Women’s ordination pioneer honoured

Published June 22, 2011

The Rev. Canon Dr. Lettie James, the Rev. Prof. Patricia Kirkpatrick and the Rev. Rhonda Waters preside at a Eucharist at Montreal’s Christ Church Cathedral in celebration of the ordination of Canon James to the priesthood more than three decades ago. Photo: Emily Ding

One of the pioneers of women’s ordination in the Anglican Church of Canada was thrice-honoured on June 11 with a Eucharist, a panel discussion and the establishment of an eponymous theology prize.

Despite competition from the 2011 Grand Prix, 175 people gathered in Montreal’s Christ Church Cathedral to salute the Rev. Canon Dr. Lettie James’s more than three decades as an Anglican priest. “The Eucharist was outstanding. The liturgy was so sensitive and yet so joyful. And the music was wonderful,” says Canon James, who is now in her 8os.

Canon James began professional life as a clinical psychologist, which may have stood her in good stead in the grudging early days when she was the first woman in her diocese to be ordained. That was in November 1978, more than two years after she became a deacon in June 1976. “Looking back on my very positive and rewarding experience as a priest, I am pleased for the women being ordained now,” says Canon James. Hopefully, today’s women priests face fewer obstacles.

At the time of her ordination, she was mother to two teenagers and found the Christmas and Easter holidays especially difficult. “One Christmas I had two points in my parish and I did 17 services between Wednesday and Monday. And I still had to find time to cook the holiday meals,” she recalls.

Preaching at the service was Bishop John Baycroft (retired) of Ottawa, a strong advocate for the ordination of women and one of James’s early supporters. He was always available to offer advice. “Although he was in Ottawa, he became ‘my’ bishop,” says James.

The Montreal event included an afternoon panel discussion with three women priests, each representing one of the three decades of women’s ordination. “There were historical and current reflections and discussions of the future hopes and dreams for women’s ministry,” says the Rev. Pamela Yarrow, one of the event’s organizers who is involved in interim ministry in Montreal. The other principal organizer was the Rev. Prof. Patricia Kirkpatrick of McGill University’s Faculty of Religious Studies.

The Rev. Canon Dr. Lettie James Prize in Pastoral and/or feminist Theology will be awarded annually to a student at Diocesan Theological College, Montreal’s Anglican seminary. This November, the Anglican Church of Canada will celebrate 35 years of the ordination of women to the priesthood.


  • Diana Swift

    Diana Swift is an award-winning writer and editor with 30 years’ experience in newspaper and magazine editing and production. In January 2011, she joined the Anglican Journal as a contributing editor.

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