Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Repeating an old mistake?

News here about the Anglican Primate of Nigeria endorsing the ordination of women as deacons to work in specific areas of ministry.
"Interacting with Bishops, clergy and laity of the Province on the Niger at Emmaus House Awka during his Episcopal tour of Provinces in Nigeria, Archbishop Oko said women's ordination for now would stop at deacons for specific purposes like hospital work and school services."

It's necessary to repeat ad infinitum - because of our opponents' propaganda victory in this area  - that "catholics" (and by that here I mean anglo-catholics) are wholeheartedly in favour of the lay ministries of the church being open to both sexes, only (as successive popes have maintained)  that the Church simply does not have the authority to make changes to the nature of the apostolic ministry.
But putting the theology of the indivisibility and 'givenness'of the sacred ministry on one side - politically, I think Nigeria, cultural differences notwithstanding, will make a huge mistake if it admits women to the diaconate. Here in Wales, female deacons admitted to the house of clergy of the Governing Body in 1980 proved a potent force in the synodical drive towards the ordination of women to the priesthood. As we know to our cost our quasi-parliamentary synodical decisions have very little to do with the quality of theological debate and everything to do with numbers.
Besides, outside the liturgy, deacons dress the same as priests and, to our shame, our theologically incoherent legacy as Anglicans leads public opinion, in the pews and outside, to clamour for equal rights, as "function" and the physical ability to perform a task is the only language that is really understood. Of course, this is hugely magnified by secular pressures in the area of what we now have to call "gender equality," but the real problem is the lack (really the impossibility) of any coherent and agreed theology of ordained ministry among the various competing theological strands of  Anglicanism - not exactly a recent development!
Yet it's a strange irony that one of the great errors of modern Anglicanism (and the list grows longer every day) is the reinforcement by the feminist / liberal / radical lobby and their opportunistic fellow travellers (now "the establishment" here and elsewhere) of that popular misconception that to exercise any kind of valid Christian ministry it's necessary to wrap a clerical collar around your neck. Rampant clericalism is the legacy of women's ordination along with the associated downgrading of the lay state and the subsequent deskilling of many of our congregations.
Why do I increasingly think my vocation is to talk to brick walls?


  1. Exactly; 'give an inch, take a yard' springs to mind. Excellent analysis Father. Petros

  2. If it's hospitals and schools then why not have old-fashioned deaconesses? The little birds that chirp under my mantilla are suggesting that in not so many years they'll have to recruit laywomen for schools and hospitals because the 'deacons' will have moved on to other things.

  3. Yes, that would be the logical answer - and not only in Nigeria. However, that runs up against the liberal refusal to accept the divinely instituted nature of the apostolic ministry - essentially it's a later development, culturally dependent and conditioned, and ours to do with as we please.
    There is also, as we know well, considerable anecdotal evidence of pressure being put on female deacons and women in lay ministry to go forward to the priesthood so as not to betray 'the sisterhood.' Strange times!


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