Full Legislative History
Resolution Number: 1976-B300
Title: Express Mind of the House of Bishops on Irregularly Ordained Women
Legislative Action Taken: Adopted
Final Text:

Resolved, That the Theology Report be adopted as the mind of the House.

Since the 1976 General Convention has, by legislative action, made clear that it is now the intent of the Episcopal Church as an ecclesial community to authorize the ordination of women to the priesthood and to episcopal orders, we believe that a completion of the ritual acts performed in Philadelphia/Washington becomes possible.

Prerequisite to any act of completion, however, would be a faithful carrying-out of those canonical procedures required for ordination within the respective dioceses.

Thereafter either of two courses become possible.

Each of them seeks to celebrate the intent of what was done in Philadelphia/ Washington. Each involves a liturgical incorporation of what was done on those two occasions into the ongoing life of the Episcopal Church by supplying the intention of the ecclesial community to the ritual acts already performed.

  1. One course would involve a public event, conducted by the appropriate Diocesan Bishop, which recognizes the sacramental elements found in the Philadelphia/Washington services and incorporates those elements into the now-stated intention of the Church to ordain women to the presbyterate. The proper context of the Philadelphia/Washington service now provided by the newly legislated ecclesial intention, that earlier rite could be sacramentally completed and the person canonically commissioned to function as a priest in the Episcopal Church without the necessity for an additional laying on of hands.

    Such a public act of "completion" should, we believe, be eucharistic and done in the presence of a representative diocesan assembly. It should also include an opportunity for the ordinand to declare her loyalty to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Church afresh.
  2. An alternative course, and one which commends itself as decidedly preferable to a majority on our Committee for pastoral reasons and for its reconciling power is "conditional ordination."

    Conditional ordination would recognize that something of extraordinary significance did indeed occur at Philadelphia/Washington. But it would also affirm that a fundamental reason for our Church's concern about ordinations is the desire to assure both the ordinand and the people of the Church that the ordained person is an authorized channel for divine grace. Conditional ordination would demonstrate both the ordinand's and the diocese's concern for those in the Church who have honest doubts about the validity or regularity of the Philadelphia/Washington "ordinations." Whether those doubts be justified or not, the matter of assurance is vital and is a proper pastoral concern of the whole Church. Holy Scripture bids every Christian to care about the qualms of the weaker brethren, and the example of St. Paul indicates that such care is a special responsibility for anyone in a pastoral office. Since the matter under consideration is the validity of the priestly office, such pastoral sensitivity seems particularly appropriate.

    Since the Minnesota Convention has approved women's ordination to the priesthood, "reconciliation" will be desperately needed, a reconciliation effected both by the Church and the individuals involved. Through conditional ordination, the Church would be seeking reconciliation by the decision to ordain women. In addition, the Church-at-large would be officially sharing as an ecclesial community in an act from which she was excluded in Philadelphia/ Washington. The participation of the individual ordinands in conditional ordination would be an impressive and healing contribution to the needed reconciliation.

    The willingness of all parties to take this conditional ordination route might also significantly assist the role of the Episcopal Church in the ecumenical movement. It will prevent unnecessary complications in future ecumenical conversations, since it would leave no room for doubt that these women ordinands are indeed ordained priests.

    Conditional ordination would also respect the integrity of Christians holding divergent views of the Philadelphia/Washington actions; refrain from passing judgment on diverse convictions honestly and strongly held; and allow the Lord to determine matters beyond our capacity or desire to judge.
Citation: General Convention, Journal of the General Convention of...The Episcopal Church, Minneapolis, 1976 (New York: General Convention, 1983), p. B-148.