(Photo: REUTERS/Dan Kitwood/POOL)
Rowan Williams, the head of the Anglican Communion, is making one final push for the ordination of women bishops before he officially retires from his position as the Archbishop of Canterbury in December.
"No-one is likely to underrate the significance of November's debate on women bishops in General Synod," Williams wrote in an article for the Church Times published on Friday. "It will shape the character of the Church of England for generations – and I'm not talking only about the decision we shall take, but about the way in which we discuss it and deal with the outcome of it."
Although women can serve as deacons and priests in Anglican churches, they are still fighting for ordination into the highest echelons of the clergy. Many from the more liberal side of the Communion have insisted that the law should change to allow women to be ordained as bishops, but conservatives maintain that Christ's disciples were all men, which is an example they should follow.
Williams, who for the last decade has been trying to rally the undecided vote in favor of women bishops, explained in his written piece that for Anglicans, the one and only true priesthood is Jesus Christ.
"To recall the Church to its true character in this connection, God calls individuals to gather the community, animate its worship and preside at its sacramental acts, where we learn afresh who we are," he wrote. "The priestly calling of all who are in Christ is thus focused in particular lives lived in service to the community and its well-being, integrity and holiness – lives that express in visible and symbolic terms the calling of a 'priestly people.'"
As for accusations that he is giving into liberal ideals, like feminism, Williams explained that he is working within the understandings of the early Christian Church – and while feminists might have pushed for the ordination of women bishops, they were not the driving factor in the debate.
In his piece, the Archbishop of Canterbury recalls that the earliest Christian generations reserved the Latin and Greek words for "priest" to refer to bishops, because "they saw bishops as the human source and focus for this ministry of reminding the Church of what it is. The idea that there is a class of presbyters (or indeed deacons) who cannot be bishops is an odd one in this context, and one that is hard to rationalize exclusively on biblical or patristic grounds."
He continues: "If that is correct, a Church that ordains women as priests but not as bishops is stuck with a real anomaly, one which introduces an unclarity into what we are saying about baptism and about the absorption of the Church in the priestly self-giving of Jesus Christ. Wanting to move beyond this anomaly is not a sign of giving in to secular egalitarianism – though we must be honest and admit that without secular feminism we might never have seen the urgency of this or the inconsistency of our previous position."
The Anglican assembly next month that will vote on the bill will do so with the knowledge that another such major decision on the issue won't be made until another decade or so – meaning that if the bid to ordain women as bishops is stricken down, they will have to wait a good number of years before they get another chance to change the legislation.
Williams noted that those who are firmly against such a change will continue with the their convictions regardless of the arguments put forth – but said that those who want to see the Church members vote "yes" to ordaining women as bishops can still be hopeful of success.