The Anglican Church in England approves the ordination of women Bishops 25 years after the Church of the Province of New Zealand.
Kevin P Clements
NCPACS, University of Otago
The General Synod of the Anglican Church in England has finally approved the ordination of women as Bishops. This is being billed as path breaking and innovative but it comes 25 years after Penny Jamieson was ordained as the first diocesan bishop of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand. The fact that it has taken so long for the Anglican Church in the United Kingdom to reach the same position is testimony to the persistent power of religious patriarchy and the conservative positions of evangelical and high church Anglicans. It would have been absolutely astonishing if the General Synod had not approved the ordination of women Bishops in 2014 . It would have offended most European Human Right’s legislation and equal opportunity rights in the United Kingdom as well.
It’s a pity that Penny Jamieson’s experience did not create bigger waves in the UK. She was a genuine pioneer who spoke out and wrote about powerful women in patriarchal institutions. From the moment of her ordination she was subject to considerable marginalisation by powerful male religious leaders.
The Anglican Bishop of Aotearoa, the Rt Rev Whakahuihui Vercoe and the Catholic Bishop of Dunedin, the Most Rev Leonard Boyle, for example boycotted Penny’s ordination. In 1998 she spoke candidly at Kings College, London, saying she wouldn’t wish being a woman bishop on anyone. ‘The continuingly subtle, even underground power of patriarchy, whether exercised by men or by women, to destroy from a base of self-righteousness is truly appalling.’ Penny was a lone and solitary voice in New Zealand Anglicanism until August 2008 when The Right Reverend Victoria Matthews, a Canadian bishop, became New Zealand’s second woman bishop when she was elected Bishop of Christchurch.
The challenge now facing the Anglican Church in the UK is working out ways in which women can be elected to vacant Bishoprics and are not marginalised as suffragan ( or assistant) Bishops. The reality is that women are overrepresented in the pews in both the United Kingdom and New Zealand but under-represented as Priests and Bishops. It is sad that much of the opposition to the ordination of women Bishops in the United Kingdom came from evangelical women who argued that men must never be taught by women. The fact that such sentiments continue in the United Kingdom or anywhere is a reflection of how far we have to go all around the world if we are to start undermining patriarchal privilege, patriarchal rights, and patriarchal paralysis in all of our leading institutions.
This is a bold step forward for the Anglican church in the UK but 25 years after the women who were ordained as Priests and Bishops in the late 1980s and 1990s in New Zealand, Canada, Australia and the United States.
Its an interesting reflection of the times that it has taken 25 long years after Bishop Penny Jamieson’s own ministry as Bishop of Dunedin, Dunedin New Zealand, for the Anglican Church in England to catch up with her pioneering ministry in the Anglican periphery. Its nice to know that dear old Dunedin i led the way. Thank goodness the UK is finally catching up with “Godzone ” country.