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AUSTRALIA: Sydney Synod votes not to revisit debate on women priests


Archbishop Peter Jensen of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, Australia  

[Anglican Church of Australia]  The Diocese of Sydney's General Synod decided by a clear majority October 24 not to revisit the debate on ordaining women as priests.

In a secret ballot after an hour of speeches, approximately 70 percent of laity (235) and 85 percent of clergy (165) voted "no" to introduce the General Synod canon.

The primary question centered on the decision to revisit the debate, with a secondary question debating the Synod's mind on the issue of women as presbyters (priests).

The 'no' vote increased from the last ballot in 1996 and also from 1992, the first time the Synod held the debate. The debate featured 10 speakers from both genders.

Mover of the motion, the Rev. Chris Albany, rector of South Hurstville, thanked the Synod for the debate, saying members had conducted themselves "as graciously as I'd hoped."

Archdeacon Narelle Jarrett, principal of Mary Andrew's College in Sydney, opposed the introduction of the bill on biblical grounds. She spoke of the past 14 debates on the issue that polarized the diocese and fractured friendships.

Following Archbishop Peter Jensen's election as Bishop of Sydney in 2001 and his announcement that he would not ordain women as presbyters, "trust was regained and we laughed in Synod and most importantly we regained a vision," Jarrett said.

The 120 women working mainly in full-time ministry in Sydney are "probably the best paid women in ministry in the world," Jarrett added, and the current enrolment of women into theological training has never been higher.

The issue of the ordination of women as priests has been debated worldwide for decades and at the Sydney Synod on a regular basis since 1977.

Synod agreed to the ordaining of women as deacons in Sydney in 1987 following legislation by the national church, and the first woman was ordained in 1989.

In moving the bill, Albany said he rejoices at the opportunities for women in Sydney Diocese, but believes that God is calling some women and gifting them for the priesthood who are leaving the diocese for ordination elsewhere.

"It becomes the issue for some people so they walk away from this diocese," Albany said. "We also at times lose people to the church because this becomes an issue that closes them to the gospel."

Albany said the debate needed to be held for three reasons -- firstly because it has been 10 years since it has been raised in Synod, secondly the issue of women as bishops is currently being discussed at the church's court of appeal, the Appellate Tribunal, and thirdly because it was an appropriate forum for dissenting voices to be heard.

Responding to arguments from the Scriptures against women as priests, Albany said some parts of Scripture are not meant to be "universally applied to all situations" but are meant to be read in the cultural context of the time.

Conservative evangelicals who oppose women's ordination draw on the supreme authority of Scripture and the Bible's view of godly male leadership as Christ loved the church. They draw on the Apostle Paul's letters in the New Testament where he outlines a view of family and church life with men at the head.

Those with more liberal views argue that Jesus offers a more inclusive equality for women in leadership roles in the gospels. They say Paul's letters should be read in light of the culture of the time.

In his opening address, Albany said he stands by the "plain reading of Scripture and core theological truth" and says people should be allowed to "agree on the authority of the text but disagree about the meaning of it."

Seconder of the motion, Caroline Bowyer, a parishioner of St. Peter's, Cremorne, said restricting the debate might be regarded as censorship.

Drawing on a theme of "change" from Jensen's Presidential Address, Bowyer said ordaining women as priests could be a "new and exciting" way to enact change for the revitalization of ministry in the diocese.

Others who spoke in favor of debating the canon included Canon James McPherson, rector of St. Mark's, Granville, and the Rev. Jacinth Myles, senior assistant minister of St Andrew's, Abbotsford.