The history of women's ordination in the global church is being addressed at a three-day conference held at the University of Manchester in England July 12-14 under the theme" Women and Ordination in the Christian Churches: International Perspectives."
Setting the scene for the conference, Dr. Ian Jones, research associate at the University's Lincoln Theological Institute, explained that the conference is intended to explore the wider story of the participation of women in the church.
"The last 150 years has seen the remarkable growth of women's place in ordained ministries in the global church, but it has progressed at a different rate depending on which church," he said. "The European reformations saw radical protestant groups calling for the ministry of women ... The Anglican Communion has taken seriously in the second half of the twentieth century the calling of women's ministry."
The conference is particularly timely in light of the July 8 decision by the Church of England's General Synod to affirm the principle of women bishops and a motion passed July 10 that begins the process toward ordaining women to the episcopate.
The conference's keynote opening speaker, Dr. Adair Lummis, is faculty associate in research at the Hartford Institute of Religious Research in Connecticut. Lummis has been involved in several studies on women's ordination and has helped to produce surveys on the status of women within the Episcopal Church.
Lummis noted the long tradition of men in ordained ministry in the Anglican Communion and the selective reference to scripture that has restricted women being elevated to leadership roles within the church, but exclaimed "look we've done it," referring to the election of Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori as the 26th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.
At one time, women weren't allowed to be members of the Episcopal Church's General Convention, or even serve on parish vestries, she said. "Now we have 13 women bishops, lay women have become a more substantial proportion of parish vestries, and two fifths of General Convention are women."
She agreed that further growth toward gender equality in the Episcopal Church is still needed and indicated that ordained women have been paid consistently less than men -- on average $10,000 less per annum -- and have not been able to secure higher positions in the church.
"Women are equally as likely as men to be visited by the Holy Spirit," she said, noting that historically they been more active in issues of social justice.
"There have been concerns that women will be more liberal leaders in ordained ministry," she said, "in supporting inclusive language, gays and lesbians in the church, the ordination of homosexuals and social justice causes.
"Are women clergy more theologically liberal than men in the twentieth century? Yes, they are," she insisted.
A 2002 survey found women to be more liberal in supporting welfare reform, ecological and environment issues, combating homophobia, and overcoming cultural barriers, Lummis revealed.
Other featured speakers at the conference, which meets through July14, are: the Rev. Margaret Rose, director of the Episcopal Church's Office of Women's Ministries, who will offer a paper on women in the Episcopal Church, titled "Thirty Years and Counting"; Dr. Esther Mombo, dean of St. Paul's United Theological College in Limuru, Kenya, who will deliver a lecture on the ordination of women in Africa titled "We see them and hear them ... but has it made a difference"; as well as several ecumenical guests.