SEC celebrates the 25th Anniversary of the Ordination of Women Priests in Scotland.

Home |  News | SEC celebrates the 25th Anniversary of the Ordination of Women Priests in Scotland.

In December 1994, history was made with the first ordination of women priests in the Scottish Episcopal Church. Last year marked 25 years since the event and it was celebrated with a Service at St. Ninian’s Cathedral in the St Andrews Dunkeld & Dunblane diocese, right in the heart of Scotland. The Service was attended by more than 300 people from across Scotland, including some of the first women who were ordained 25 years ago.

We interviewed our member, Elaine Cameron from the Scottish Episcopal Church about the anniversary of the ordination of women into the priesthood and what this meant for the campaign for gender justice and the important role of faith leaders.

How did you celebrate the 25th anniversary of the ordination of women priests in Scotland?

We celebrated when we heard that the College of Bishops wanted a service to celebrate the anniversary! They suggested St. Ninian’s Cathedral and asked Carrie Applegath, an ordained feminist, to lead a planning group. She brought together an amazing quartet: a liturgist to ensure fully inclusive language, a movement artist for imaginative approach to the cathedral’s space, and myself, a former campaigner, who knew many of the first ordained women. It was an unforgettable once-in-a-lifetime event.

We invited all the first ordained women to write briefly about what ordination had meant to them. I was the very privileged editor of this booklet – it was so humbling to read of their struggles – in some case amidst unimaginable tragedy. You can read the booklet, Called by Name HERE.

We also wanted the service to honour the first ordained women who had died, so in the middle of the service, the names of each woman were said aloud, with the epithet ‘priest’ after each, and a white rose then placed on the altar in their memory, either by one of the other first women, or a relative. Another moving moment was when two women read alternate verses of Janet Morley’s Darkness of Waiting, and symbols of ordination were placed on the altar.

Why is this a significant anniversary to mark?

It was marking a critical step to gender equality in our church! Two things, of equal significance, weighed with us. Of the 46 ‘first women’ ordained in December 1994, 15 had died, and then another died a few weeks before the event. Their pioneering spirit needed provincial honouring. There had been no provincial event marking the 20 years – we wanted as many as possible to be present in this provincial event – we couldn’t wait.

Looking forward, now blessed with a good number of young female ordinands in their twenties, we began to realise that they had no sense of the struggle of 30 and more years ago – to them, thank goodness, it is as normal as breathing to have a woman preside at the altar. We wanted them all to meet together, to share stories, discover how much they have in common, how much they don’t. They needed to have some sense of how far the Scottish Episcopal Church has travelled – and sense how far it still has to go!

You invited the women, who were first ordained, to reflect on their stories. Did anything surprise you?

I was surprised by how many of the women had not seen themselves as clergy – they needed someone else to point out and affirm their call. As the first women being ordained, they needed role models, but there were none.

I was also surprised by how much the struggles that had to be overcome were as much internal as they were external. The few, who had felt called to ordination from an early age, held that longing close, known only to their priest for decades. Though a number spoke of conflict and hurt, all found joy and rich blessings in their priesthood, speaking warmly of those who had encouraged and supported them. The support they received was an affirmation that God just wanted them ‘to be themselves’.

I was unexpectedly taken off guard that day when, going into the room where all the ordained women were robing, I was met by a sea of women in white. There was a sudden lump in throat as I realised that this was what I and others had been campaigning for 30 years ago – we had been midwives to this – Oh joy!

How can faith communities further support women leaders, both ordained and lay, in their ministries?

Our Scottish Episcopal Institute tries to ensure that gender is in the curriculum for all ordinands. Everyone needs to understand that gender issues are not women’s issues, but issues for men & women. Faith communities need to acknowledge gender-based violence and admit that it happens in our own congregations.

One way to meet all women’s, but especially lay women’s theological yearnings, is to ensure our liturgies, Bible readings and sermons use inclusive language. Bishops need to end subversive discrimination and shatter the horizontal glass ceiling by opening more senior positions to women.

It might be useful for our SEI to initiate mentoring and leadership programmes tailored to meet particular needs of ordained women. But it is also critical for support to be given to lay women, to encourage them forward.

You are a member of Side by Side Scotland and a longstanding campaigner for gender justice. What do you think are the challenges we continue to face and what gives you hope?

Ordained women face hidden discrimination, for example our College of Bishops has 6 men, one woman, and she has faced hurtful opposition from a number of quarters. Some men & women cite tradition as reason not to change while others are apathetic.

Another is the unwillingness to address gender-based violence in some of our own congregations, instead, seeing it as a far-away problem, but not within our own congregations. This creates a challenge in making churches understand the importance of gender-based equality policies.

However, with challenge comes also hope, firstly hope from God, and our trust in Her. Hope also comes from inspiring women and campaigners everywhere, such as Leymah Gbowee the Liberian peace activist; Pauline Webb, Methodist activist & writer; Beth Adamson’s Working Group on Girls; the Japanese science teacher who chose to remain in Fukushima after the nuclear disaster, imperilling her own life; ‘ordinary’ women who display great courage and women at the core of congregational work and mission. Hope from young men who act with compassion & concern, who criticize the laddish culture, and who deride men who denigrate women.

Click here for the full set of photos from the event.

Posted by: Side by Side | Friday, May 22nd, 2020
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