Church ordains women priests

Published June 11, 2015

(This story was first published in the January 1977 issue of the Canadian Churchman.)

Church ordains women priests

“This occasion is particularly happy for some, and particularly sad for others,” Bishop John Bothwell of Niagara told the people who filled Grace Church here to witness the ordination of two of the first women priests in Canada.

For Rev. Beverly Shanley and Rev. Mary Lucas the occasion represented the joyful culmination of years of work and prayer and hope. For Rev. Douglas Campbell the joy was augmented by the privilege of sharing the occasion with two women whose dedication and ministry he admires.

Reminding people that the primary reason for the gathering was the worship of God, Bishop Bothwell asked that everyone be sensitive to the feelings of others, “witnessing to our diversity without breaking the bonds of love.”

The congregation responded to this call for restraint, and the service was marked by no emotional outbursts, but rather a deep sense of worship and joy.

This was evident in the ordinands themselves. Although Bishop Bothwell remarked earlier that they had “been pushed pretty hard” by interviews, all three ordinands were calm and very happy during the historic service.

The tensions of the weeks before the ordination were not entirely forgotten. No photography of the actual service was permitted, although a press conference was held earlier in the afternoon during which Bishop Bothwell kept a firm hold on the proceedings.

Two plain-clothes policemen were on duty at the back of the church in case of protests or other difficulties. They were not needed.

The congregation of 450 left no doubt about where it stood on the issue when Bishop Bothwell asked the question: “Is it your will that Douglas, Mary and Beverly be ordained priests?”

The congregation shouted: “It is.”

Rev. Ian Dingwall, the bishop’s examining chaplain and rector of St. Jude’s in Oakville where Mr. Campbell is serving his curacy, said in his sermon that the historic action that evening demonstrated “at the very least, our concern for an open community.” It also made clear, he said, what the priesthood is and what the church should be.

He spoke of the Incarnation in terms of the humanity of Christ, rejecting the notion that the priesthood’s representation of Christ in the world is tied to maleness. He stressed, instead, the importance of personhood, and “being for others.”

Throughout his sermon, he emphasized the ministry of the whole church and the particular ministry of the ordained priesthood within that larger context. The priest, he said, is called to be “evangel,” proclaiming the good news that what we have been given is love. Called also to be a pilgrim, an intercessor, and a “fool for Christ,” the priest’s vocation is part of the vocation of the whole body of Christ.

He stressed that the church’s life must not be turned inwards, but outwards towards the world the Christ has come to save.

“The need is for the church to become not a club for the religiously comfortable,” he said, “but a community under divine command – willing to risk that it may even make mistakes – so that God’s love can breathe.”

The church ventured on that uncharted pilgrim course as the two women and the man knelt in turn before the bishop and received the laying-on-of-hands from the bishops and more than a dozen priests.

“Receive the Holy Spirit for the office and work of a priest in the church of God, now committed unto you by the imposition of our hands…” the bishop said.

Vested in chasubles, the new priests received a Bible and the authority to preach the word of God. A chalice was placed in their hands as a symbol of the authority given them to minister the sacraments in the congregations to which they are lawfully appointed.

Beginning with the bishops and the new priests, the kiss of peace was exchanged among the more than 75 clergy and the relatives, friends, and well-wishers who had just witnessed the ordination.

The happiness was expressed fully in the eucharist which followed at which Bishop Kent Clarke, suffragan of Niagara, and the three new priests celebrated. At the administration of the communion, Ms. Shanley, standing in the middle of the sanctuary, distributed the bread. Ms. Lucas and Mr. Campbell administered the chalice at the altar rail.

All three were quiet but radiant. The years of questioning and searching had ended, the church had ratified their sense of God’s call, and their vocation was just beginning.

The morning after the ordination, Rev. Mary Lucas, a priest in the church of God, celebrated her first eucharist as she wanted to: quietly, thankfully, giving the gifts of God to the people of God.

Happy Families

“I think it’s fantastic,” was 21-year-old Scott Lucas’ reply when asked how he felt about his sister’s ordination to the priesthood.

“It’s a real accomplishment for Mary. She’s been planning on it for a long time. I’m not terribly religious myself, but I know this is something she always wanted to do,” Scott, the youngest of Rev. Mary Lucas’ two brothers, added.

The pride in sharing his 28-year-old sister’s “accomplishment” was evident too in the faces of Ms. Lucas’ mother and father as they hugged and kissed their daughter, and received congratulations from the hundreds of friends and well-wishers gathered for a reception after the ordination service.

“It’s a little hard to describe how I’m feeling. There are so many emotions,” said Ms. Lucas’ mother, also named Mary.

“I am so happy for her that she has reached this point. We know there is a long road ahead of her. Last week we were thinking about this as the goal Mary was reaching for. But it isn’t really. It’s the goal she had to reach in order to start.”

Her father, Harry Lucas, added: “We’re elated. It’s something we have all been waiting for. There will be some hard times ahead, but she’s pretty strong.”

In another section of the parish hall, the gala scene was repeating itself. Thirty-eight-year-old Rev. Beverly Shanley’s family, surrounded by smiling faces, was also ecstatic.

“We are very proud and very happy for Beverly,” said her mother, Evelyn Shanley. “We have waited 20 years for this night, and that goes for her dad, too,” she added.

“For me it has been an optimistic experience, to think that what Beverly has worked for, for such a long time, has come true,” said Ms. Shanley’s twin sister, Barbara Cookson.

“It’s an inspiration for all those people who thought it was impossible at times,” she commented.

The two women priests who shared in the historic moment of their ordination to the priesthood will officially be called Rev. Mary Lucas and Rev. Beverly Shanley. Otherwise, they simply want to be called Mary and Beverly.

“It is a dream come true. It is the greatest gift I have ever had in my life,” said Ms. Shanley. “It is a completion of the years of ministry I have had before.”

Ms. Shanley will be one of the first of the women priests (in all, six were ordained across Canada), to have her own parish. She will serve St. George’s Church in the Lowville area of Burlington, Ont., and St. John’s Church in Milton.

Ms. Lucas will be an assistant at Grace Church here, where she has served as a curate assistant since she was ordained to the diaconate in September, 1975.

Asked what was the most difficult part of preparing for her ordination to the priesthood, Ms. Lucas said: “For me it was more like learning within myself what I was to be doing: the kind of work I had to do now.”

She said she would like to see the ministry play a greater role in jails, hospitals, feminist groups, factories and psychiatric hospitals.

Timing made Rev. Mary Mills historic first

A few minutes before eight o’clock on St. Andrew’s Day evening, Mary Alice Maud Mills became the first woman to be ordained into the priesthood of the Anglican Church of Canada. Within a few hours, bishops in Ontario and British Columbia had ordained six women as priests.

More than 700 persons, some of them arriving by chartered bus from small communities of Glencoe and Kirkton, where Ms. Mills has served, were present for the historic service. They filled St. Paul’s Cathedral to about three-quarters its capacity.

The 58-year-old grandmother of 11 children stood side by side with a second candidate, John Eric Hodgson, 65, of Sarnia, Ont., as both responded to examination questions of Bishop Ragg of Huron diocese.

Then Bishop Ragg, his two suffragan bishops, retired bishop Harold Appleyard and a dozen priests laid their hands upon the heads of the two candidates and made them priests of the church. Each received a Bible and chalice as signs of the authority given them to preach the word of God and administer the sacraments.

The order of service was prepared by the diocesan doctrine and worship committee. It had been used in past ordination services in the diocese.

Most of the clergy were present for the service in spite of a snowstorm which swept across parts of the diocese earlier that day. Ms. Mills’ stepson, Walter, a priest in Cambridge, Ont., read the epistle and Rev. Virginia Lane, a London, Ont., deacon, read the gospel.

Scriptural reasoning

At the beginning of his sermon, Suffragan Bishop Geoffrey Parke-Taylor commented on the historic step of the church that day.

“Increasingly, there has been the recognition that it is not maleness, but redeemed humanity that qualifies for ministry,” he said. “In the first century situation, only men could speak in the synagogue. The position of women was conditioned by the social customs of that day. It was inevitable and necessary that men should be chosen for ministry in the initial instance.

“But was a male pattern of ministry therefore being set for all time?”

Bishop Parke-Taylor said the question of tradition is an important one and the tradition of a male priesthood within the church has led some to conclude that this is a divinely-intended permanent pattern of ministry.

However, he questioned this to mean that nothing new or innovative can be adopted by the church. “We realize that tradition is not static; by tradition we mean the living voice of the church not only the receiving of the heritage of the past, but the meeting of new conditions, new situations and new challenges,” he said.

The bishop said that St. Paul stated clearly that the barriers which had created earlier division in the early church had been removed when he said: In Christ, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28)

Many centuries have been required for the church to realize the full implications of this charter of freedom, he said. “Less than two centuries ago, Christian slaveowners justified slavery by quoting from the New Testament – Slaves, obey your masters (Ephes. 6:5).

“They did not fully understand that the charter was given for full liberation – ?there is neither slave nor free’ – a charter which needs to be proclaimed with all the strength that we possess in the 20th century world with its many forms of economic slavery and exploitation.”

At the service’s conclusion at the reception in the parish hall, the two new priests were called onto the stage to speak and introduce their families.

Mr. Hodgson, flanked by his wife, the younger of his sons and a daughter-in-law, said it was a very special day in his life. Mr. Hodgson had been one of the second career men ordained to the diaconate following his graduation from Seagar Hall in 1965.

He served in the parish of Rainy River in Keewatin diocese for two years and then returned to Huron diocese where he has served as curate in two Sarnia parishes. He has been at St. George’s Church in Sarnia for the past six years.

Ms. Mills and her “family” stole the show. More than 20 of her children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces and cousins climbed onto the stage as she spoke. Some had driven from as far as Chicago and Flint, Mich.

“I am grateful to God who has called me and led me to this day,” she said. “And I am grateful to all of you who have supported me. I pray that I may be worthy.”

Ms. Mills has served in southwestern Ontario parishes since 1969 when the late Bishop George Luxton ordained her the first woman deacon in the church. She is now at the parish of Kirkton, Granton and Saintsbury, north of London.

It had been a simply-planned and low-key evening. Press photographers and television cameras had been barred in deference to the guidelines of the House of Bishops, although a lone photographer stood unobtrusively at one side of the chancel to record the occasion.

When it came time for Bishop Ragg to ask if any person present knew of cause why the ordination should not proceed, there was no response.

He then said: “I ask you, as the people of God in this diocese, to declare your will that this ministry be conferred upon them.”

The people responded: “We are willing! We are willing! To God be the glory.”

Patricia Reed is ordained in Cariboo diocese

Early in the morning of the first day of December, Rev. Patricia Reed celebrated the eucharist in the church of St. Michael and All Angels. She was assisted by Bishop John Snowden of Cariboo, and a number of her fellow clergy from the diocese were among the communicants.

The evening before, in a formal yet joyful service Ms. Reed was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Snowden.

Many friends, both clergy and lay people, travelled to Prince George for the occasion – from Vancouver and from various parts of the diocese including Kamloops and Quesnel, her home parish. The support of this congregation was clearly expressed in the strength of the singing, led by a joint choir from Prince George and Quesnel, and of the spoken responses.

The preacher at the ordination was the primate, Archbishop Ted Scott.

In his sermon Archbishop Scott stressed that responsibility for ministry, “a humble, costly involvement,” is shared by all who have been baptized. The specialized functions of preaching, administering the sacraments and pastoral care call for deep interaction between the person given special authority and the group within which that ministry is exercised, he said.

The responsibility of a sermon lies not only with the preacher but with the listener, the archbishop said.

The sacraments are events of the community. Pastoral care is enriched when it is shared. “The authority given in ordination to on e person, only has depth of meaning when it is exercised within a group,” he said.

Noting the historic significance of the event, Archbishop Scott outlined the process that preceded it, assuring the congregation that the decision to break a long tradition of male priesthood had been made neither lightly nor wantonly. He urged against forming images of women priests after male models.

“Rather, let them widen and expand our understanding of priesthood,” he said.

Archbishop Scott acknowledged the painfulness for some in the break from tradition and quoted with appreciation from the statement by Rev. William McKeachie and Rev. Peter Hannen, in the December 1976 Canadian Churchman – “If this development is of God, it will gain acceptance. If it is not of God, it will surely fail.”

“We take this action now in confident humility,” he said, “confident in the depth of our conviction and with humility admitting that in any given situation we may be wrong.”

He concluded by expressing his personal belief that the calling of women to priesthood is of God.

Archdeacon J. E. Whittles of Cariboo presented the candidate for ordination to the bishop. There was a moment of tense stillness following the bishop’s words, “if there by any of you who knoweth any impediment…let him come forth.”

But no protest was voiced and the silence gave way to a vigorous chanting of the litany, led by the Rev. Walter Bayley of Quesnel, with whom Ms. Reed will continue to serve as a priest.

The measured pace of the liturgy was maintained by Bishop Snowden as he read the exhortation and addressed the ordinand, who replied clearly to the questions asked of her.

At the invitation of the bishop, the primate and other clergy gathered around the kneeling ordinand and together laid their hands on her in the solemn act of ordination.

The eucharist continued, with Bishop Snowden as celebrant, and the new priest assisted in administering the communion. Others assisting were Dean Patrick Lee of Kamloops, and Rev. Alfred Hosking and Rev. Michael Piddington of Prince George.

At the conclusion of the service, Bishop Snowden moved from his central position at the altar to the chancel steps, kneeling with all those present to receive the first blessing of the new priest.

“It was great to take part in history like this,” stated one layman at the reception following the service. Another added, “It’s long overdue.”

Asked about the general feeling in the parish about the ordination one woman responded, “There may have been some who aren’t happy about it, but I don’t know of any.” She added, “I got a lump in my throat when Pat gave me communion.”

According to Rev. Robert Osborne, of Kamloops, the clergy of Cariboo diocese have affirmed their bishop’s desire to ordain Patricia Reed to the priesthood since he first spoke of it to them.

“An important factor in this is that we had Dulcie Brown (a long time lay worker) in this diocese,” he said. “We came to recognize and value very highly the quiet strength of her ministry here and that opened the way for us to welcome and support Pat.”

Because of the historic nature of the event, tension had been mounting during the last days of November as careful preparations were finalized and the possibility of serious protest was acknowledged.

The following day, when asked to comment, Bishop Snowden replied, “It’s behind us now. All I can say is that it was beautiful.”

“Ms. Reed spoke less of tension than joyful anticipation. “The feeling of everything building up to this has been wonderful,” she said. “In a day or two I’ll realize I’m tired. Right now I still feel excited.”

Patricia Reed received a master’s degree in social work in 1950 and since then has been a social worker in Canada, England, and the United States. Her theological training was undertaken at the Vancouver School of Theology from which she graduated last June with a master of divinity degree. She was ordained a deacon last January. As a theological student she assisted in St. David’s parish, Delta, B.C. in New Westminster diocese under the supervision of Rev. Jack Major. Along with several parishioners, Mr. Major travelled to Prince George for the ordination.

Rev. James Cruickshank, who teaches at the Vancouver School of Theology and is examining chaplain for Cariboo diocese, was also present. Dr. Cruickshank is on leave from Cariboo, as is Rev. Robert MacRae, secretary of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, who took advantage of meetings in that area to take part in the ordination.

Other clergy present included Rev. Allan Dawe and Rev. Dale Cuming of the United Church and Rev. Hans Kowenberg of the Presbyterian Church. The neighbouring diocese of Caledonia was represented by Hartley Dent.

Rite disrupted but not stopped by protester

A protest against the ordination of two Vancouver women as priests here brought a hush to the rites in Christ Church Cathedral.

But the women, and their bishops as well, dismissed the protest as a symbol of individual conscience within the church.

Rev. Elspeth Alley, who was ordained along with Rev. Virginia Briant and Rev. Michael Deck after the objection by Rev. James Penrice of a Vancouver parish, said afterwards she did not feel it marred the occasion.

“If it did anything,” she observed, “it added to it.

“It showed that when the question is asked, people have a place in the church to say they don’t go along with it.”

Ms. Briant said after she knew in advance the objection was to be made: “It wasn’t anything personal,” she declared. “He was objecting on principle.”

Archbishop David Somerville of New Westminster, who had formally asked the congregation number 1,000 if anyone knew of “any impediment or notable crime” among the candidates, told Mr. Penrice “due process has been observed” in the church’s decision to admit women priests.

“I know there are those,” said Archbishop Somerville, “who are wounded and feeling badly about this, and I feel sorry.

“But the conscience clause argues that no member of the Anglican Church of Canada is subject to any penalty for objecting to the ordination of women.”


Mr. Penrice, rector of St. David’s in east Vancouver, said he is claiming his right, as conferred by the General Synod, to refuse to take part in services with ordained women.

He assailed the ordination of women as a “sponge to women’s lib” and disputed General Synod’s authority to authorize them.

“At this time,” he said, reading from notes after approaching the altar during the ceremony, “I take exception to the attempt to ordain Virginia Briant and Elspeth Alley to an office which by nature and theology they cannot possess.

“The people who demand ?ordination now’ can rightly be accused of placing personal opinion above the mind of the historic Catholic Church and of threatening the unity of the church if not of the Anglican Communion.

“Furthermore, they seem not to know that the authorization of female ordination is not within the competency of the General Synod – that is something that must be decided by the whole church…

“In the face of those great parts of Christendom, the Holy Orthodox, the Roman Catholics, the Old Catholics and indeed many Pentecostal churches including those of Canada, we seem bent on pleasing the liberal humanists at any price.

“The present sponge to women’s lib may indeed harm the progress of women to the high position they should hold in the family, in the church, and in the ranks of mankind.”

After his objection the ordination proceeded, and in a spontaneous gesture of support to the women, the congregation stood and welcomed them to the priesthood with applause.

Archbishop Scott, interviewed later in Vancouver while awaiting a flight to New Zealand, said he sees no schism in the church over the ordination of women.

“I don’t see the kind of thing happening to us that happened in the Roman Catholic Church on the birth control issue,” he commented in answer to a newsman.

“We have overwhelming support from both the laity and clergy in the matter. It’s clear that our church is in favour of women priests.”

He said he respected Mr. Penrice’s protest because he was acting from conscience.

But, “deep down,” the archbishop said, he was sorry the priest protested.

He added that the “women’s lib” charge was unfortunate, and he also said he disagreed with the priest’s statement that women “by nature and theology” could not be priests.

“God made man and woman in his own image and, in that sense, is beyond human sexuality,” he said. “So, theologically, there is no reason why women can’t be priests.”

Ms. Alley, 51, who became the church’s first woman deacon in western Canada in 1972, and Ms. Briant, 50, both say the importance of their ordination is not the dropping of a sex barrier but the fulfillment of their work in the church.

Ms. Alley celebrated communion the following Sunday in the Vancouver parish church of St. Faith’s, where she was deacon associate to the rector, Rev. Peter Davison.

Her three daughters, one married and living in Victoria, served the bread and wine.

She said the only thing that marred the ordination for her was that the husband who actively supported her during the long years at Anglican Theological College could not be there. He died two years ago.

For three years Ms. Briant has been active in the cathedral’s healing ministry and has set up a program for shut-ins.

She thinks that being a woman may prove an advantage now.

“As a woman I have the freedom to go into women’s homes where men might not be welcome,” she said.


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