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United Church of Canada. Report and Recommendations of the Committee on the Ordination of Women (1928)

United Church of Canada
Report and Recommendations of the Committee on the Ordination of Women (1928)

The Ordination of Women


The Committee on the Ordination of Women was appointed by the Second General Council of The United Church of Canada (1926). This action was taken pursuant to the discussion in the Council of the following Memorial from the Conference of Saskatchewan:

That the Saskatchewan Conference request the General Council to grant authority to this Conference to ordain Miss Lydia E. Gruchy to the Ministry of The United Church of Canada.

The question of the authority of the Council to take the action sought in the Memorial was laid before the Committee on Law and Legislation which reported as follows:

Your Committee, having carefully considered the legal aspects of the motion with reference to the ordination of Miss L. E. Gruchy for the Ministry is of opinion that serious legal doubts exist regarding the right of The United Church of Canada, either by the General Council, or any Conference, to ordain women for the Ministry without complying with the provisions of the Basis of Union, Sec. 24, sub-Sec. 2 (a), Polity.

A Committee of the Council considered the Memorial and recommended as follows:

1. That the whole question of Ordination of Women to the Ministry be referred to the Presbyteries for their consideration and judgment, and for report to the next General Council.

2. That a Committee consisting of the Moderator, Revs. Geo. C. Pidgeon; Principal E.H. Oliver, C.W. Bishop, Prof. H.A. Kent, T. Albert Moore, W.T. Gunn, Hugh Matheson, E. Thomas and Prof. J.T. McNeill as Chairman, be appointed to prepare a statement for the information and guidance of the Presbyteries, which shall be submitted to the Executive Committee to be sent down to Presbyteries with the remit on Ordination of Women.

These recommendations were adopted. (See United Church of Canada Year Book, 1926, pp. 60, 80, 108, 114.)

After the Committee had begun its work it was charged by the Executive with the additional task of considering and reporting on the question of the membership of Women in Sessions, Presbyteries and Conferences, as indicated in the following extracts from Minutes:

Extract from Record of Proceedings, Year Book, Page 87.

Toronto West Presbytery, reelection of women as members of session. (Basis, Polity, Par. B. 9 (a) ). We recommend that this item be referred to the Executive Committee with instructions to investigate the legal aspects of this question, and to send down the information to Presbyteries.

Election of Women as Members of Session
Minutes of Executive Committee

A memorial to the General Council from Toronto West Presbytery, requesting that it declare whether women might be elected as members of Sessions, was referred to the Executive Committee with instructions to investigate the legal aspects of this question, and to send down the information to Presbyteries.

Resolved that the Remit concerning the legality of electing Women as Members of Session be sent to the Presbyteries after the Report of the Committee on Law and Legislation has been received by the Executive.

Ruling of Committee on Law and Legislation
May Women be Elected as Members of Session?

Under the Polity Division of the Basis of Union, part II-B, section 9, it is contemplated that the persons, who, with the minister or ministers, constitute the session shall be men, because sub-section (a) of section 9 is as follows:

“The oversight of the spiritual interests of the charge by the minister (or ministers) and a body of men specially chosen and set apart or ordained for that work, who shall jointly constitute the session.”

The above reference applies to charges formed subsequent to the union and to charges existing previous to the union which have adopted the plan of organization prescribed for pastoral charges formed subsequent to the union.

Extract from Minutes of Sub-Executive

On motion the Secretary was directed to forward this opinion to the Committee which is preparing a statement concerning the Ordination of Women for the information and guidance of Presbyteries, with the request that this Committee include in their report information on this subject for the consideration of the Presbyteries.

Official Position of Women

The request received from the Presbytery of Honan, asking that the ecclesiastical status of women in the Conferences and Presbyteries of The United Church be determined, which was before the Executive Committee last year, when much information was assembled concerning the status of women in each of the uniting Churches, and the whole question with this information referred to the General Council, with the suggestion that the question and information be remitted to Presbyteries. No action was taken by the General Council. On motion the question and information were referred to the Committee appointed to prepare a statement concerning the ordination of women, to report to the Executive Committee.

Section A

Women and the Ordained Ministry

I. Women’s Work in the Church

In approaching the question of the ordination of women, it will be helpful to consider first the position of women in the Church during its formative stage. It is clear from the whole record of the gospels that in the mind, teaching and creative work of Jesus, men and women were spiritually equal. Women later received in common with men the gifts of the Spirit and were prominent in the activities of the Church. Their spiritual equality with men is indicated by St. Paul’s words in Galatians 3: 26-28, which show that this equality is not restricted by race, social rank or sex;

“For ye are all children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ i Jesus.”

Equality of status, however, admits of diversity of function and this is seen in the recognition of various ministries, both of men and of women. Diversity of function, on the other hand, does not imply superiority or inferiority of status. It is evident from 1Corinthians 2: 5, that praying and “prophesying,” or exhorting, were recognized activities of women in the Church. The restrictions elsewhere laid down by St. Paul upon certain ministries of women (1 Cor. 2: 3-16, 14: 34-36, 1 Tim. 2: 12) were designed to secure discipline, order and peace in the Church as it developed under the social conditions then obtaining. While these precepts embody an enduring principle for the conserving of order and discipline, they express that principle in terms relative to transient conditions, and ought not to be held as binding in detail under the vastly altered conditions of modern society, in which women may enjoy a larger sphere of social activity without going beyond what is seemly, modest and of good report.

In the early centuries of the Church the principal ministry of women was that of the diaconate. Originally the function of the deacons was the administration of alms, but in time they were also charged with preaching; teaching and the administration of baptism, and were ordained to their office as a part of the Universal Ministry. From Apostolic days women were admitted to the diaconate, their ministry being largely confined, in Hellenistic society, to work among women and children. In the Middle Ages the diaconate of women largely passed out of sight in the monastic sisterhoods, although it can be traced through monastic history by certain survivals. At the Reformation a diaconate of women was advocated, but was not established as a part of the Ministry. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries women in various communions have rendered an increasing volume of service by public speech and organization, as well as by private ministrations. The Church has called to special office many of these workers, who devote their lives to the care of the poor and sick, and of neglected children, to various kinds of work in congregations and in home and foreign missions, and to other evangelical labors. Many of these women have served as deaconesses without ordination. But in certain communions movements have arisen for the ecclesiastical ordination to the diaconate of women as a part of the Ministry. The Lambeth Conference of Bishops of the Anglican Communion has resolved “that the Diaconate of Women should be restored formally and canonically,” and the Upper Houses of the Convocations of Canterbury and York have adopted a form for the Ordination of Deaconesses.

II. Doctrine of the Ministry

It is important at this point to consider the nature of the Christian Ministry. The office of the Ministry is a perpetual ordinance in the Church. By ordination the candidate is set apart to a Ministry of the Word and Sacraments; this being a Ministry of the whole Church and not merely of a part thereof. Concerning this Ministry of the Word and Sacraments, the position of the Church Universal, and of this Church has been, and is, that by ordination to the office, the functions and duties of the Ministry become the primary and life-long vocation of the ordained. He is to give himself wholly to this one thing. The calling is of such a nature that no other vocation of life can be primary. The Church and the young men who are ordained equally understand that their ordination is to a life-long service.

In the Primitive Church, as we have seen, the diaconate came to be regarded as a second order of the Ministry. At the Reformation the diaconate was retained in the Anglican Church as a part of the Universal Ministry, and it was continued in the Methodist Church at its formation on this Continent in 1784. The office is still retained in the Methodist Episcopal Church of The United States, and was continued in the main body of Canadian Methodism until 1833 and in one division of the Church until 1884. It appertains to this office to preach, teach, baptize and to perform such pastoral duties as may be required, by authority of the Church. The office of the diaconate is life-long, but the Church has not held that its duties should always constitute the only life vocation of the ordained; a member of the diaconate may serve partly in the office, and partly in some other life calling. In fact the duties of the office may at times be such that a deacon who engages in another calling will thereby possess peculiar qualifications for the exercise of his ministry. A woman set apart to the diaconate would to the same degree dedicate herself to a life-long office; but in certain circumstances, such as marriage, she might without violation of obligations be by authority released, in whole or in part, from the duties of the office. In such case she would retain her status and could, if circumstances admitted, resume her active ministry.

III. Recommendations

Your Committee, having considered the proposals that have been presented for the admission of women to the Ministry, and the present situation of women’s work in the Church as a whole, and especially in The United Church of Canada, is impressed with the desirability of giving fuller ecclesiastical recognition to certain ministries that are already exercised by women, and of calling forth the fullest service of women for the benefit of the Church.

It is the judgment of the Committee that in view of (a) the character of the Ministry as now constituted, (b) the possibility of controversy within the Church, and (c) the present state of the question in other Churches, no action should be taken at the present time on the proposal to ordain women to the Ministry of the Word and Sacraments. Their admission to the ordained diaconate would, we believe, satisfy the need that has inspired the memorial of the Conference of Saskatchewan.

It should be clearly understood that women qualified for and ordained to the diaconate would differ from the unordained deaconesses at present so usefully serving the Church, in these respects;

  1. They would hold a regularly authorized position in the Ministry of the Church.
  2. They would have relations to the Church Courts subject to such regulations as might be adopted.
  3. They would have a higher academic standing than that now required for unordained deaconesses.

We therefore recommend as follows:

  1. That the diaconate of women be recognized by The United Church of Canada as an order of the Ministry,* with authority to perform such pastoral duties as may be required, and in particular, to teach, to preach and where necessary to baptize.
  2. That women manifestly called of God and adequately trained be ordained to this office.
  3. That a Committee or Committees be appointed by the General Council to determine the conditions of admission to the ordained diaconate, and the relation of its members to the Church Courts, and to provide a course of training appropriate for candidates; which course should be comparable to that now prescribed for the Ministry while including training for special tasks.
  4. That the members of the Deaconess Order as now existing be continued in their present work and retain their present status, and that subject to the regulations which may be adopted they may be admitted to the diaconate, but that the name of “deaconess” be conferred in future only upon women ordained to the diaconate.
  5. That the fullest possible study of the subject of women’s relations to the Church should be encouraged, and that all ministers should inform themselves and instruct their people concerning the history and present aspects of the subject, and the nature and implications of the above recommendations. The matter is one of such grave importance that no step should be taken without the support of public opinion formed after due consideration in an uncontentious, truth-seeking and prayerful spirit.

N.B. These recommendations are submitted after full conference with the Committee responsible for the supervision of the Deaconess Order and with their general concurrence in so far as they relate to the future of the Deaconess Order.

We invite careful attention to the appendices accompanying this report.

For fuller study the following books are recommended:

Adeney, W.F., Women in the New Testament, London, 1906.

Bancroft, Jane, Deaconesses in Europe, New York, 1889.

Bardsley, C.C.B., Women and Church Work, London and New York, 1917.

Bingham, Joseph, Antiquities of ’the Christian Church, Vol. I, Oxford, 1855.

Charteris, A.H., Women’s Work in the Church, Article in Presbyterian Review, Vol. IX (1888), p. 283 f.

Conference of Bishops of the Anglican Communion Holden at Lambeth Palace, July 5th to August 7th, 1920, p. 95f, London, 1920.

Eckenstein,.Lina, Women under Monasticism, Cambridge, 1896.

Golder, C., History of the Deaconess Movement in the Christian Church, New York, 1903.

Howson, J.S., The Diaconate of Women in the Anglican Church, London, 1886.

Kidd, Benjamin, The Science of Power, New York and London, 1918.

Lindsay, Thomas M., The Church and the Ministry in the Early Christian Centuries, New York and London, 1902.

Lodge, Oliver, et al., The Position of Women Actual and Ideal, London, 1911.

Ludlow, J.M., Women’s Work in the Church, London, 1865.

The Ministry of Women, A report by a Committee appointed by His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, London, 1919.

On the Early History and Modern Revival of Deaconesses, in Church Quarterly Review, Vol. 47, p. 322 f. (Jan. 1899).

Picton-Turbervill, Edith, Christ and Woman’s Power, London, 1920.

Robinson, Cecilia. The Ministry of Deaconesses, 2nd edition, London, 1914.

Royden, Maude, The Church and Women, containing chapter on Women in Free Churches, by Constance M. Coltman, London (undated).

Royden, Maude, Women at the World’s Cross-Roads, New York, 1923.

Shäffer, Theodor, Die Weibliche Diakonie, 3rd edition, 3 vols. Potsdam, 1911.

Simpson, W.G. Sparrow, (Ed.) The Place of Women in the Church, London and Milwaukee, 1917.

Streeter, B.H. and Picton-Turbervill. Women and the Church, London, 1917.

Wheeler, Henry, Deaconesses, Ancient and Modern, New York, 1889.

Wordsworth, John, The Ministry of Grace, London and New York, 1901.

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