Anglicans in Scotland Move Toward Ordaining Women as Priests

Episcopal News Service. July 28, 1993 [93142]

Members of the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) approved by a substantial margin the first stage of legislation to allow the ordination of women to the priesthood on June 18.

As with the Church in Wales, whose governing body gave initial approval to similar legislation last April, the question will come back to the synod of the SEC next year for final approval. At that point, a two-thirds majority will be needed in all three houses.

The results of the vote in the three houses was:

  • Bishops 6 in favor, 1 opposed
  • Clergy 61 in favor, 5 opposed (two abstentions)
  • Laity 48 in favor, 24 opposed (one abstention)
Moment of decision

"I believe that our church has come to a moment of decision about this matter," said the Most. Rev. Richard Holloway, Primus of the SEC and Bishop of Edinburgh, in his opening address. Holloway, who once served as rector of the Church of the Advent in Boston, said that a vote for the ordination would "hurt many people in the church," but that rejection would "hurt many more."

One opponent of the legislation, Bishop George Sessford of Moray, asserted that the debate would determine "nothing less than a struggle for the survival of...the church we love so dearly." Sessford asked whether the SEC was "a Scottish branch of the una sancta," or "is it a small eccentric Protestant sect, ascribing to itself the authority to rewrite the faith of Catholic Christendom?"

However, other supporters of the measure dismissed the contention that ecumenical considerations should affect the outcome of the decision. Bishop Bruce Cameron of Aberdeen and Orkney said that sensitivity to Christians of other traditions was essential, but that the decision was "a decision that we as a church make for ourselves. No other church takes that responsibility from us."

Canon Kenneth Mason, director of the theological institute, described himself as a "traditionalist," a believer in the real priesthood, and at the same time a supporter of the ordination of women to the priesthood." On relations with the Roman Catholic Church, he said, "It would not be right for us today that we cannot decide until the mechanisms that we don't recognize have decided first."

Safeguards for opponents

Unlike the legislation adopted by the Church of England last fall, the SEC proposals contain no financial compensation for clergy who might feel compelled to resign. However, the Scottish bishops have supported a number of safeguards: no bishop would be compelled to ordain or license a woman against his conscience, no candidate for ordination or episcopacy would be disqualified because of opinions on the matter and no congregation or individual would be required to accept a woman's sacramental ministration.

Since the SEC is not the established church in Scotland, the legislation will not require parliamentary approval. If it is adopted, the SEC could begin ordaining its first woman priests in 1994.