Celebrations mark anniversary of women priests

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Parishes and dioceses across the country celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Anglican church’s ordination of women late last year, with special services, festive meals, stories and reminiscences.

The Anglican church ordained its first six women priests on Nov. 30, 1976.

At the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Quebec City, in the diocese of Quebec, Governor General Adrienne Clarkson attended a service commemorating the anniversary.

The U.S. Consul General in Quebec, Susan Keogh-Fisher, addressed the congregation and Diana Stavert, wife of the diocesan bishop, Bruce Stavert, conveyed greetings from women leaders in the Anglican Church of Canada and abroad.

More than 350 people attended a special service at Christ’s Church Cathedral, Hamilton, Ont., in the diocese of Niagara. The first two women to be ordained in Niagara, Canon Beverley Shanley and Rev. Mary Lucas, were there. A video marking the anniversary called From Servant to Celebrant – Voices from Niagara, is available from the diocesan office in Hamilton for a suggested donation of $25.

At St. Matthew’s church, Ottawa, the anniversary was marked by the ordination of four priests, one of them a woman – Rev. Andrea Christensen, Rev. Lee Lambert, Rev. David Shields and Rev. Scott Whitfield.

Rev. Sara Boyles, now an incumbent in Toronto, gave the sermon in which she remembered her ordination service in 1980 at which several people stood to voice objections to the ordination of women. Then-Bishop William Robinson announced he would proceed with the service and applause greeted his words, she said.

During a service at Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, retired bishop David Somerville, who ordained Elspeth Alley and Virginia Bryant in 1976, talked about what the church was like when he was ordained, 61 years ago. Women could not offer leadership in worship and could not serve on parish councils or in synods, he recalled. Archdeacon Barbara Clay spoke about the hardships and joys experienced by the first women priests.

At St. James Cathedral in Toronto, Bishop Ann Tottenham, the second woman bishop in the Canadian Anglican church, recalled that the first woman bishop in the United States, Barbara Harris, had to wear a bulletproof vest to her consecration because of death threats she received.

In the diocese of Algoma, Archdeacon Susan De Gruchy, at a service at the Church of the Epiphany in Sudbury, Ont., noted that the diocese was the third-last to ordain a woman, in 1985, due to opposition. Now, more than half of the diocese’s active clergy are women, with 20 per cent in leadership positions as archdeacons and regional deans. The ordination of women speaks of the balance of God’s call to ministry, she said.

Bishop Barry Jenks of the diocese of British Columbia hosted a luncheon at the diocesan office in Victoria for women priests. Eleven women attended, with four sending regrets. Each of the guests was given a copy of Raindrops of my Life by Rev. Florence Li Tim-Oi, the first woman priest in the Anglican Communion. She was ordained in Hong Kong in 1944.

In Kelowna, B.C., see city of the diocese of Kootenay, a special service at St. Michael and All Angels’ Cathedral featured the formation of a semi-circle of female priests and Archbishop David Crawley behind the presider, Canon Dorothy Barker, as she said the eucharistic prayer. In her sermon, Archdeacon Barbara Liotscos noted that nearly 500 women have been ordained in the Anglican Church of Canada since 1976.

A celebratory service at Bishop Cronyn Memorial Church in London, Ont., diocese of Huron, featured a First Nations Chippewa women’s singing and drumming group. Bishop Bruce Howe concelebrated the eucharist with 23 female clergy at the altar.

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