Women play small, important role for new Anglicans

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BEDFORD, Texas -- Seated on the dais at the inaugural assembly of the Anglican Church in North America, alongside Archbishop-elect Robert Duncan, evangelical mega-pastor Rick Warren and Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America was a woman in a clergy collar.

The Rev. Mary Hays, canon to the ordinary -- chief of staff -- of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican) had one of the most visible roles of an ordained woman in this assembly representing 100,000 people who broke with the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. She moderated a discussion among 900 people and led them in prayer for the Rev. Warren, a Southern Baptist who addressed the gathering.

Once a prominent leader within the conservative movement in the Episcopal Church, she is the sort of woman who might have been called to be a bishop. But her new church, which hopes to join the 80-million member global Anglican Communion, forbids female bishops pending some future consensus by the Anglican Communion to permit them. Each of the 28 dioceses in the Anglican Church in North America can choose whether or not to ordain women as priests and deacons. Most don't do so.

"Leadership is not about ordination. Leadership is about service to Christ and service to others in his name," said the Rev. Hays, who was ordained in 1983.

"Of course there is disappointment that there is less openness to the ordination of women among some. But we are agreed on the essentials of the faith," she said.

They believe that their previous denominations had failed to uphold biblical authority and traditional Christian doctrine on matters from the divinity of Christ to sexual morality. But the leaders of the new body lacked consensus on whether the Bible and church tradition permit women's ordination.

It was Archbishop-elect Duncan, the bishop of Pittsburgh, who pushed them to make a place for ordained women, said the Rev. Karen Stevenson, rector of Trinity parish, Washington, and the only female priest on the influential Provincial Council of the new body. "He said that this was not up for negotiation for us in Pittsburgh, that this was a deal breaker," she said.

Of four dioceses that broke from the Episcopal Church and joined the new church, only Pittsburgh ordains women. The Canadians ordain women, as does the Diocese of the Holy Spirit, made up of U.S. parishes that had been under the oversight of the Anglican Church of Uganda. But they are a minority.

"It's a sadness and a sacrifice but it's not the end of the story," the Rev. Hays said. She noted that it is also a sacrifice for some opponents of women's ordination to sit on a provincial committee of which she is chairman.

"All of us are called to make sacrifices as we seek to fit into the body of Christ," she said.

Ann Rodgers can be reached at arodgers@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1416.


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