions magazine.
Patricia Brennan sensed that she had suffered loss of status through marriage, a direct result of the prevailing headship principle in Sydney: Overnight I stopped being a person in my own right to being someone elses wife. While working for the Sudan Interior Mission, Dr. Brennan also became increasingly aware of discrimination against capable and spiritually strong women on their return from the mission field. Missionary women became pretty radicalised, she commented, citing as examples ex-Church Missionary Society staff members, Janet Wyatt of Canberra, Irene Jeffreys of Adelaide and Genevieve Cutler of Melbourne. In 1977, she presented a report on the exploitation of women working in traditional missionary societies.
Until her future deep involvement in the Movement for the Ordination of Women, Dr. Brennan, as a representative of a missionary society, had access to parishes and to church committees, where she began to air her growing concern about prevailing attitudes towards women in the Australian Anglican Church. She also established links with Colleen OReilly Stewart and members of Anglican Women Concerned.
At the National Evangelical Anglican Congress held in May 1981, Dr. Brennan linked up with women who were speaking out strongly on womens issues, such as Peta Sherlock, Irene Jeffreys and Marlene Cohen. During the Congress, an extra-curricular debate was arranged on the motion that Evangelical Anglicans believe there are no fundamental theological objections to the ordination of women to the priesthood in an attempt to obtain a statement challenging Sydney Dioceses minority report to the Commission on Doctrine. This was not achieved because no vote was taken, but it was clear from the discussions that a considerable number of Evangelicals had changed to a stance supporting the ordination of women.
In 1982, Sydney Synod appointed Dr. Brennan, along with Deaconess Margaret Rodgers, to the Committee it had set up to consider womens ministry. Determined not to play the passive role expected of token women, Dr. Brennan, on her own initiative, conducted a survey of Anglican women, the majority of them theological students or women in training for ministry. Her survey included questions about attitudes to ordination, whether those surveyed would be willing to be ordained, and how they felt about their own ministry and their treatment within the Church. This research project revealed deep dissatisfaction with the Anglican Church.
In the first section of the report, women recorded incidents in which they had been made to feel inferior. One respondent stated that I feel that womens organisations of the Church are comparatively down-graded when decisions or opinions are needed and in Bible Study groups etc., she [the churchwoman] is to be submissive (intellectually as well as behaviourably), to listen, accept and not ask questions which may threaten the feelings of the acknowledged expert (who is the male leader). Another respondent related that the young curate was given the job of teaching us the Biblical role of women. When his literal interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12 was questioned by the womens group, we were told that if we would not accept Gods word, it could only be Satan working in us. Clearly Satan was commonly used to suppress women. A female parish worker, who disagreed with the curates views at a meeting on the role of women in the Church, related how the Curate became very emotional, pointing out to the meeting that I may be under the influence of the devil.
Women in church ministry were particularly incensed at their treatment in Sydney Diocese. Although men could at least answer their call to ministry, for women the position was very nebulous with no set pattern of advancement in ministry and therefore the insecurity of not knowing what happens at the end of each position. A woman complained that where she had been prevented from ministering, it has been on grounds of sheer social sexism without any theological basis or attempt at rationalisation.
Women with missionary experience commented on the greater acceptance of women in ministry in overseas postings. One had attended a service conducted by a woman priest, commenting that it was clearly accepted as normal by the congregation. One remarked on the double standard of women preaching, teaching and training men in missionary situations but not being allowed to do so at home when men were available.
When Patricia Brennan submitted her findings to the Sydney Committee on Womens Ministry, they were disregarded. Open your mouth, put forward your questions and the pressure was on - weve got to get rid of her, Dr. Brennan recalled, commenting: I thought, if they treat me this way, women havent got a hope. The Committee in its report advised that women should not be ordained, reaffirming the order of deaconesses as the most suitable ministry for women. It appeared that the main task of the Sydney Committee was not to investigate anomalies in the ministry of women but rather to maintain the status quo regardless of the injustice to women in doing so.
In 1983, Patricia Brennan decided that it was imperative to get the wheels of the Church grinding a little faster on womens ministry. She was tired of waiting for things to be done nicely in the Anglican way. She invited the women she had surveyed to a meeting. This was followed by a Retreat in July led by a Uniting Church minister, where Patricia received support for establishing a more politically active churchwomens group, not just confined to Sydney but covering the whole of Australia. As MOW Sydney member, Suzanne Glover, a first class honours graduate from Moore College, recalled:
We came from various backgrounds, many of us from bitter experiences with the Anglican Church, but we drew near to each other, concerned by the vision that God was moving amongst his people in a new way ...but one legitimately emerging from the old, a new priesthood in which men and women would minister together not in power and authority but in service and humility.
Patricia Brennan, Colleen OReilly Stewart and Marlene Cohen combined to form a convenorship of three to get the new movement off the ground. The term convenor was considered to be less hierarchical than the conventional executive structure. As Colleen OReilly Stewart recalled :
The pattern of three convenors gave shared leadership to three women with different gifts and who represented different constituencies. I brought AWCs pioneering commitment and valuable experience as well as being virtually halfway through a B.Th. Patricia Brennan had her missionary experience and the radicalising of her views which resulted from her experience on return to Australia, her connections with Sydney evangelicals and her work on a Committee surveying womens ministries. Marlene Cohen had credibility as the very competent partner in parish ministry of the Revd David Cohen, then Rector of Manly. I still believe we were a gifted trio and we genuinely shared leadership.
As the Movement grew and needed a formal Constitution, it adopted the usual pattern of President, Secretary and Treasurer at the central co-ordinating level. Branches tended to retain a joint leadership structure.
The aim of the Movement for the Ordination of Women was to promote the ordination of women in the Anglican Church of Australia as a fundamental part of the ministry of men and women in the Church. The group pointed out that many people believe that the Holy Spirit is leading the Church towards a fuller understanding of the relationship between men and women, and their relationship to God who created them, male and female in Gods image. The pressing need was for one co-ordinated national movement that will work at all levels, national, diocesan and parochial, to change the climate of opinion in regard to women priests.
From the start, MOW had to stress that it was a Christian group, that it was Anglican-based although its membership was open to all denominations, and that it did have a serious religious goal. As Dr. Brennan explained to the church media, MOW was not a lot of disillusioned outsiders but men and women committed to ministry and criticism from within the tradition.
There were differences within the group about styles of protest and activism. Some members were uncomfortable in the public arena and feared that engaging in political strategy and power games might divert the issue from its spiritual path. There was a strong commitment to maintain the Christian ethic to love others, including opponents. MOW acknowledged the difficulty of forging its own pilgrimage out of such public conflict, while trying to move between the pastoral response and prophetic calling.
Marlene Cohen described the inevitable conflict which occurred between those who saw shock tactics as a means of pressing home that women were serious about their goals and others who were reluctant to lose the friendship of Anglicans who opposed womens ordination. She warned that in the course of its action to promote the ordination of women, the movement must keep a high priority on remaining in friendship and fellowship with opponents within the diocese. Nevertheless, she admitted that she would leave the Anglican Church if it did not proceed with the ordination of women.
The Movement for the Ordination of Women made its first public appearance at the commencement of Sydney Synod in October 1983. Colleen OReilly Stewart and two other women, dressed in albs, attached a statement entitled Reformation to the door of St. Andrews Cathedral, following the example of Martin Luther five hundred years previously. The document, written by Suzanne Glover, contained twelve theses, set out in Luthers style. The text explained that the womens action arose from a burning conviction that a very grievous error was crippling the life of the Church. There was a call for repentance. The theses also strongly attacked Sydney Dioceses male headship argument, asserting:
... As long as women are held under a theology of subordination, there can be no renewal of relationships under the impetus of the Gospel. For while spiritual and political distinction between men and women continues to be taught and practised within the Church, the spiritual life of the whole body of Christ is being suppressed.....As long as the doctrine of headship is used to limit or deny women the exercising of their spiritual gifts and calling, a wrong is being done to the Gospel of Christ.
The document pointed out that important doctrines were being excluded in order to maintain the supremacy of the doctrine of headship, such as the creation of woman as well as man in the image of God, the doctrine of the new creation and the role of the Spirit in the life of the Church. The concluding words were those of Luthers declaration: I stand convicted by the scriptures to which I have appealed and my conscience is taken captive by Gods word.... for to act against our conscience is neither safe for us nor open to us. On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me.
The call for reformation made no immediate impact. Sydney Synod again rejected the ordination of women to the priesthood on the grounds that this synod is not convinced that the proposal is consistent with Scripture. There was support for the creation of a permanent diaconate for women, the Rev. John Thorne of St. Peters, Cremorne, asserting that it was a golden opportunity for the Church at a national level to establish a proper, permanent order of the diaconate. He denied that this was an excuse to later get women ordained to the priesthood. Marlene Cohens husband, the Rev. David Cohen, was one of the few to support the ordination of women to priesthood, pleading that the Synod let God, by His Spirit, get in and change nineteen centuries of structures.
MOW, still a Sydney-based organisation, held a seminar on Saturday, 17 March 1984. Roughly one hundred and fifty people attended, not all supportive of the views put forward. Clergy wife Ann Hewitson of Turramurra confessed to a feeling of dismay at expressions of anger and aggression, claiming that both as missionary and clergy wife I have been able to minister in the way I felt God leading me and have never been short-changed in these roles or over-shadowed by my husband. Suzanne Glover asserted that she supported MOW because of Sydneys almost idolatrous respect for the Bible as the word of God, which meant Sydney had the letter but not the spirit, resulting in suffocation. She saw MOW as part of a whole great yearning for reformation in the Church, that women wanted to preserve Christianity, to bring it in touch with the world.
To achieve the establishment of a national movement, the MOW founding committee decided to invite to Australia the Moderator of the English Movement for the Ordination of Women, the well-known writer, journalist and producer of religious programmes for the British Broadcasting Commission, Monica Furlong. In retrospect, Colleen OReilly Stewart was of the opinion that Monica Furlongs visit was a very strategic focus for the issue of womens ordination. Monica had enormous credibility with Anglicans who were challenged by her support of women and she drew good numbers everywhere.
Monica Furlong observed the strength of the Australian macho image, with people being under more pressure to hide their true natures under a tough exterior. She was amazed at the rigid male headship argument promoted by Sydney Evangelicals, which she had never come across before, and certainly not from English low churchmen. She acknowledged that the battle would be hardest in Sydney. It is where the injury is greatest that the real change comes, so the impetus for MOW had to come from Sydney.
Monica Furlong believed that a national movement working for the ordination issue would unite Anglican women and might very well explode the churchmanship differences that bedevil the Australian Church. She was convinced women would bring into the priesthood a positive freedom from the need to be high-powered, anxious, over-worked, and a capacity for informality, consultation, consensus and caring.
Monica Furlong encouraged Australian women to be more self-confident and to stop worrying about whether men were going to be upset about what they did. She saw the womens movement as bringing a new energy to the tired old forms of the Church, depicting the Anglican Church as a croquet lawn - awfully English and Oxford - with the womens movement like a great spring of water gushing up in the middle of that lawn.
The first capital city on Monica Furlongs itinerary was Brisbane, where she arrived on 27 April 1984. A Retreat and public meetings had been organised by Gwen Roberts, a friend of Patricia Brennans. The women and men who attended the Brisbane Retreat, held in a Roman Catholic Augustinian Priory in Clayfield, were from a mixture of backgrounds and very few had met before. Linda Walter, who was later to become an activist in the Melbourne branch of MOW, recalled how the weekend had affected her:
I felt a new energy being released in me and I saw it being released in the rest of us. We came together so jaded and tentative, angry and frustrated, hurt and disillusioned, and as we articulated all this pain with varying degrees of confidence, the energy began to flow.
Joan Lethlean, a niece of Bishop Hall who had ordained Li Tim-oi, admitted that when she had seen the notice about Monica Furlongs trip to Brisbane, she had no intention of going to the weekend retreat, merely to the public lecture: Although privately believing it was right for women to be ordained, I was nervous of going public on that belief and somewhat afraid of the band of radicals who, I imagined, went public on it. Her anxiety was accentuated by being a member of a family which was prominent in Anglican clerical circles. Joan Lethlean, because of the venue, assumed that the Retreat participants would be predominantly Catholic, so she would be able to remain detached:
Imagine my distress on arriving at the retreat to discover my mistake and to find myself surrounded by Anglicans and to hear that it was Anglican women who had brought Monica Furlong to Australia. I faced the hard decision as to whether I would risk sharing my feelings or whether I would continue to bottle them up. Looking back, Im glad I decided to take the risk, because under Monicas quiet leadership, great healing took place that weekend.
In October 1984, the Brisbane Branch of the Movement for the Ordination of Women was officially inaugurated.
From Brisbane, Monica Furlong moved to Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. Similar organisational forms of a Retreat and public addresses were used to draw people together in sympathy for MOW and its aims. In Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide the existing womens activist groups eventually merged totally into MOW.
The inaugural meeting of MOW (Victoria) was held on 16 August 1984, the leader or Moderator being Janet Gaden, wife of theologian Rev. John Gaden, with Vice-Moderator Diane Heath, the highly efficient public relations director of Melbournes Mission of St. James and St. John. In Canberra, ex-missionary Janet Wyatt together with clergy wife Zandra Wilson formed a steering committee to organise an inaugural meeting of MOW in September 1984.
The inaugural meeting of MOW, South Australia, was held on 5 November 1984, mainly under the initiative of two former WHO? members, Alder Hall and Caroline Pearce. The establishment of the Adelaide MOW group, drew a satirical response from the Rev. John Fleming, writing in the Adelaide Advertiser of 4 June 1984 under the heading Party Politics and Church Pressure Groups. stating:
Ms. Furlong and her MOW zealots have, of course, enlisted God on their side. This is a usual enough tactic and I suppose God is now well-used to being told that He is on opposite sides locked in mortal combat.
For the next three years, John Fleming would conduct a fierce campaign of opposition to MOW until abandoning Anglicanism in favour of the Roman Catholic church.
Although Perth, like Brisbane, had no previous formal organised activist womens group, there was a considerable amount of sympathy and general support for womens ordination, encouraged by Archbishop Peter Carnley. The Archbishops wife, Ann Carnley, invited Monica Furlong to a special gathering to meet Perths clergy wives. Pam Halbert, a parish pastoral assistant, organised a Quiet Day on 31 May 1984 at Wollaston Theological College.
By the end of 1984, MOW had established branches in major capital cities and also in Newcastle and Armidale. The need for a central executive to control the network became evident. At a meeting of MOW convenors in Melbourne in February 1985, it was recommended that Dr. Brennan be appointed the spokesperson for MOW (Australia) and be known as the President when communicating with outside organisations. Patricias place as a Sydney convenor was taken by Eileen Diesendorf. It was agreed to hold a National MOW Conference in Sydney in 1985 immediately prior to the General Synod.
On 17 February 1985, Dr. Brennan preached in St. James Old Cathedral, Melbourne, in a special service to affirm womens ministry. In her address, Patricia Brennan indicated how difficult it was to recruit Australian Anglicans to the womens struggle: In all questions of injustice and discrimination, whether against race or class or gender, many will agree that it is wrong, but few will pay the price of setting it right. It was the old problem with Anglican women. Those with status in Church and society were reluctant to endanger it; many churchwomen preferred the security of their traditional roles.
In Melbourne, MOW (Victoria) was actively lobbying, obtaining 570 signatures to an open letter to Archbishop David Penman calling on him to raise at the Bishops Conference in April 1985 the question of allowing visiting rights to overseas women priests. The letter contended that women seeking to clarify their own vocations are denied the few role models they could see and while the Australian Church continues to refuse hospitality to women priests of good standing in their own province, this constitutes a state of schism within the Anglican Communion.
This particular Australian Anglican Bishops Conference, held from 18 to 21 April, was important because Archbishop of Canterbury Runcie was present at it. The bishops expressed fears about the national disunity which might ensue from allowing hospitality to women priests in one diocese and not in another. It was decided to postpone a decision on the matter until certain questions before the Appellate Tribunal had been adjudicated and the General Synod had met. Archbishop Runcies cautious response was that there was a theological case for the middle ground. However, later in Melbourne. Runcie responded to the more progressive mood of the diocese, admitting that the movement of the Spirit is towards the ordination of women in the Churches.
The Movement of the Ordination of Womens response to the bishops reluctance to offer hospitality to women priests was to take the initiative and invite the Rev. Alison Cheek, the first Australian woman to be priested, and the Rev. Helen Havens, a vicar from Houston, Texas, to visit Australia in June and July 1985. Rev. Alison Cheek was to become a very special symbolic figure to the movement, regarded by many members as their unofficial bishop.
Brisbane was the Rev. Alison Cheeks first stop. Although the Brisbane branch of MOW requested visiting rights for Alison Cheek and Helen Havens, the request was turned down by Archbishop Grindrod.
Rev. Graham Stephens, the rector of St. Johns, Upper Mount Gravatt, where a dinner had been arranged at which Alison Cheek was to be the guest speaker on 18 June 1985, ungraciously withdrew his consent at the last minute. Fortunately, Canon Jeffrey Roper of Kenmore, an ex-Church Missionary Society Secretary, who together with his wife Ursula was a strong supporter of women in priesthood, offered Kenmore parish hall as a substitute venue.
Alison Cheek was also one of the keynote speakers at the First National Conference of MOW (Australia) held in Sydney from 23-25 August. The theme of the Conference was Telling Tales, Alison Cheeks contribution being The Philadelphia Story, the account of the irregular ordination of eleven women, including herself, in Philadelphia in July 1974. She saw parallels between tensions which arose in her group and tensions she perceived in MOW - there was all this subtle infighting going on because we were so disparate and had differing ideas of what should and shouldnt be done. Tension and factionalism were to be ongoing problems in the majority of MOW branches, exacerbated by the hurt caused by rejection from some of the women in training for ministry, those whom MOW members were struggling to get into priesthood. Clergy and opposing laity complicated matters by employing divide and rule tactics to undermine the influence of MOW women.
In commenting on the first MOW Conference, Gerald Davis, editor of Church Scene , saw the dilemma for the group being whether or not it should cooperate with supportive bishops, acknowledging that the danger of working with them was that the bishops were far more committed to the unity of the national church than to MOW. However, he warned that defiance of the bishops could discredit MOW in the eyes of moderate opinion. Patricia Brennans response was that it may be equally valid to ask whether the bishops will decide to work with MOW, against it or ignore it, declaring that however badly MOW may have stated its case, that witness is authentic.
As the first MOW conference ended, the General Synod began. Many of the Conference participants processed through the streets to St. Andrews Cathedral for the Synod opening service. As they walked, the women sang a new song, written by a Roman Catholic Sister of Mercy, Helen Kierins. Its title was Moments and its first line declared: Too many years in silence, seen but never heard. It was to become MOWs distinctive theme song.
The General Synod opened on a note of optimism for women. Only the week previously the Appellate Tribunal had released its findings on several matters referred to it. In regard to the questions whether any principle of doctrine or worship or any other matter or thing referred to in Sections 1, 2, 3 and 4 of the Constitution prevented the bishop of a diocese from ordaining a woman to the office of deacon, the answer was no. In its judgment, any legal impediments to the ordination of women priests and their consecration as bishops were capable of being removed. In regard to offering hospitality to visiting women priests and bishops, the Tribunal confirmed that there was no obstacle. The Archbishop of Sydney, one of the Appellate Tribunal members, registered his dissent to these findings.
The positive response from the Appellate Tribunal led to the inclusion of the issue of womens ordination on the General Synod agenda. Archbishop Carnley of Perth put forward a bill allowing for the ordination of women to the threefold order of priesthood on Wednesday, 28 August, drawing attention to the Appellate Tribunal majority ruling that any person ordained deacon must be capable of proceeding to priesthood. Carnley argued that authorising ordination of women to the diaconate would solve nothing, the issue must be viewed in the context of the threefold order of ministry.
Archbishop Donald Robinson led the opposition, rejecting any proposition that the diaconate could not be considered in isolation from the threefold ministry. As a proponent of a permanent diaconate, his stance was understandable.
In seconding the bill, Archbishop Penman of Melbourne pointed out that ordained women priests were now a reality in the Anglican Communion. To counteract any accusations that the Church was bowing to the Zeitgeist , he claimed that women priests were not a product of feminism or western decadence. The special bill needed a two-thirds majority to pass. It failed by two votes in the house of clergy.
Perhaps because of the strong support for the previous canon and the emotional feelings stirred at its narrow defeat, the bill to ordain women to the diaconate obtained a 75% majority, thus only needing ratification by each diocese for immediate implementation. In his address to Sydney Synod several weeks later, Archbishop Robinson made clear that he was not opposed to the idea of a permanent diaconate to which both men and women could belong, but he did not support ordaining women to the present diaconate if that meant an open door to the advancement to the priesthood.
When the motion was raised on the floor of Sydney synod, Dr. Patricia Brennan struck out at Sydneys sacred doctrine, the foundational notion of male headship, claiming that it was weak and open to attack and that male domination was built into culture ruled by men. She was backed by the Rev. David Cohen, who pointed out inconsistencies and selective references in the oppositions arguments, admitting that the self-satisfied and cynical smirking on the part of some synodsmen saddened him.
To Archbishop Robinsons chagrin, Sydney Synod passed the General Synods Deaconing Canon. After a months deliberation, Archbishop Robinson exercised his powers to veto the legislation, stating that he considered the canon was not lawfully passed by the General Synod. MOWs reaction was to seek legal advice. MOW had an invaluable ally in Anglican lawyer, Keith Mason, Q.C., the New South Wales Solicitor-General. The three Sydney MOW convenors, Colleen OReilly Stewart, Monica Claxton and Deaconess Marcia Green, also wrote a letter to all Sydney synod members pointing out that Archbishop Robinson, in claiming that the Deaconing Canon was not lawfully passed by General Synod, and by withholding assent, had usurped the powers and functions of the Courts and had circumvented the operations of an ordinance duly passed by synod. Archbishop Robinson refused to withdraw his veto.
A spur for MOW nationally was the announcement by the Primate that General Synod would be summoned again in 1987, with the primary matter before it the ordination of women to the priesthood. The passing of the Deaconing Canon and the announcement of the Special General Synod spawned a conservative backlash. In Brisbane diocese, on 27 November 1985, an organisation named the Campaign for the Historic Anglican Male Priesthood (CHAMP) formed under the leadership of the Rev. Albert Haley, rector of All Saints, Wickham Terrace and a strong Anglo-Catholic. He maintained that of the total Church claiming the Apostolic ministry of bishops, priests and deacons, 85 per cent reject entirely that the ordination of women is the mind of Christ. The total Church to Haley included the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. Similar Anglo-Catholic opposition groups formed in other dioceses. Portraying Anglicanism as a sub-set of Roman Catholicism became a useful delaying tactic.
In February 1986, a week before the first ordination of women deacons was due to take place, the Primate, Archbishop Grindrod, was petitioned by thirty General Synod members, mainly from Sydney and Adelaide dioceses, not to go ahead with the ordination because it was inconsistent with the 1962 Constitution, a move spearheaded by Rev. John Fleming. The petition was referred to the Appellate Tribunal.
Before the 1985 General Synod, Fleming had been campaigning strongly against womens ordination, using his links with radio and television to promote his cause. This strategy backfired when, just prior to the 1985 Synod, he was pitted against Patricia Brennan on ABC televisions programme Pressure Point , compèred by Huw Evans. The sympathy of Australians generally swung to Patricia Brennan and MOWs struggle gained wider public recognition. MOWs high media profile was to become a potent weapon with which to confront the Church. In the past Anglican churchwomen had operated predominantly in a non-public, restricted arena which aroused little general interest.
MOW members streamed into Melbourne for the first womens deaconing service, swelling the already large numbers in St. Pauls Cathedral. The ordination ceremony was interrupted by an anonymous telephone call to a television station advising that a bomb had been planted in the Cathedral, resulting in the capacity congregation being temporarily evacuated. In spite of this harassment, the ceremony was able to proceed. For MOW the first step of its goals had been achieved.
Tasmania followed hard on Melbournes heels with the deaconing of three women, Marie Kingston, Elvie Fraser and Rosemary Perrett, by Bishop Phillip Newell. On 1 March, Archbishop Carnley ordained three women to the diaconate, Jenny Hall, Joyce Polson and Anna Cullen. Dean Robarts of Perth refused to take part in the ordination of the women, warning that the Movement for the Ordination of Women threatens to tear the Church apart.
In Queensland, both North Queensland and Rockhampton synods supported the deaconing canon. On 28 August 1986 Bishop John Lewis of North Queensland ordained Queenslands first woman deacon, Shirley Turley, in St. James Cathedral, Townsville. However, Brisbane Diocese, did not follow the rest of Queensland. The deaconing canon was defeated by three votes at its June Synod.
Australia-wide, opponents of the ordination of women ran a strong campaign in 1986, sabre-rattling on the theme of schism. At their annual conference held from 13-16 April, the Australian bishops examined a paper prepared by the Rev. Donald Cornelius of Adelaide. Cornelius proposed an alternative Anglican Church within the present church structure, a way of escape for those opposed to women priests whose consciences had been assaulted. The paper was believed to have been written after a group of Adelaide clergy had met with Archbishop Rayner, threatening to join the Roman Catholic church if Anglican orthodoxy were not maintained.
Susan Sandford, a convenor of MOW (Vic), condemned the threat of breakaway as blackmail, contending that these people do not seem prepared to accept the majority decision...they seem to be more concerned with division than unity. Dr. Brennan accused bishops of pacifying minority groups who cry wolf meaning schism, and warning women who actively seek ordination that they are into power and politicking, with the result that women and men who speak out strongly are clothed in illegitimacy.
At the beginning of March 1986, the MOW national network, consisting of National President, Dr. Brennan, National Secretary, Eileen Diesendorf and National Treasurer, Diane Heath, together with representatives from the branches, met in Canberra to plan MOWs strategies for the period leading up to the 1987 Special General Synod. Finding the funding to finance MOW programmes was a recurring problem. $1,390 had already been contributed to MOW by supportive bishops, private donors and MOW branches. Assistance came in the form of a grant of $5,OOO from the Federal Governments Office of the Status of Women in the Office of the Prime Minister.
Outrage at Federal funding being given to MOW echoed around the Anglican Church. An editorial in the Brisbane Courier Mail of 14 June 1986 under the heading Funding the Looney Left, expressed criticism of a grant to the Movement for the Ordination of Women, an Anglican group without significant lay and clerical support in the church". There was no understanding of the purpose of the Office of the Status of Women to seek out and help women who were marginalised and lacked status.
The Appellate Tribunal opened its proceedings on 6 December to receive new material on the issue of the validity of the Deaconing Canon of 1985. The Movement for the Ordination of Women was denied representation, causing anger and frustration in the group, a decision which Mr. Keith Mason Q.C. declared to be an unjust attitude to take. To counteract this decision, MOW appealed to the twenty-six women already ordained deacon in the Australian Church to ask to be represented at the hearing by Mr. Keith Mason, claiming that the women deacons had the most direct interest since an adverse decision could unfrock them. The women deacons responded to the appeal and their request was accepted by the Appellate Tribunal, who consented to their being represented by Keith Mason and Rev. Barbara Pace, a Melbourne deacon.
In March 1987, the Appellate Tribunal made public its findings, rejecting the objections raised against the constitutional validity of the 1985 Deaconing Canon, again the member dissenting being the Archbishop of Sydney. Further deaconings quickly took place. Bishop Dowling of Canberra/Goulburn ordained three women to the diaconate on 12 April 1987. The Diocese of Adelaide called a special synod meeting on 21 May at which the Deaconing Canon was passed. At Brisbane Synod in June 1987 the vote was strongly in favour of accepting the General Synod Deaconing Canon.
1987 was a busy year for MOW as kits were prepared for distribution to all members of the Special General Synod called to consider womens ordination to priesthood. The kits provided historical background information, two papers on the main theological arguments for womens ordination and a brief summary of the Appellate Tribunals findings. 1987 was also the year when MOW managed to form a branch within Ballarat Diocese, one of the bastions of male-only priesthood.
On June 15, the draft canons for the Special General Synod in August were released. Apart from the bill to provide for the ordination of women to priesthood, there were two canons designed by Sydney Diocese, the first allowing any metropolitan synod the right to overrule the Appellate Tribunal and the second to allow a diocese to declare that the General Synod Constitution, and such canons, rules, resolutions or statements of the General Synod have no effect in that diocese. In effect, Sydney Diocese, like Rev. Cornelius, was requesting permission to create a separate Anglican Church within Australia similar to the situation in South Africa.
A small group of Anglo-Catholics took the threat of schism a step further by actually breaking way. On the eve of the General Synod, Rev. Albert Haley of Brisbane, a leader of the CHAMP group, announced that the Anglican Catholic Church in Australia would come into being on 20 August 1987. In the Eastern States and South Australia, the new church would be under the oversight of the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada and in Western Australia under Archbishop Louis Falk of the United States of America.
Under cloud of having created schism but refusing to be unnerved, MOW members assembled for their National Conference in Melbourne prior to the Special General Synod. The theme of the Conference was Crossing the Frontier in anticipation that the break-through would be made and priesting of women legislation would be accepted. One of the most contentious issues for MOW was whether to accept or lobby against conscience clauses put forward by a committee of General Synod Standing Committee. The conscience proposals, in the form of a rider to the Priesting of Women Canon, gave wide powers for bishops, parish priests and parish councils to reject women priests. MOW decided to circulate copies of the conscience clauses using the word blacks in place of women priests. The effect was to produce a highly racist document, highlighting the sexism in the conscience proposals.
At the Annual General Meeting held during the Conference, MOW members present voted against the conscience provisions on the ground that they would legalise a second-class priesthood for women. As Patricia Brennan explained to the press, the clauses might effect a unity among the bishops but unity won at the price of injustice is not a unity that the Church has ever been blessed by, warning it sounds innocent, but it gives power to parishes to have legal sexism.
As clergy and bishops processed into St. Andrews Cathedral, Sydney, for the opening of the Special General Synod on Women, MOW members and supporters flanked the entrance holding banners and lighted candles. Rather strangely, as an introduction to a Synod called especially to discuss the ministry of women, the Primate, Archbishop Grindrod, preached on the twelve male apostles. Only one sentence, all of us in one way, men or women, are in the character of these twelve, counteracted the strong male content of his sermon.
The synod proceedings were in full spotlight, for not only were television channels present but Film Australia was making a documentary on the Anglican womens priesting issue under the direction of Gillian Coote. MOW members were out in force in the public gallery, accompanied by Rev. Alison Cheek in formal clerical attire. For three days the predominantly male Synod wrangled over why women should or should not be priests. The conscience clauses were put forward by Archbishop Rayner of Adelaide and were lost on the second reading, attracting considerable criticism for being discriminatory.
Bishop Owen Dowling of Canberra/Goulburn introduced the Canon to priest women while the Rev. Dr. Paul Barnett of Sydney spearheaded the opposition. In debate, MOW member Diane Heath, a Melbourne representative, queried Dr. Barnetts male headship theories based on the husband and wife relationship in the family, drawing attention to the growing acceptance of women clergy in the places where they were ministering. She was backed by Archbishop Penman, who spoke of the affirmation of womens ministry he had seen around the world, referring to a recent Morgan gallup poll which showed 69% of Anglican lay people approved of womens ordination.
On Tuesday night, when the final vote was taken, MOW members were apprehensive. From listening to discussion in recess periods, they realised the vote would be close. The Canon had failed to obtain the 75% majority needed for an ordinary bill, so was going forward as a special bill needing a two-thirds majority in all houses. Their fears were justified. The special bill failed by four votes in the House of Clergy.
As the proceedings ended, the film lighting was switched off. The plunge into relative dimness matched the mood of the devastated MOW contingent in the public gallery. Ruth Sturmey of MOW (Armidale) cried out: We want to say, we women bear the cost of your unity! Colleen OReilly Stewart described how people later spoke of feeling as though a death had been announced, a death of womens hopes that 1987 would be the year when their aspirations were recognised; a death of everyones illusion that the way forward would be found readily as with the women deacons bill and a death of the belief that the Australian Anglican Church had reached a new level of cohesive maturity.
The Editor of Church Scene , Gerald Davis, admitted his sorrow for the hurt inflicted on women as the MOW group filed out of the gallery singing We shall be ordained, led by Rev. Alison Cheek. It was that what we had done to those women - the MOW women in the gallery, and our wives and mothers and sisters and former Sunday school teachers and the other women among our spiritual peers - was unbearable.
The hurt did run deep as MOW members stood in light rain, stunned and weeping, outside the Chapter House. Despite the extent of disillusionment, MOWs spirit was not broken. Before they left the Cathedral precincts, MOW members pasted posters on the doorsteps of the Chapter House depicting a figure resembling the Archbishop of Sydney, brush and whitewash in hand, with in the background a wall with the message Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy. Acts 2:17". The words and your daughters" had a paint stroke through them. As Dr. Brennan commented, Sydney Diocese was holding the whole Anglican Church to ransom. In terms of MOW membership, there was an escalation as outraged Anglican women decided it was time to support the womens movement.
Pam Albany, convenor of MOW Western Australia, saw the General Synods rejection of the womens priesting legislation as one of the most serious blunders the church has made in its more recent history, claiming that sexism, because it devalues persons, is sinful, and that it was a disgrace that the Anglican Church was allowing itself to be dictated to by a minority. She warned that a church that is happy to condone injustice must expect many of its daughters and sons to refuse to accept the manipulation that has taken place. According to lawyer Keith Mason, the General Synods decision would preserve jobs for the boys, but those boys would find it increasingly difficult to convince the world that the gospel of love, freedom and power lies within the Churchs keeping.
MOW Melbourne organised a motion to go before its diocesan synod in October 1987, raised by Dr. Muriel Porter, calling on Archbishop Penman to act unilaterally and ordain his women deacons. The motion was passed. This action signified a realisation that the Constitution governing the Church at the national level was too rigid to accommodate the priesting of women, that the issue must be resolved under local diocesan law.
Sydney Diocesan synod met at the same time as Melbourne synod. Colleen OReilly Stewart, backed by Keith Mason, re-submitted a motion for acceptance of the 1985 Deaconing Canon, which had been adopted two years previously but vetoed by Archbishop Robinson. The Archbishop had reiterated his reluctance to change the status quo in his address to Sydney synod, affirming that we already have a permanent diaconate for women in our well established order of deaconesses. In spite of his statement, the deaconing canon was again passed, this time by an overwhelming majority. On 16 November 1987, Archbishop Robinson conceded that he would not this time veto the deaconing canon. However, it would be February 1989 before Archbishop Robinson finally ordained Sydneys first women deacons.
The decision of the highly regarded theological college principal, Dr. John Gaden, to renounce his priestly duties in sympathy with women boosted MOW morale. For this he received considerable criticism, accused of setting a bad example for students of St. Barnabas college in Adelaide. According to Rev. Donald Cornelius, rector of St. Augustines, Unley, Dr. Gaden talks about Jesus teaching equality, but He also teaches that we should be content with our lot. Cornelius pointed out that weve already lost eight South Australian priests from the Anglican church in the last six to nine months. As Cornelius had previously put forward proposals for an alternative Anglican Church, he himself had not shown an example of a man content with his lot.
On December 5 1987, Adelaides first woman deacon, Joan Claring-Bould, was ordained in St. Peters Cathedral. Just prior to this, in the Diocese of Carpentaria, Nancy Dick, Australias first Aboriginal woman deacon, was ordained on 29 November by Bishop Hall-Matthews. On 25 March 1988, Brisbanes first woman deacon, Heather Toon, was ordained, not in St. Johns Cathedral, as usual, but in her parish church of St. Clements-on-the-Hill, Stafford.
1988, Australias Bicentennial Year, was also the year of the Lambeth Conference. The Australian bishops met in February, earlier than usual, to consider ways to prevent a split should Melbourne ordain the first women priests. In February 1988 also, the Archbishop of Canterbury visited Perth, the central event in his visit being a Great Eucharist in Perths Entertainment centre. This large gathering gave MOW Perth an opportunity to get across its messages on placards and through the local media. To their satisfaction, the issue of injustice within Anglicanism received more coverage in the public press than did the Great Eucharist.
MOW determined that it would also go to the Lambeth Conference and use the great gathering of bishops to highlight discrimination against Australian Anglican women in ministry. A centre for women in Canterbury was already being organised by Anglican women, mainly on the initiative of the Episcopal Church of the USA and Canadian Anglicans. The organiser, Sally Bucklee, of the Episcopal Womens Caucus, explained: We see our mission to Lambeth to be two-fold, to be leaven for womens equality throughout the world and to be advocates for womens full acceptance and participation in the life and work of the Anglican Communion.
The most pressing issue at this Lambeth Conference was the consecration of women as bishops, the Provinces of the United States of America, Canada and New Zealand all having indicated their intention to consecrate women to the episcopate. The convenors of MOW Melbourne, Janet Nelson, Susan Sandford and Dr. Janet Scarfe addressed an open letter to the Australian bishops before their departure, asking them to remember that women form half of the world to which the church speaks but that the good order of this church is at present fractured by the exclusion of women from its orders and that injustice to women should not be perpetuated in order to reach ecumenical accord.
Eight members of MOW Australia went to Canterbury. Because of the high cost of accommodation and lack of Anglican Church support, most of the Australian group lived for part of the time in a rented caravan, which drew considerable sympathy from the international women housed in more solid accommodation. Babs Kettle of Brisbane recorded her Canterbury Pilgrims Tale:
I went, with the whole of me vulnerable, not wanting to score points, ... driven by a need to reach out beyond the confines of parochial limitations where I sometimes feel I am drowning in a bland, boring, moribund Church.... Canterbury for me ... is an inspiration, a joy, a resurrection of the spirit within us; we will never be the same again - the love and trust that we built up, so enriching, so empowering, have given us the sense of power to transform and redeem our Church.
Babs Kettle met at Canterbury the American woman priest, Rev. Barbara Harris, who would later become the first Anglican woman bishop. She recorded her impressions of this meeting:
A slender black American in an elegant suit, beautifully manicured nails, a gravelly deep voice like Satchmos, took me out to dinner in an old pub down by the river, where we ate in the evening light on the terrace and I learned about her quick wit and razor-sharp intellect.... I was told that I had been the guest of Barbara Harris, likely to be the first woman Bishop in the U.S.!
The Australian MOW group made its first public statement outside Canterbury Cathedral as the five hundred bishops of the world-wide Anglican Communion filed into the historic church for the opening of the Lambeth Conference. Positioned near the entrance to the Cathedral, they were the only group to hold a banner. The message read Australian Women for Ordination. Several of the processing bishops, especially the North Americans, broke ranks to come and tell the MOW group that were on your side, were glad youre here. Church Scene reported that most Australian bishops were stony faced at the sight of the Australian women and none had a word of welcome.
What came home clearly to the Australian women was the isolation of their culture from the rest of the Anglican world. As Patricia Brennan commented: Thats not to say that men in the church are macho but theres a sense in which the Australian value system isolates men from women. The result of this separation was that Australian bishops are not generally in the habit of hearing what Australian women are saying, or giving it value. The MOW contingent noticed that while there were American, Canadian, New Zealand, Samoan and English women, amongst others, involved in the Lambeth Conference proceedings, not one Australian woman had been included.
The MOW pilgrims returned to Australia just prior to the 1988 National MOW Conference held in Canberra from 12-14 August. The theme Of Good Courage was apt as the disappointment of the 1987 Special General Synod had dampened the energies of the group nationally. Dissatisfaction surfaced, with claims that too much decision-making was being done by the central executive without reference to the branches. For the first time there was a call for a vice-president as well as a president. Dr. Brennan, exhausted from her overseas trip and sensitive to the rumblings, announced at the Annual General Meeting that 1988/89 would be her final year as National President.
There was a growing realisation among MOW members that ordaining women did not automatically or immediately break down hierarchical structures, with a perception of estrangement between the members who had been ordained deacon and the rest of the MOW community at the 1988 Conference. As a Brisbane MOW coordinator commented:
I believe we experienced something of an esoteric parting of the ways at the 1988 National Conference in Canberra. It is basically a reflection of the mystical gap which always has separated clergy and laity, a gap which is so delicate that it is scarcely noticeable in day to day relationships ...Are we caught in a situation of conflict and contradiction? MOWs aims and activism have shaped it into a freedom movement with a strong egalitarian human rights element ... Although in spirit a liberation movement, MOW has got to face the reality that it has always been promoting an elitist body from which the majority of churchwomen would be excluded. MOW has advocated the retention of priesthood per se , although free of sexism. The dilemma for MOW is the incongruity of being an egalitarian movement with the goal of priesthood. One could argue that priesthood is not just oppressive because it is male ... Priesthood, whether female or male, will by definition subtly categorise the laity as not quite holy. Sacerdotalism makes of laity second class Christians. MOW members unease at the 1988 National Conference might indicate that our group has in mind and spirit become more of a royal priesthood of all believers".
This theme was developed further by Loreto sister, Roberta Hakendorf, of MOW Adelaide. She criticised the church structures which had evolved over the centuries where priests form a separate caste in a cultic mode. Hakendorf saw the base communities springing up in South America as a model for future ecclesial communities, when the charisms of all will be recognised, as in the Pauline churches and there will be no objection to womens eucharistic presidency.
The main rays of hope for MOW were Archbishop Penmans promise that he would ordain women priests in February 1990, should the Appellate Tribunal approve diocesan legislation to do so, and Bishop Dowlings statement that he was seeking diocesan approval to priest the Canberra deacons. For Sydney members, it was more difficult to remain optimistic. Archbishop Robinson had led the opposition to the consecration of women bishops at the Lambeth Conference. On his return from Lambeth, the Archbishop, annoyed by the presence at Canterbury of the Australian women, was noticeably cooler in his relationships with MOW Sydney.
1988 ended on an encouraging note for Patricia Brennan with the announcement that she had been awarded one of the Australian Bicentennial Authoritys Womens 88" major awards for her efforts as a social reformer and leader of the movement to ordain women in the Anglican Church. Another event of significance for MOW Australia was news of the priesting of Caroline Pearce, one of the founders of MOW South Australia. Caroline Pearce, her husband and family, at great personal expense, had moved to New York in 1985 so that Caroline could train for priesthood. Her ordination was carried out by Bishop John Spong of Newark.
When asked why he was ordaining an Australian Anglican woman, Bishop Spong replied: I am quite prepared to meddle in the affairs of another country if it is to break the yoke of oppression by which 50 per cent of the people in the world are not permitted participation in the church. Archbishop Rayner of Adelaide was not enthusiastic about Caroline Pearces intended return to Australia. He admitted that he felt for the sacrifice she and her family had had to make but added that unfortunately until the Anglican Church in Australia changes, there can be no licence for a woman to function as a priest.
1989 opened with two significant events for MOW - the first ordination of fourteen women deacons in Sydney on 12 February and the consecration of Rev. Barbara Harris as a co-adjutor bishop in the Diocese of Massuchusetts on 11 February. .As the MOW Network met in Melbourne in July 1989, the main topics on the agenda were the 1989 General Synod, and the enlarged National Conference which would immediately precede it, The theme for the National Conference was to be Towards a Feminist Theology, an indication of quiet confidence, later to be proved misplaced, that the main aim of MOW had been almost achieved and the groups next task should be to cooperate with other Christian feminists in creating theologies which counteracted the negative attitudes to women in classical theology.
The four hundred women who attended the 1989 Conference at Colloroy in Sydney in August 1989 confirmed that there was growing solidarity among Christian feminists. At the MOW Annual General Meeting held during the Conference, two important changes took place. Firstly, two vice-presidents were added to the leadership structure at the national level, Rev. Janet Gaden of Adelaide and Marie-Louise Uhr, a Catholic woman from Canberra, filling these positions. Secondly, Patricia Brennan stood down and her place was taken by Dr. Janet Scarfe of Melbourne. Dr. Scarfe had been principal author of General Synods Womens Commission statements on inclusive language and the portrayal of women in advertising. She had also been a researcher on the participation of women in church committees and boards for Melbourne Dioceses Standing Committee. Janet Scarfe was a quiet person, contrasting with the dynamic, effervescent Patricia Brennan.
As the Conference closed, General Synod began. MOW had organised a public rally to coincide with the opening service in St. Andrews Cathedral. Many non-Anglican women who had attended the Conference joined in a procession of MOW members and supporters (including Bishop Wilson of Bathurst), which wound its way from Queens Square through Hyde Park to the Town Hall steps adjoining the Cathedral The steps had been converted into a sanctuary from which a candlelit service was conducted by Rev. Alison Cheek, assisted by a Perth deacon, Rev. Kay Goldsworthy. Alison Cheek exhorted: We cry out to the synod to let justice roll down like water, and right relations like a mighty stream. At the close of the MOW service, the participants surrounded the bishops as they processed into the Cathedral.
Clearly the absence of Archbishop Penman of Melbourne, who had suffered a very serious heart attack, cast a shadow over the General Synod. For MOW, it meant that one of its most ardent supporters was missing. Archbishop Carnley of Perth put forward a canon for the ordination of men and women as priests, explaining that there had never been legislation for the ordination of men. He rejected any attempts to slip women into the church by the back door, a reference to Melbournes diocesan legislation which by-passed General Synod, contending that the Canon he was putting forward would provide a backstop should the Appellate Tribunal reject the Melbourne legislation to priest women. When the bill failed to gain a 75% majority, the Rev. John Howells of Melbourne appealed that Carnleys legislation not go forward as a special bill on the grounds that it could endanger the Melbourne Act to priest women currently before the Appellate Tribunal. The Melbourne plea was heard; the proposed Canon was withdrawn.
The General Synod did pass two resolutions relating to the priesting of women, one put forward by Bishop Heywood of Bendigo affirming the ancient authority of a diocesan bishop, subject to such qualifications and conditions as are imposed by lawful authority, to ordain by virtue of his office, canonically fit deacons to the order of priesthood in his diocese. The other resolution, put forward by Bishop Dowling of Canberra/Goulburn, while recognizing that women could be priested through diocesan legislation and foreseeing that relationships within and between dioceses might be strained, called on all Anglicans to demonstrate the love of Christ within our national church as we seek to pursue our unity.
Again for the MOW group in the public gallery, the failure to get a clear mandate to priest women was a bitter disappointment. As the Primate, Archbishop Grindrod, walked into the Chapter House on the morning of 24 August, the morning following the withdrawal of Archbishop Carnleys canon, he discovered he had behind him a line of twelve women led by Rev. Alison Cheek and Dr. Patricia Brennan. They began to sing Were going to keep on moving forward, Never turning back, a liberation hymn. Many synod delegates, including bishops, joined in the singing and applauded the group as they left the synod chamber. Diane Heath, a synod representative, joined her MOW friends, claiming that she had felt disgusted by the debate in synod the night before, especially the narrow view of the Sydney theologians.
The close of the 1989 General Synod began a bleak period for MOW nationally. With the death of Archbishop Penman on 1 October 1989, MOW lost one of its most supportive metropolitans. Certainly there were other bishops making very positive statements about the priesting of women, in particular Archbishop Carnley and Bishop Dowling. Archbishop Carnley raised the possibility that he would ordain the first women priests in December 1989 on the strength of diocesan legislation..
The report of the Appellate Tribunal on the Melbourne legislation to priest women was released on 6 November 1989. The ruling was unanimous that without a General Synod canon, the power to priest women in Melbourne diocese must come from the 1854 Church Act of the Victorian parliament, but the Appellate Tribunal could find no such power in the 1854 Act. Four Melbourne clergy, Archdeacon Philip Newman, Archdeacon Alan Nicholls, the Rev. John Howells and Rev. Jim Minchin suggested that the 1989 General Synod resolution on the right of a bishop to ordain whomsoever he thought canonically fit be used to prevent Melbourne Diocese having to go through the cumbersome legislative processes of General Synod again. This was rejected by Bishop John Stewart, the Bishop Administrator. A nationally organised opposition group, the Association for the Apostolic Ministry (AAM), took advantage of the impasse, one of its main spokesmen, Dr. Ian Spry, Q.C., sharpening a campaign of legal action threats against bishops who priested women without a General Synod canon.
For MOW, there was a depressing sense of having to start all over again. Janet Nelson, convenor of MOW, Melbourne, voiced her intense disappointment:
I am angry that women who have had expectations of ordination in 1989 or 1990 again face an indefinite delay. Some of these women have already waited not years but decades for their priesthood to be officially recognised by the Church....I am angry that the church is unable or unwilling to rid itself of its sexism.
MOW branches across Australia mounted protest. In Brisbane, MOW members gathered for a vigil on the steps of St. Johns Cathedral on November 10. Banners and placards made clear that a church which placed legalism above social justice and conscience was not acting in accordance with Christs precepts. In Perth, some twenty male priests expressed outrage at the Appellate Tribunals ruling, deciding to wear black armbands at the December ordination service in Perth as positive affirmation of womens ordination. Ironically, a few weeks later the Diocese of Dunedin in New Zealand announced that it had elected a woman, the Rev. Dr. Penelope Jamieson, to be its next bishop. While New Zealand advanced, Australia lagged further behind.
The New Year brought tragedy again, this time with the sudden death on 27 January 1990 of Dr. John Gaden, who had been for years one of the leaders in the pro-womens ordination debate, and who had been prepared to step down from his priesthood until justice had been achieved for women deacons. Great waves of sympathy stretched out to his widow, Rev. Janet Gaden, one of MOWs national vice-presidents. Linda Walter of MOW Melbourne, speaking at a memorial service for Dr. Gaden, recalled her shock when she heard the news of his death: To myself, to God, to the sky, I shouted No! Not this man! Not now!
On 25 February 1990, the day the Melbourne women deacons would have been ordained to priesthood, MOW members were present outside St. Pauls Cathedral where men were being priested, carrying black and white banners made by Alder Hall of MOW Adelaide representing twelve outstanding women leaders in the history of the Church. Red carnations were handed out to the congregation with a request that they be worn as a sign of solidarity with the women who were not priested. The teenage son of deacon Rev. Peta Sherlock wore a tee-shirt with the message: Dads done. What about Mum?
For the MOW Conference 1990 held in St. Marks College, Adelaide, the most appropriate theme seemed to be the first line of the freedom hymn sung at the 1989 General Synod - Keep on Walking Forward. At the conclusion of the Conference, Rev. Caroline Pearce celebrated, under visiting rights, the Eucharist in St. Peters Cathedral, the first woman priest to do so. Rev. James Murray, under the headline Charity misses out when the juggernaut runs rampant, lashed out at MOW in the Australian the same weekend, complaining about the frenetic style of Dr. Brennan and Dr. Scarfe and their determination to characterise the opponents of womens priesthood as conservative reactionaries.
The Anglican impetus for womens ordination had more overtly switched from the national to the diocesan level as the Bishops of Adelaide, Bathurst, Canberra/Goulburn, North Queensland, Rockhampton and Tasmania sought advice from the Appellate Tribunal about the validity of using their particular diocesan legislation to ordain women to priesthood. On 31 August 1990, the Bishop of Canberra/Goulburn went a step further and announced his decision to ordain eight women deacons to priesthood on 24 February 1991 unless the Appellate Tribunal brought down a negative ruling on unilateral action by dioceses. This had to be postponed as the Appellate Tribunal made clear that it would not have its decision ready by the proposed ordination date.
In October 1990, Archbishop Carnley increased pressure on the national church by giving notice to Perth Synod that he proposed a change to the diocesan Constitution in line with the change New Zealand Anglicans had made to clear the way for women priests. A year later Perth Synod passed the amendment. In the event of the amendment being challenged, Archbishop Carnley made clear that he had the authority to send women deacons overseas to be priested though he would prefer not to have women ordained by any backdoor method.
On December 6 1991, the Appellate Tribunal made public its rulings on the questions placed before it. The majority of decisions were negative, the single dissenting voice on the majority ruling that a General Synod Canon would be necessary for the ordination of women to priesthood being Bishop Holland of Newcastle. As Bishop Holland explained: I believe a bishop has the authority and power to ordain canonically fit candidates, and that power and authority is not sourced from either General or diocesan synods but as a result of his consecration into the order of bishop.
The Appellate Tribunals negative rulings triggered off widespread dissatisfaction not only within MOW but within a wide spectrum of the Church. The rulings also spurred on the bishops most eager to ordain women. On 23 December 1991, Bishop Dowling of Canberra/Goulburn announced his intention to ordain eleven women deacons to priesthood on 2 February 1992. Bishop Dowling defended his action on the grounds that he had 100 per cent support from the Diocesan Council and he considered it discriminatory not to ordain women as priests, adding that if we dont do it, well destroy ourselves. The Primate, Archbishop Rayner, admitted that he would have preferred that no action of this kind had taken place before the General Synod met in July, while at the same time emphasising that at this point no illegal action has occurred.
The opposition acted promptly. Dr. Spry of AAM warned that the matter might be taken to the civil courts to obtain an injunction to prevent the priesting of women proceeding. A writ was lodged in the New South Wales court on 17 January 1992, not by the leaders of the Association for the Apostolic Ministry directly but by two clergymen and one layman who backed the groups strong stance against women priests, Rev. David Robarts of Melbourne (formerly Dean of Perth Cathedral), Rev. Dalba Primmer of Bega in the Diocese of Canberra/Goulburn and Dr. Lawrence Scandrett of Sydney. MOW President, Janet Scarfe, urged Bishop Dowling to take courage and persist despite the threats of huge legal costs.
Submissions to the New South Wales Supreme Court were heard on 23 January 1992. Archbishop Robinson was called as a witness. He claimed that the ordination of women would be a recipe for short-term chaos and the long-term disintegration of the church. While the court was sitting, Archbishop Carnley of Perth quietly announced that he would ordain ten women to priesthood on 7 March. Carnley had earlier in January appointed the Rev. Dawn Kenyon, an Australian women who had been priested in New Zealand in 1985, as rector of the Southern Cross- Yugarn parish, 300 km. east of Perth.
On 28 January, Justice Mr. Andrew Rogers, Chief Judge of the Commercial Division of the N.S.W. Supreme Court, rejected the application for an injunction to stop Bishop Dowling ordaining women to priesthood, indicating that he believed the issue should be resolved within the Church. He pointed out that Australia was a signatory to the United Nations convention on eliminating all forms of discrimination against women, stating it is common ground between the parties that in everything, except their gender, the female deacons prepared to be ordained have demonstrated themselves in every way qualified to be priests.
The plaintiffs lost no time in appealing against the decision. As the eleven women deacons of Canberra/Goulburn were in retreat preparing for their ordination, they were stunned to hear that Justices Gleeson, Samuels and Meagher had ruled in the N.S.W. Court of Appeal that the case needed further examination. The Court of Appeal declared that Bishop Dowling should not ordain any women to priesthood.
A tremendous wave of sympathy for the eleven women deacons of Canberra/Goulburn swept through the nation as their hurt was witnessed through extensive television, radio and press coverage. Women around Australia took up the challenge to place flowers on altars and to stand outside churches on 2 February 1992 to mark their solidarity with the Canberra/Goulburn deacons. MOW leaders, including Janet Scarfe and Patricia Brennan, and hundreds of supportive Anglicans joined a spontaneous march to St. Saviours Cathedral, Goulburn, preceding the non-ordination of the women. Banners carried a multitude of messages, such as The Holy Spirit vs. Archbishop of Sydney, Keep Goin Owen and Called by God, Confounded by Law. All the eleven deacons admitted to great pain during the service when only the six male deacons could be priested.
Eileen Baldry (Diesendorf) of MOW Sydney made clear on television and in the press that she was both disgusted and in despair, not with the court but with the small group of Sydney Anglican men who started the court case, backed financially by Archbishop Robinson and the Sydney Synod Standing Committee. One of the Sydney Anglican men to whom Eileen Baldry had referred, was the Rev. Bruce Ballantine-Jones, rector of Janali and a Vice-President of the Anglican Church League, a long-time supporter of Archbishop Robinsons stand against the ordination of women. Ballantine-Jones together with a group of like-minded Sydney Anglican clergy proceeded to form a potentially schismatic group called the Reformed Evangelical Protestant Association (REPA). The group believed Sydney Diocese should be allowed to operate outside the Constitution of the Australian Anglican Church if women were priested. They announced their threat of seccession on Good Friday.
The action of this extremist group sparked off a response from Sydneys moderates. A meeting of Sydney Diocesan synod representatives was held at the Chapter House on 10 April 1992, called by the former Registrar of the diocese, Gerald Christmas, leading to the formation of a group called Anglicans Together with the purpose of providing a more liberal-minded church party as an alternative to the Anglican Church League and its extremist wing, REPA. Patricia Brennan and Colleen OReilly were among the founding group of Anglicans Together.
The same three plaintiffs who had succeeded against Canberra/Goulburn, together with one priest from the Diocese of Perth, Rev. Lewis Firman, also sought an injunction in the N.S.W. Supreme Court to prevent Archbishop Carnley from ordaining ten women deacons on 7 March 1992. The injunction was referred to the West Australian Supreme Court where Archbishop Carnley was in a stronger position as he already had a woman priest, Rev. Dawn Kenyon, serving in the diocese. On 6 March, Mr. Justice White of the West Australian Supreme Court ruled that Archbishop Carnley could proceed with the ordination the next day, refusing to allow a delay for an appeal.
Although elated that womens priesting was nearing the point of national acceptance, MOW members sensed that the issue was being taken out of their hands. It was clear that the Australian bishops wanted to complete the procedures for womens priesting on their own and play down the role of MOW in the struggle. Even if a straightforward Canon to ordain women could not get through at the General Synod in July 1992, more indirect legislation would be drawn up as a back-up in order to settle the issue.
Legislation was drafted at the Bishops Conference in May, in particular a canon to repeal and clarify that part of inherited English Church law which the Appellate Tribunal had considered prevented the priesting of women. A second back-up canon was suggested which would allow extra powers to dioceses in regard to ritual, ceremonial and discipline. Both these canons were passed at General Synod in July, the first put forward by Archbishop Hollingworth of Brisbane and the second by Archbishop George of Adelaide. It was agreed to recall General Synod for a special meeting on 21 November 1992, allowing the bishops time to meet with their diocesan synods.
At approximately 4.30 p.m. on Saturday, 21 November, the General Synod cleared the way for dioceses which chose to do so to ordain women to priesthood. The mechanism was the Canon put forward by Archbishop Hollingworth which repealed those laws inherited from the Church of England which the Appellate Tribunal had declared a blockage to womens priesting. The required two-thirds majority was only just achieved. Ordinations followed quickly. By the end of 1992, there were 92 women priests in the Australian Anglican Church.
For MOW, its major aim was achieved and its task was to decide its future direction. It was realised that getting women into priesthood would not dispel discrimination against Anglican women overnight, especially in Sydney diocese. Keith Mason, the N.S.W. Solicitor-General who had given so much of his time to MOW, expressed his thoughts on MOWs contribution:
The candle has been lit by MOW. We may have found ourselves in bits and pieces at times, but the taper has been lit and its light will make its way along the corridors of power in this Church however much the darkness threatens it. Maybe our task was to get the light into the Church - it remains for the church to deal with it.
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This website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.
The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars' declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.
You are welcome to use our material. However: maintaining this site costs money. We are a Charity and work mainly with volunteers, but we find it difficult to pay our overheads.
Visitors to our website since January 2014.
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