We will pour our ointment on the feet of the church
The Ecumenical Movement and the Ordination of Women
Dr. Aruna Gnanadason
Women's Ordination Worldwide
First International Conference
Note: Because of pressure from the Vatican, Aruna Gnanadson of the World Council of Churches was forced to withdraw from the conference. She was replaced by the Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin. Though Gnanadason did not present, the text of her 'would have been address' is here.
In this paper I focus on the ecumenical discussion on this issue, from the perspective of women of World Council of Churches' membership who have been wrestling with the issue in their own churches. As I read books, articles and personal testimonies to prepare for this paper, I was amazed how many times women spoke of their pain but also of their joy as they encouraged their churches to recognise the spiritual and pastoral gifts they have to offer.
But first an anecdote. I.R.H. Gnanadason my father-in-law was a Bishop of the Church of South India and Moderator of the Church, when he died in 1973. He has been widely acknowledged as one of the greatest Bishops the Church has had in its almost 55 year history as a United Church. He died before my son was born but it was his memory that my son honoured when he was just 5 years old as I was trying to get him ready for school. He said, "I don't need to go to school, or to study because when I grow up I am going to become a Bishop like thatha (grandfather), and for this school is not necessary. To be a Bishop, all I need to know is about God. And I already know about God."
The more I thought about what he said, the more it made sense. Ordained ministry is about a calling, it is about the courage to "give oneself to the Church in utter devotion" - it is indeed about "knowing" God. Therefore it follows that anyone - woman or man - who feels calls to this ministry and comes to that conviction with humility and utter devotion to God, to the vocation of priesthood and to the community, deserves to have that call tested and be ordained as a priest of the church. Such a call needs to be tested against the communities needs, it is not simply an individual's personal desire - it requires the embracing support of a community, which discerns the Spirit leading them.
Making a difference
My church has ordained women as priests for the past 25 years, and one of the "stories" of ordained women is that of Nirmala Vasanthakumar, one of the first two women ordained by the Church of South India. She along with her husband shared ministry in a congregation. She speaks of an incident when a woman who brought her child for baptism asked that she be baptised by Nirmala rather than her husband, because as a woman she would understand better what it means to birth and nurture a child.
A year after the first women were ordained by the Church of England in 1994, a magazine commented: "Approximately a year ago, 38 women were ordained in the Church of England. In 1995, the total is more than 1400, constituting one-tenth of clergy in that church. The Anglicans have observed an increase in religious practice in parishes where a woman priest officiates ... the number of parishioners increased by between 10 to 30 percent following the calling of a woman to serve as parish priest."
In other words, women priests can make a difference. It is true that for some churches the problem is theological - but other churches are re-examining the heart of their faith and have founf theological and spiritual resources and insights, which have led them to ordain women. At the same time, I would state clearly, right away, that in this process we as women need to contribute to a redefining, refining and reconstructing of what priesthood is all about. We need to constantly challenge those who would still hold on to an understanding of the clergy "as an authoritarian sacerdotal caste with only formal ties to a community."
We live in a world of exclusion and violence; a world with untold forms of discrimination that threaten the integrity of communities; a world that constantly poses difficult moral and ethical choices to men and women; a world where secular forces are strong and spirituality is undermined; a world where religious fundamentalism runs rife and religion is used to legitimise communal identities leading to conflicts. Additionally, in the life of the church itself, increasingly there is evidence of gender based discrimination and even of sexual abuse of women in pastoral contexts and more recently of the new steps the church has been called to take in the face of increasing evidence of paedophilia. In such a context, what should ordained ministry be about? The Church is called to respond with compassion and pastoral fortitude. At the heart of the commitment to the ordination of women and men must be the concern for the community in which the church is present to serve. Therefore, women in ordained ministry must be viewed within the framework of, "partnership or community rather than in isolation, because of the desperate needs of the people and the earth. Everywhere one turns there is reconciliation to be made, bodily and emotional wounds to be healed, relationships to be righted, wrongs to be amended and simple acknowledgements to be made." Ordained ministry of women can be a "way to subvert the church into being the church", as Letty Russell describes it. She says this in the context of her own experience as an ordained woman for 35 years as the minister of a poor community church in East Harlem.
And as we discuss this issue, we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, women saints ancient and new who have been recognised by the church for the spiritual gifts they offer to the church - a "priesthood" of love, care and compassion that they have through the centuries offered to the church and human communities they served. They stand as our spiritual guides as we discuss this question. While the tradition of sainthood has been on the edges of the Protestant traditions and has accompanied us in our liturgical life, it is the Orthodox Tradition that has offered this gift to the ecumenical movement. As we know, among the saints are a number of women saints, often, ordinary women who worked uncompromisingly and sacrificially for Christ and their communities. Ion Bria, Romanian Orthodox theologian describes the ministry of the saints to the Church in this way: "The faithful are called saints because of their participation in the holiness of God, who is holy by nature (Isa. 6:3), in Christ (Phil.4:21). They are "God's chosen ones, holy (or saints)" (Col. 3:12). One aspect of the mystery of the church is this new consecration in Christ of a "kingdom of priests", "consecrated nation", "royal priesthood" (Ex. 19: 6; Isa. 43: 20-21; I Pet. 2: 9) which is not exclusive or restricted. This among other things is the tradition that has inspired women in the Orthodox Church to begin discussions on the ordination of women to the priesthood in their churches, which I refer to later in this paper.
On April 1 this year, I was privileged to witness the consecration of the third woman Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Germany, Bishop Barbel Wartenberg Potter who had designed most of the liturgy for the ceremony herself. The most moving part of the afternoon was the time for the laying on of hands. Among those who laid their hands on her to bless her, Bishop Maria Jepsen and Bishop Margot Kaessmann, the other two women bishops in Germany, along with male bishops from German churches and bishops from Africa, Papua New Guinea, Latvia, India and the United Kingdom. But there was also Marie Dilger a housewife and friend of Bishop Wartenberg Potter. All of them invoked the Holy Spirit to lead her on in her ministry. The new Bishop was not only received into the Lutheran Church of Holstein-Lübeck, but she was received into the community of the church, a global community, a community that goes beyond ecclesial boundaries. She starts her ministry with manifold blessings - the blessings of God, the blessings of the community and the blessings of women. The words and a garland of flowers offered by the women of the Diocese symbolised this last. This ceremony came after her formal election and approval of her election by the women and men of that diocese. Her community or "her congregation" were in prayer with her, as she acknowledged her servant-hood to them.
Call | Vocation
Most women who are ordained and those who are in dialogue with their churches on the issue of the ordination of women would speak of how they have been called to this vocation. Some women are concerned that the church abuses the concept of the call as a way of "keeping women in their place" - ecclesial authorities tell women that they are called to diaconal or other ministries and not to priesthood. Nancy Duff writes that, "The doctrine of vocation affirms that every individual life with its unique combination of gifts and limitations has divinely appointed purpose and that we are called to glorify God in all we do." She continues later in the same text, "Although the doctrine of vocation can be misused to counsel tolerance for oppressive situations, if rightly interpreted it challenges oppressive conditions." With women there is a difference in their understanding of the calling. In India for instance, many women enter theological schools, as a first choice, fully aware that they have no guarantee of ordination, or even of a job, and even if their churches will ordain them, they have no assurance that local congregations will accept them as priests. They enter anyway, with the conviction that it is their vocation, a call they cannot ignore.
In a collection of personal testimonies, on Women in the Ministry, every woman who has contributed refers to her ordination as a response to her vocation. Some of these voices: Alison Fuller of the Scottish Episcopal Church speaks of the denial of her vocation by the Church as the denial of women's humanity before God; Elizabeth Wardlaw of the Church of Scotland compares her vocation, her calling to that of Paul on the road to Damascus; Margaret Forrester ordained by the United Reformed Church speaks of being aware "of an overpowering sense of vocation which every church in which I worshipped had refused to recognise. The frustration and pain of this were hard to bear." Jean Mayland of the Church of England writes: "I had come to believe that I had a vocation to the priesthood when I was in my teens, but of course I was told this was completely impossible. I was brought up in a high Anglo Catholic church where my faith was nurtured and my vocation spurned".
Taking the risk responding to the call
"The Church will never believe that women have a religious message until some of them get and take the opportunity to prove they have." - Maude Royden
Let us follow just one of the women quoted earlier. Jean Mayland, one of the first women ordained by the Church of England, shares her struggles and joys in the process leading to her ordination and what followed. In 1907, the Anglican Church ordained the first woman, Li Tim Oi a Chinese woman, in Xingxing, in China. From there it has slowly but surely spread - to Hong Kong, USA, Canada, New Zealand, Latin America, Kenya and other African countries, the united Church of South India and Ireland. In 1862, the Order of the Deaconesses was revived in the Anglican Church and Elizabeth Ferrar was ordained as the first deaconess.
Jean Mayland describes how she pursued her vocation: "During my theology year I went for a selection conference and was accepted to train as a 'Lady Worker' in the Church of England. On reflection I felt I could not face all the limitations and frustrations that would be involved in that work. I felt called to priesthood and not to 'lady worker ship'. I do so admire those women who moved in and worked as 'lady/women workers', and later as deaconesses. With courage and patience they pushed back the boundaries. I could not have done it. I would either have exploded or have been destroyed and embittered by frustration."
And so she got into the fray and with other women accompanied her church on the way to the final decision to ordain women. She speaks of how she, "along with my sister priests, have had to campaign and also fight with our church long and hard. Yet I love the Church of England with every fibre of my being... ". In 1992, she was one of the few privileged women, (having won in the ballot for tickets) to be able to sit in the gallery of the Church House and witness the debate and final approval of ordination of women to priesthood. She reminiscences, "I managed to overcome my urge to burst into tears, and expressed my joy and delight that after all these years this had happened.... The words that came to my mind were those of Siegfried Sassoon's poem about Armistice Day, which concludes 'and the singing will never be done.'"
But, there was not much space for singing after that - things did not go with the smoothness women hoped for. The press, who wanted to sensationalise the news about the ordination, especially because there was enough awareness of the opposition to it, constantly misquoted her. Some of the Bishops and senior staff seemed to be more concerned about keeping in the church those who opposed the ordination, than to celebrate with the women their success. Even deans and canons showed their hostility. Family obligations did not make life easier. She was not able to take up frill time ministry. While the earlier quotation from a magazine indicates that the ordained women in the Anglican Church of England did bring change in some congregations, it is also true that a few years after the decision to ordain women, many did not get parish ministries, they had to go into specialised areas of work of the church or accept Assistant posts.
But Jean Mayland was one of the 38 women to be ordained in that first batch. She writes: "I am eternally grateful to God, with whom I often wrestle, that along the mysterious path of life where the going is often so dark, She has brought me on occasions to sit in places of stimulation, or of tranquillity and joy" She speaks of the deep emotions she experienced the first time she celebrated the Eucharist, "When I began the Eucharistic Prayer I felt I would not be able to get through it without collapsing into tears.... Never will leading the people in making Eucharist lose its humbling thrill, but never again will it be such an awe-inspiring privilege as that first time."
I have traced the struggles and joys of one woman in one member church of the WCC who has gone through such a history because it these women we have at the centre of our thoughts, when we speak of the ordination of women. One meets women like Jean Mayland in every part of the world - women who so love the church that they are willing to put their lives and those of their families on the line, for the sake of what they believe in intensely. Women who follow for whom ordination is now a given, will never be able to fathom what price their "fore-sisters and mothers" have paid. The Team Visits to the member churches of the World Council of Churches at the mid-point of the Ecumenical Decade of the Churches in Solidarity with Women, met with women in many churches where this is an issue. The report of the team visits, the Living Letters records that: "There are churches in all regions which forbid the ordination of women, even where they can cite no doctrinal or theological reasons why this should be so. While some churches recognise women's gifts, many are quite slow and even resistant to recognise and support women in ministry. Even where women have - after much struggle - been trained and ordained, fair pay, stable placements and moral support as they exercise their ministry are not guaranteed to them. After graduation many women ministers must wait a long time to receive a posting. They may be forced to chose between vocation and family."
The challenge to the ecumenical movement
The women I speak of here are all from the World Council of Churches' membership churches and from the constituency the World Council of Churches (WCC) serves. At the Decade Festival (Harare, Zimbabwe, November 1998) that brought to conclusion the Decade a letter was addressed to WCC Assembly. In what I consider, was a regrettable mistake the issue of the ordination of women is referred to as "an ethical and theological problem" for the church. The drafters of the text left it this way to respect women from churches where ordination of women is not yet an issue. Strong, requests from ordained women present that this formulation be changed, and a new paragraph be drafted devoted to just the question of ordination, to highlight both their joys and difficulties, was ignored. The process did not allow for their voices to be heard and this left many women who had been involved in long years of struggle for ordination to the priesthood, disillusioned and unsatisfied. This has convinced the WCC of the need for further discussion on the ordination of women was evident and discussions have begun within the Faith and Order Commission (of which the Roman Catholic Church is an official member) to re-engage the member churches on this issue.
The question of ordination of women and the unity of the Church
"Openness to each other holds the possibility that the Spirit may well speak to one church through the insights of another"
(Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry text)
That the issue of the ordination of women has been one of the most divisive of issues for the churches has to be acknowledged. Mary Tanner, former Moderator of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches, describes the dilemma clearly when she writes that among the churches that grew out of the Reformation, the movement to ordain women to full ministry of word and sacrament, "coincided with the movement towards the visible unity of the church. The one has had an effect on the other. This result is not surprising, for the visible unity of the church involves the recognition not only of all its baptized members as members of a single community of faith but also of those who are called to be ministers of one communion." She quotes Anglican Archbishop William Temple who expressed the view, as early as 1916, which she says has been shared by many other committed ecumenists, "I would like to see women ordained.... desirable as it would be in itself, the effect might be (probably would be) to put back the re-union of Christendom - and reunion is more important."
While the question of the ordination of women is certainly not easy given the diversity of positions among the various church traditions that are part of the ecumenical movement, whether the question of the ordination of women can be held responsible for the slow and arduous process to visible unity is a matter of debate. But there are several instances where the issue did affect unity discussions: the Anglicans did not join in the United Church of Canada in 1956 because that church ordained women. In the Anglican-Methodist unity scheme in England in the 1960's the Methodists delayed the ordination of women till it was obvious that the unity scheme had failed. Even in the covenanting process that followed involving the United Reformed Church, the Methodists, the Moravian and the Anglican churches, the ordination of women once again was an issue. The Church of England included a separate motion referring to the recognition of women ministers of other churches - this was defeated in the House of Clergy. At the Consultation of united and uniting churches in 1987, the situation was summed up this way: "For some churches the ordination of women adds to the hindrances to unity; but the united churches are clear that further union for them is being made a more open possibility by the willingness of those to share the ordination of women which they have found to be a creative element in their common life."
According to Mary Tanner: "The contribution of the WCC has been to help the churches to set the discussion within the context of an emerging convergence on the understanding of ministry and priesthood and, perhaps even more important, within the concept of the unity we seek. The studies on the unity of the church and the renewal of human community have enlarged and enriched the perspective of this unity. Some have come to maintain that the churches' ministry must include women in order to show to the world the depths of unity in human community and make the gospel and the vision of the kingdom credible in a broken and divided world. The unity of the church ought not to be set over against the unity of the human community."
Melanie May had posed a similar question when she asked, "At the end, each and everyone of us will need to search our hearts before God to discern whether we believe with Archbishop William Temple that visible church unity is "more important" than the ordination of women or whether visible church unity is at all achievable unless all baptized members - men and women alike in God's image - can fulfil the ministry to which God has called them in Christ."
Preceding the formation of the World Council of Churches, at the very first World Conference on Faith and Order in 1927 in Lausanne, of the 400 church delegates only 7 were women and yet they issued a prophetic motion which was accepted by that body. It is recorded in the Minutes: "the right place of women in the Church is one of grave moment and should be in the hearts and minds of all." Commenting on this Lukas Vischer writes, "They pointed out that if the Church seeks deeper unity it must re-examine the question of the relationship between women and men, and that the mission task makes it imperative to put to better use all the gifts available in the Church. They deliberately refrained from raising the problem of church order in this connection. But already at that time it was clear that it would not be possible to avoid facing the question later."
The Third Assembly of the WCC in New Delhi, in 1961, called on the Working Committee on Faith and Order "to establish a study on the theological, biblical and ecclesiological issues involved in the ordination of women". It was also stressed that the study be undertaken in close conjunction with the Department on Cooperation of Men and Women in Church, Family and Society. The Working Committee of the Faith and Order approved the proposal and decided to place the question of ordination of women on the agenda of the Fourth World Conference on Faith and Order to be held in Montreal, Canada in July 1963.
"This decision was felt as necessary because the problem is of practical concern to an increasing number of churches. Many churches welcome women to the ordained ministry and have found the policy advantageous. Others, having adopted this policy, face serious tensions. In others, the policy is under discussion and provokes heated debate. The matter frequently becomes acute in negotiations for church unity. And even apart from formal negotiations, it affects the mutual relations of churches that ordain women to those that do not. It would be wrong, therefore, to view this issue as a result of feminist demands or agitation by a few enthusiasts. It concerns the total understanding of the ministry of the church and therefore has deep theological significance."
This position spoken of nearly 40 years ago remains true till today, though in this period many churches have decided to and have ordained women to priesthood. It continues to be regrettable that some churches even today, view this deep longing of women to respond to their vocation as a campaign of a few feminists making unreasonable demands! Two other important contributions to the discussion
Two other important contributions to the discussion
In the work of the Faith and Order Commission, there were two other important study processes that have contributed to the ongoing discussions on the ordination of women. The first is the Community of Women and Men Study process that had been initiated during the V Assembly of the WCC in Nairobi in 1975 and which culminated in 1981 at an international consultation in Sheffield. This process was based on a recognition that "the unity of the church requires that women be free to live out the gifts that God has given them and to respond to their calling to share fully in the life and witness of the church." The process was to be an ecclesiological study, focused on the recognition that 'women's issues' are issues concerning the wholeness of the whole church, a study of church unity with particular regards to the experience of women. As a result, "Significant ecclesiological challenges emerging from the study included questions about the structures of the church, about how power and authority were exercised and by whom. The question of power and exclusive leadership inevitably brought up the controversial questions of the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate. Although there was no agreement on the answers to these questions, at Sheffield they were clearly, and often painfully, articulated."
At Sheffield the discussion recognised "the complexity and diversity of the existing situations both within and between the different churches. The state of the discussion is also at different stages in different cultures. Amongst the churches there is a plurality of practice embracing those who do ordain women, those who do not, and those who are hesitant for ecumenical reasons" The report goes on to say that as knowledge of theology and sociology develop, "we are offered a chance to deepen our understanding and practice of ministry and our relations with one another... The issues involved in this matter touch us at our deepest level, embedded as they are in liturgy, symbolism and spirituality. There can be no real progress if church, state or any group within the church seeks to force a change in practice without taking this into account." Sheffield also pointed to the fact that the problems of the ministry are related "to the social and cultural context where the identity of the church and individual Christians is being constantly challenged."
It is important to comment here that at that time it was assumed that the ordination of women was an issue of concern only for women from western protestant churches. But women from all parts of the world have described their own struggles with their churches. They have challenged their churches for reverting to cultural contexts in their societies as the base for excluding women. Musimbi Kanyoro gathers together some of these voices from Asia, Africa and Latin America in the book entitled In Search of a Round Table. She writes about African women: "....the powers of healing, preaching and spiritual direction, typically understood by the Christian Church to be priestly duties, are powers traditionally exercised by women and men in African societies. If there is to be any general picture of African women in ordained ministries, an inclusive study of the religious roles played by women in different types of societies in Africa is imperative." Datuk Thu En-Yu from Malaysia makes a similar claim about women's roles in societies, which follow the path of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.
Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry Document ... another opportunity?
The second important stream in the WCC was the study, which culminated in Lima, Peru in January 1982, where the Faith and Order Commission gave final form to a convergence text entitled Baptism. Eucharist and Ministry (BEM) for discussion in the churches. It marked points of "theological convergence among the churches on issues which traditionally caused division among the churches." It was at this same meeting that the final report of the Community Study was also received. However, the BEM document does not treat the ordination of women to priesthood in the main part of the ministry text but considers the issue in a commentary that gives a short description of the positions of churches that ordain women and those that do not.
Janet Crawford feels that the BEM text was not entirely uninfluenced by the Community Study. She writes: "In both the baptism and eucharist sections of the text there are 'theological insights about unity, equality and the imaging of Christ in us all' which, at least implicitly, makes connections to the community study and which may signal to women that they are 'partners in the search for the visible unity of the church.' "It is in the section on ministry that the lack of connection between BEM and the Community Study becomes most obvious. The whole controversial issue of the ordination of women is dealt with in two carefully formulated and balanced paragraphs which conclude that: 'An increasing number of churches have decided that there is no biblical or theological reason against ordaining women, and many of them have subsequently proceeded to do so. Yet many churches hold that the tradition of the church in this regard must not be changed.' (BEM, "Ministry" para 18)"
Commenting on the BEM text, Crawford quotes Cardman: ". . . in the much-praised Lima text itself, little attention has been paid to what was described as 'the most obvious point of present and potential disagreement, namely, the ordination of women'. (Cardman, BEM and the Community of Women and Men Study, Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 21 Winter 1988). Rather, on this point it seemed that Faith and Order had retreated from its bolder statements. The result satisfied neither opponents nor proponents of women's ordination, and did little to advance dialogue between the two. BEM gave no lead to the vital and church-dividing question of women's ordination."
Respecting diversity.... the key to mutuality and ecumenical discipline
Women too come into this discussion from different understandings and from varying positions. This diversity has to be respected, because clearly the ecumenical movement among women does not intend to call for any one uniform pattern of ordained ministry. Even in those churches where it is still not openly discussed women are beginning to discuss the issue. While there are many examples of World council of Churches member churches I can reflect on, I refer here to the contributions of Orthodox Christian women to the discussion. Three important books that have been offered by Orthodox women theologians are: Elisabeth Behr-Sigel's The Ministry of Women in the Church published first in French in 1987 (Oakwood Publications, California); Kyriaki Karidoyanes Fitzgerald's Women Deacons in the Orthodox Church, Called to Holiness and Ministry published in 1998 and revised and republished in 1999 (Holy Cross Orthodox Press, Massachusetts); and Elisabeth Behr-Sigel and Kallistos Ware's The Ordination of Women in the Orthodox Church published in 2000 (World Council of Churches, Geneva). A series of meetings of Orthodox women - all under the patronage of the leadership of the Orthodox churches - starting with the first in Agapia, Romania in 1976; Rhodes in 1988; Damascus 1996 and Istanbul, 1997 - all have addressed this issue. Some of the participants in the meeting in Damascus welcomed "the idea of organising an inter-Orthodox conference on the ordination of women to the priesthood.". Orthodox Christian women have participated in ecumenical women's meetings and would naturally be influenced by the discussions. But Behr-Sigel refers to the new challenges within the Orthodox Churches themselves and describes one of the signs of the times as "a call that that we should discern between the living Tradition and a fossilized traditionalism, particularly regarding the place of women.". She writes: "As responsible theologians in the Orthodox Church - both men and women - have become aware of these contradictions, the question of the admission of women to a sacramental ministry has arisen. The question no longer comes to them only from outside in the course of ecumenical dialogue, but it has also become for them an internal problem."
The World Council of Churches offers an ecumenical space...
The impact of the Community of Women and Men Study and the theological and anthropological challenges it posed; the Ecumenical Decade of the Churches in Solidarity with Women and the unfinished ecclesiological challenges it has left the churches with and the newly begun process Being Church: Women's Voices and Visions which will explore the ways in which women vision the Church and its forms of leadership and ministries - all will leave an indelible mark on the churches and their search for visible unity. All these processes will contribute to the proposed Faith and Order, consultation on "Ministry and Ordination in the Community of Women and Men" to be held in 2002, which will certainly contribute to this discussion. The decision to hold such a conference was taken by the Faith and Order Board at its meeting held in Toronto, Canada in June 1999. Introducing the debate Melanie May, spoke of how the 'Discussion on the Ordination of women is threaded through the ecumenical movement in the 2Oth century. This thread of discussion is, however, a slender one and has, at times, been all but unravelled by silence on the subject. Today we seek to weave this thread more integrally into the search for visible unity of the Church, acknowledging that the visible unity of the Church is predicated on the recognition of all baptised members and the recognition of all those called to ordained ministries. We cannot, therefore, achieve the visible unity of the Church, unless we are willing to walk together, in truth and love, about the question of women's ministries, including the ordination of women."
Are we willing to walk together in truth and love in our search for unity? This is the question that accompanies the WCC and its designing of the concept of an "ecumenical space" to provide a safe environment for difficult and church dividing issues, such as the ordination of women, to be discussed.
Konrad Raiser, General Secretary in his report to the VIII Assembly of the WCC in Harare, 1998 said, "In the uncertainty of the present situation, with its temptation to see identity in a defensive and exclusive way, the ecumenical movement needs to recapture the sense of the pilgrim people of God, of churches on the way together, ready to transcend the boundaries of their history and tradition, listening together to the voice of the Shepherd, recognising and resonating with each other as those energised by the same Spirit. The World Council of Churches, as a fellowship of churches, marks the space where such risky encounter can take place, where confidence and trust can be built and community can grow. At present, this conviction is being tested severely by conflicts over moral issues, especially regarding human sexuality, and by the ecclesiological and theological challenges arising from the Ecumenical Decade of the Churches in Solidarity with Women. More than ever before we need the WCC as an ecumenical space which is open and yet embraced by the faithfulness of God and protected by the bond of peace, a space of mutual acceptance and understanding as well as of mutual challenge and correction."
In the discussion on the ordination of women within this ecumenical space, the most important criteria will be to discern the diversity of voices and opinions on the issue and to enter the discussion with sensitivity and respect for different ecclesiologies. It requires all parties to listen attentively to each other - to listen to the struggles over vocation. It is critical that in unity talks where "churches which take a more traditional view are contemplating union with churches which believe that in ordaining women they are led by the Spirit", that the churches participating "seriously face the theological issues involved", and in this "it is much to be hoped that whatever decision an individual church reaches there will be no accusation of heresy but that its decision will be accepted by others as a genuine effort to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit." Additionally, we cannot undertake our discussion of the ordination of women or the ordination of men without serious and sustained discussion of the ministry of all baptised members and the fact that some - women and men - are "set apart" or called to ordained priesthood. There has also to be further reflection on Christian anthropology and what it means when we affirm that male and female are created in the image of God. Perhaps most importantly of all it requires an openness to the working of the Holy Spirit, in a reaffirmation of the doctrines, with the possibility of the development of the doctrines of the church in keeping with the times.
I believe it is appropriate to conclude with the words of Bishop Kallistos Ware, Bishop of Diokleia, who addresses the Orthodox churches, with words that are appropriate for all churches - those that ordain women and those, which do not. He writes: "In discussing the ministry of women in the Church, let us not be afraid (as Orthodox) to acknowledge that there is a mystery here which we have scarcely started to explore. In speaking of a 'mystery', I am using the word in its proper theological sense. A mystery is not just an enigma or an unsolved puzzle. It is a truth or a set of truths revealed by God to our created intelligence, yet never exhaustively revealed because it reaches into the depths of divine infinity. The primal mystery is always the incarnation of Christ (see Ephesians 1:9; Colossians 1:26-27), in which all other mystenes - including the mysteria or sacraments of the Church, such as baptism, eucharist and priesthood - find their origin and their fulfilment."
We will continue supporting each other in our yearning to be faithful to God's call to ordained priesthood. We will also continue our exploration into what being church means for the world today as we strive for new models of leadership - ready, responsive and courageous; caring, loving and compassionate; inclusive, hospitable and embracing.... so that the Church will be each and every day truly the Church of Jesus Christ. And I say again, we as women, as the Spirit leads us, will pour our ointment on the feet of the church.
Dr. Aruna Gnanadason
World Council of Churches
Dr. Aruna Gnanadson
Aruna Gnanadason is Executive Director for Planning and Integration in the General Secretariat of the World Council of Churches. She was Coordinator of the Justice Peace and Creation Team and of the Women’s Programme of the World Council of Churches before taking up this present position. She took up her appointment with the WCC in May, 1991. She is married and has two sons. Aruna comes from India and belongs to the Church of South India. She was educated in Bangalore, has a M.A. in English and has completed a part of the Bachelor’s Degree in Theology programme at the United Theological College of Bangalore. In 2004, she completed a Doctorate in Ministry with the San Francisco Theological Seminary in the US.
Aruna worked as lecturer in English at the Government College, Kolar, and at the National College, Bangalore, for the academic year 1972/73. In 1974 she was invited to join the Vicharodaya College, Women’s College, Ecumenical Christian Centre, Whitefield, Bangalore, as Lecturer, and from June 1976 was invited to become Dean of the programme.
In 1982 she was invited to join the staff of the National Council of Churches in India as Executive Secretary of the All India Council of Christian Women a unit of NCCI, playing an advocacy role for women and building a women’s movement in the church, and helping church women relate to secular women’s movements. In this capacity she has organised national and regional conferences for urban and rural women on themes such as women in development, women in church and society, violence against women, women in the struggle for a just society, women and health, women at the end of the UN Decade, science and technology and its impact on women, etc.
Aruna was a member of the Student Christian Movement of Bangalore and India for five years, and served in various posts in its executive committee. She was an active member of the Free University 1971, a student group involved in a slum project and study of the Indian situation. She was involved with Vimochana, a forum for women’s rights, in Bangalore, and other women’s groups in Tamil Nadu. She continues to be part of a small collective working with urban poor women in Madras. She is a member of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians (EATWOT) and has been actively involved in its Women's Commission and is recognised as an Asian woman theologian.
She has been involved in lobbying the Indian Government in an attempt to bring change in the Christian Personal laws relating to marriage, divorce, inheritance, etc. She has given talks on such themes ranging from Women and Work, Human Rights and Women’s Rights to Eco-feminist Theology, Indian Feminist Theology and The Church and Violence Against Women . She has addressed major meetings in Europe, North America and Asia on the North-South question, mission priorities, etc.
She has contributed innumerable articles to Christian and secular journals, magazines and books on a wide variety of topics – especially on issues related to women and to
North-South relations. She was editor of several publications including the regular newsletter of the Ecumenical Decade of the Churches in Solidarity with Women – the Decade Link. She is the author of the book No Longer a Secret: The Church and Violence Against Women, (1997) and Listen to the Women, Listen to the Earth (2005) both published by the World Council of Churches in the Risk Book Series. She co-edited several books including the WCC Publication Women, Violence and Non-violent Change.
In 1983 she served on the Worship Committee of the WCC IV Assembly in Vancouver, and had served as Vice Moderator of the working group of the Sub-unit on Women in Church and Society of the WCC for the period between the Vancouver and Canberra assemblies. In this capacity she was a member of the Advisory Group which organised the Seoul World Convocation on Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation and was a member of the writing group on Biotechnology to bring in the feminist perspective particularly on reproductive technologies. Now her work concentrates on playing an advocacy role for the participation of women in all aspects of the life of the World Council of Churches and in ensuring that the perspectives and visions of women are included in the programmatic work of the Council.
She is recipient of three honorary doctorates:
- from the Academy of Indian Ecumenical Theology and Church Administration, an Honorary Doctorate in Theology
- from the Senate of Serampore Colleges, India, a Doctorate
- from the Matanzas Theological Seminary, Matanzas, Cuba.
She has also completed her earned Doctorate in Ministries (DMin.) from the San Francisco Theological Seminary, USA.