Noting that women were not yet fully represented in the ordained ministry of the Episcopal Church, bishop-elect John Coburn of Massachusetts assured an Episcopal women’s gathering last month that the way would become open “in God’s time.”

A few days later, God’s time apparently arrived. The House of Bishops and the 912-member House of Deputies (clery and lay delegates) in close votes approved the ordination of women to the Episcopal priesthood. The action came during the triennial convention of the church in Minneapolis. It was bitterly contested, and it may lead to an in-house schism, the establishment of a church within the church.

Some conservatives were jolted again when both houses voted overwhelmingly to adopt a new modern-language prayer book to replace the 1928 Established Book of Common Prayer. The old book, a guide to worship virtually unchanged from its ancestry dating back to the Elizabethan prayer book of 1549, can be used side by side with the revised one until 1979. A second vote must be taken at the time in order for the new book to become standard.

“If the church can survive this,” said an observer of the Minneapolis convention, “it can survive anything.” He described the proceedings as the Episcopal version of Vatican II.

There were other important actions, but the ordination and prayer-book issues overshadowed everything else, including indications that spiritual renewal is for growing thousands of Episcopalians the really significant story of what is happening in the 2.1-million-communicant church.

The women’s-ordination issue had simmered for a long time. In 1970 women were given the right to seek ordination to the diaconate and were seated as deputies for the first time. Proposals to admit women to the priesthood (and episcopate) failed that year in the House of Deputies and again in 1973. The bishops, however, endorsed the principle of women’s ordination to the priesthood at a 1972 meeting, a stand confirmed several times since then. In the summer of 1974, three retired bishops—acting against the request of Presiding Bishop John Maury Allin—“ordained” eleven of the 120-plus women deacons to the priesthood in a service in Philadelphia. Four more female deacons were similarly “ordained” later in Washington, D.C.

During the uproar that ensued throughout the church, the church’s bishops in a special meeting ruled the ordinations invalid, and they censured the retired bishops. Refusing to back down, some of the women celebrated communion—an act reserved for priests. This touched off clashes between bishops and pastors who permitted the women to officiate at communion in their churches. Two of the pastors were reprimanded in ecclesiastical trials. Two of the fifteen women eventually dropped out of the struggle, but the others insisted their ordinations were valid, and some went on performing priestly functions. One, Betty Schiess of Syracuse, New York, sued Bishop Ned Cole for $30,000 under the 1964 Civil Rights Act for declining to license her as a priest. That case is still pending in the courts.

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As the crucial 1976 convention neared, anti- and pro-ordination forces organized and mounted a propaganda war. On one side was the National Coalition for the Ordination of Women, and on the other side were such groups as the American Church Union (ACU), the Fellowship of Concerned Churchmen (FCC), and the Coalition for the Apostolic Ministry (CAM). The 9,000-member ACU is an organization of conservative Anglo-Catholic or “high-church” clergymen and laypersons. The FCC is an association of fifteen special-interest magazines and organizations. Together they claim the support of more than 400,000 Episcopalians, according to Albert J. duBois, semi-retired former executive secretary of the ACU. The CAM is a three-year-old anti-women’s-ordination organization led by seven bishops.

Bishop Allin, in a peace-making effort, met with representatives of both sides during the past summer. Seeing no other way to avert a showdown, he submitted a proposal that would open the priesthood to women but allow each bishop to follow his conscience and implement or reject it at the diocesan level. The result would have been that women priests were accepted in some dioceses but banned in others.

At Minneapolis there were public hearings on the ordination topic, and both houses debated it for hours. The arguments against women’s ordination centered on the maleness of Christ, the teachings of Paul regarding women, the tradition of the church, and relations with the Catholic and Orthodox churches, which do not ordain women. Pro-ordination advocates countered with other Scripture passages on women and equality of the sexes, and with references to the changing times (“it is an idea whose time is come” was a recurring assertion). It was pointed out that the eight other members of the Consultation on Church Union (COCU) ordain women, and Catholic nuns and sisters were quoted as saying that a pro-ordination vote by the Episcopal Church would help them win a similar struggle in their church.

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Neither side favored Allin’s compromise solution, although the pro-ordination people were willing to live with it. The arrangement would lead to further confusion and division, argued critics. Also voted down was an attempt to make women’s ordination a constitutional rather than a canonical matter. The constitutional route would have required another vote in 1979 before it could become effective. Making it part of the church canons (laws) required only a majority vote at Minneapolis to implement it January 1 (or earlier, if so voted). Postponement of the final decision would “let the guts of this church churn and churn,” declared John Coburn, president of the Deputies since 1967. (An educator and clergyman, the well-known Coburn will be consecrated as bishop of Massachusetts this month.)

The bishops voted 96 to 90 to make the canonical change permitting women to be priests. In the complicated procedure by which the Deputies vote as units in four-member deputations (delegations) according to clergy and lay orders, the results were as follows: clergy, 60 for, 39 against, 15 divided; laity, 64 for, 36 against, 13 divided (divided delegations are counted with the negative side). The vote was preceded by a five-minute period of silent prayer and an eloquent plea by committee chairman David Collins, dean of St. Philip’s Cathedral in Atlanta, that there be “no winners and no losers.” In compliance, after the vote was announced, there were only subdued expressions of joy and sorrow among the gallery of 2,500 visitors.

Immediately after the vote in each house (concurrence of both bishops and deputies is required for most legislation) opponents of women’s ordination dissociated themselves from the action. A statement introduced by Bishop Stanley Atkins of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, announced that dissidents would not “bolt the church” but that they could not “accept with a good conscience” the action. The statement rejected the authority of the convention to act unilaterally apart from a consensus of the world-wide Anglican communion and in the face of disapproval by the Catholic and Orthodox churches. Thirty-eight bishops signed the statement, as did a large number of deputies when it was introduced in their house. A number of bishops said the action now places them in a conflict between obedience to conscience and obedience to the church.

Other reactions were predictable. Women’s groups applauded the vote. Anglo-Catholics and other conservatives expressed anguish. DuBois issued a call for a meeting to be held early in 1977 to discuss what to do next. There were hints at attempting to establish a non-geographical diocese within the church that would operate without recognition of women priests (and with the 1928 prayer book). Meanwhile, say the dissidents, they will boycott any services in which women priests participate, and they will refuse to accept the validity of women’s priesthood.

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A related thorny issue concerned the status of the Philadelphia Eleven and Philadelphia Four. In a stormy session the bishops voted 87 to 45 to adopt a position paper stating it was “the mind of the house” that those women be required to receive “conditional ordination” to erase doubts as to validity.

When the majority then tried to make this a binding mandate, twelve bishops served notice that they would refuse to require the affected women to submit to a public service in which a bishop would say, in effect, “In case you have not already been ordained, I now ordain you.” After hours of debate, the majority agreed to restore an alternative that had been voted out of the position paper. The option will permit a bishop to accept in a “public event” the women’s “irregular” ordinations and not require a second laying on of hands.

Although settled on the surface, the issue of women’s ordination will continue to be a source of divisiveness. Some bishops say privately they will not ordain women in their dioceses, and they apparently have that right of choice. More than 300 women are seminarians currently, and many intend to seek ordination. A number of those who are already deacons were expected to take immediate steps toward ordination. The upshot will be “women dioceses” and “non-women dioceses.”

Another problem will confront many of the women when they seek employment as parish pastors, especially as senior pastors of multi-minister staffs. Officials say few churches are willing to call a woman as pastor. Some observers envision women taking bishops or churches to court at some future date in order to achieve equal employment opportunities. Meanwhile, more than 1,000 male priests can’t get pastoral work.

For a while it appeared that the prayer-book issue would be as controversial as the women’s topic. A number of the same organizations fighting ordination were also opposing the revised prayer book. They were led by the Society for the Preservation of the Book of Common Prayer. Opponents of the revision said its language lacks the majesty of the old English and uses a text that waters down important doctrines, an allegation rejected by proponents by the new book.

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Work on it was begun in 1964, and the convention made only minor changes in the 1,001-page draft. It incorporates large segments of the 1928 book and offers alternatives in some rites. The voting results: clergy deputations, 107 dioceses for, 3 against, and 3 divided; laity, 90 for, 12 against, and 9 divided. The crunch will come in 1979 when it is up for a vote again.

The only snag occurred when the deputies reinserted the so-called Filioque clause in the Nicene Creed. The prayer-book commission had deleted “and the Son” in the section on the Holy Spirit and the Godhead, in accord with Orthodox and new Catholic texts. The bishops deleted it and sent it back to the deputies, who again inserted it. It was allowed to remain.

Almost unheard and unnoticed in all the hubbub was another coalition, Pew-action. For the most part, the alliance of fifteen organizations emphasizing spiritual renewal, especially among the laity, was confined to the exhibit hall. Members of the coalition include: the 4,500-member Brotherhood of St. Andrew, a national men’s witness-resource organization: Faith Alive, a group patterned after the Methodist Lay Witness Movement using Campus Crusade for Christ materials; the Bible Reading Fellowship; the Order of St. Luke the Physician, a group stressing healing; the evangelical Fellowship of Witness, a Pittsburgh-based group sponsoring the Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, an evangelical seminary; and the 24,000-member Episcopal Charismatic Fellowship.

Bob Hawn, 49, executive secretary of the Florida-based Episcopal Charismatic Fellowship estimates that 25 per cent of the active Episcopal clergy are now identified with the charismatic movement, up from 10 per cent just three years ago. Bishop William C. Frey of Colorado, a charismatic, is not sure about these figures, but he says a “growing hunger for a deeper encounter with God” is evident throughout the church. “A revolution is going on,” he asserts, and many people are engaged in in-depth Bible study.

Elmore Hudgens, 59, executive secretary of the St. Andrew brotherhood concurs. A number of renewal groups are experiencing rapid growth in membership, he says, and many Episcopalians are getting involved in personal evangelism. “There’s a big job to do, and we shouldn’t be around here worrying about these little issues,” he declared. He and others are afraid the warfare over ordination and the prayer book will disrupt what the Holy Spirit has in mind for the church.

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Evangelical America

Nearly 50 million Americans age 18 and over—34 per cent of the nation’s adults—say they have been born again, according to the latest Gallup Poll. Pollster George Gallup, an Episcopalian who told CHRISTIANITY TODAY that he is one of those who have been born again, defined the experience as a turning point in life when one commits himself or herself to Christ. The poll’s conclusions are based on a sample of 1,500 persons. One-half of the Protestants said they were born again; 18 per cent of the Catholics sampled claimed the experience.

Among the earmarks of a born-again Christian, says Gallup, is belief in a literal interpretation of the Bible and an urgent sense of duty to spread the faith to others. The view that the Bible is the Word of God and is to be taken literally is held by 38 per cent (46 per cent of the Protestants, including 60 per cent of the Baptists but only 10 percent of the Episcopalians, and 31 per cent of the Catholics), and 47 per cent said they tried to encourage someone to believe in Jesus Christ or to accept him as Saviour, according to Gallup.

Thirty per cent of those in the 18-to-29 age group consider themselves “very religious,” and many others the same age believe they will become very religious later in life.

The findings, says Gallup, a member of Trinity Episcopal Church in Princeton, New Jersey, constitute a warning to mainline churches, which are losing members in the face of rapidly growing evangelical faiths. “What do members of mainline churches have to hide?” declared the pollster at the triennial Episcopal convention in Minneapolis last month. “Isn’t it time for us to bring our religious feelings out of the closet?”


What Preachers Think … and Do

What’s the minister’s chief beef? For 70 per cent of those responding in an unprecedented poll of North American clergymen, it is the lack of pastoral care by their denominations.

Of the 2,490 preachers polled by the National Council of Churches, only 28 per cent thought the pastoral care they were getting was effective. Taking part in the survey, described by the NCC as the first such ecumenical effort, were clergymen in the Reformed Church in America, the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church, the United Presbyterian Church, and the United Church of Canada.

Another complaint was that they had to spend too much time in administrative work and did not have enough time for visiting church members. Most reported that they spent the largest block of their time on sermon preparation.

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The poll, taken in December 1975 and January 1976 but released at the end of the summer, found considerable tension between the theory and practice of many ministers. In the area of evangelism, for instance, 83 per cent said seminary training for evangelism was important. It ranked ahead of theological studies (61 per cent) and counseling courses (52 per cent) and only slightly behind biblical studies (87 per cent). Greater effort in the field of evangelism at the national church level was called for by the ministers, but when asked how much time they spent on evangelism, 40 per cent responded that they spent no time on it.

Voted the church’s most important task by the clergymen was “helping members to be Christians in all aspects of their lives.” Nurturing the young got second place in the list of tasks.

Speaking out on social issues as a task of the church got relatively low marks, and 68 per cent replied that they spent no time working for social justice. Of the United States ministers polled, 57 per cent registered agreement with the National Council of Churches. However, 66 per cent considered the NCC, the World Council of Churches, and the Consultation on Church Union “valid expressions of ministry.”

Faulting Figures

Students of statistics could easily get the impression that the United States is about to dry up, but that is definitely not the case. So says the legislative director of the nation Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), Mrs. John E. Dillard. The statisticians are responsible for government figures that indicate a drop in consumption of alcohol, she claimed at the WCTU’s annual convention in Richmond, Virginia.

Mrs. Dillard accused the federal agencies of either being “grossly negligent” in their record-keeping or else responsive to pressures from special interest groups. The Bureau of Economic Analysis of the Commerce Department was singled out as the chief culprit by the WCTU leader; she said it revised its 1974 figure on expenditures for alcoholic beverages from the $29.3 billion published earlier to $22.9 billion. The revised figures, for the years 1969–74, were issued because of a “demand for re-evaluation” from unidentified sources, she reported. She added. “It is strange that ‘on demand’ the bureau’s statistics should take such a great drop.”

She also suggested that there has been tampering with the figures in the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. That agency reported a total consumption of 402 million gallons of distilled spirits in 1973 and then a drop to 292 million gallons in 1974.

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As for the WCTU’s own statistics, leaders told reporters it was holding its own. It gains as many members as it loses, with about 250,000 on the rolls. Some 700 of them participated in the 102nd convention.

Tribal Togetherness

For years the Tutsi and Hutu tribes of Burundi and Rwanda have carried grudges against each other that sometimes erupted in bloody civil war marked by atrocities and massacres. Recently, members of both tribes knelt together in prayer and reconciliation. The occasion was a conference for pastors and their wives at the Anglican cathedral in the university town of Butare, Rwanda. They represented five Protestant denominations in Rwanda and Burundi. The principal speakers were Anglican bishop Festo Kivengere and canon Abraham Zari of Uganda. The Holy Spirit melted many, and deep repentance and reconciliation took place, reports Kivengere. “The whole group began to praise the Ford together … both Tutsi and Hutu,” he said.

Stolen Songs

F.E.L. Publications, a music publisher, sued the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago and five representative Chicago-area parishes for $180,000 in a copyright-infringement suit. F.E.L. owner Dennis Fitzpatrick charged that Catholic churches in the Chicago area and across the country print F.E.L.-copyrighted songs in their songbooks without paying the company $100 a year per church for permission to copy them. He alleges that in the past ten years his company has lost nearly $30 million through the use of pirated material by about 10,000 U.S. churches.

Pushing Outward

Four hundred congregations strong, the Presbyterian Church in America decided at its fourth General Assembly to push for further expansion into areas it is not now serving. All four of its agencies were voted healthy budget increases for 1977, but the majority of the increase was put into the hands of Mission of the U. S., the unit charged with homeland ministries.

The overall budget figure adopted for the 1977 work of the agencies is $3.43 million, up some $840,000 from the 1976 allocations. One-half of the total is earmarked for overseas work.

The young denomination’s governing body took a cautious line on educational expansion. It turned down an opportunity to bid on an available college property.

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The 595 commissioners (delegates), meeting in Greenville, South Carolina, cast an eye northward more than once. They accepted a Christian Reformed Church invitation to meet in 1978 in Michigan. Next year’s assembly is scheduled for suburban Atlanta, Georgia. While many of the churches were formerly affiliated with the Presbyterian Church U. S. (Southern), the new denomination’s congregations and missions now stretch from California to New Jersey. The overseas interest of the young denomination was underlined in the election of William A. Mcllwaine, retired missionary to Japan, as its moderator.

Facing The Nation

Whose faces would be chiseled in the face of South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore if America wanted its spiritual leaders there instead of politicians?

Editors of seven church publications decided on four as the basis of a September article they all ran. They specified that the winners were chosen “not as great Americans, but as great Christians whose dedication to the love and justice of God shows that what it takes to make America great is Americans willing to serve others.”

The winners: Jonathan Edwards, eighteenth-century evangelist; James Gibbons, nineteenth-century Roman Catholic cardinal; Reinhold Niebuhr, theologian at New York’s Union Seminary; and Martin Luther King, Jr., civil-rights figure. They were chosen from among sixty-four nominees.

Participating were editors of the Lutheran (Lutheran Church in America), A. D. (United Presbyterian Church and United Church of Christ), the Disciple (Disciples of Christ), the Episcopalian, Presbyterian Survey (Presbyterian Church in the U.S.), Church Herald (Reformed Church in America), and U.S. Catholic (Claretian Fathers).

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