Women at the altar
Local Anglican church marks two decades of women in the priesthood
Although 20 years have passed since the church in the Anglican Diocese of Barbados began ordaining women into the priesthood, there are many persons across the island who remain unhappy with this development, Bishop John Holder has acknowledged.
Bishop Holder’s admission of continued resistance to the presence of women priests came Tuesday evening as Anglicans gathered to observe the 20th anniversary of the courageous decision to ordain female priests.
“It is surely another time when this Diocese boldly ventured outside of the camp of tradition,” said Dr Holder, who is also Archbishop of the Province of the West Indies, as he delivered the sermon at the Cathedral of St Michael and All Angels.
However, he observed that the two-decade anniversary was not a joyous occasion for all on this island. “There are still many persons across the churches, including our own, who still are not convinced that women have a legitimate place in the ordained ministry.”
Dr Holder cited the resurrection story in the Bible, in which women featured prominently as “perhaps the most radical story of God embracing women”, adding: “It seems quite sad, in many ways odd, that we took so long to allow women to have a primary place in the ordained ministry of the church”.
Continuing his reference to stories in the Bible as examples of women in leadership positions, he said, “We no doubt ignored St Paul’s identification in Romans Chapter 6, verse 1, of Phoebe, a deacon in the church of Rome. This was an early start but it fell away along the way.”
However, the Archbishop said the ordination of women into the priesthood and other leadership positions should not pose challenges for Barbadians and other people of the Caribbean because females have at all times been holding society together.
“Ours is the region where women have for centuries borne the brunt of the responsibility of caring for families. They have been the ones to sustain our societies through care of their children, and so insure our future.
“The story of the many mothers who fathered their children, the many who continue to do so is the largest story of Caribbean family life. It is in this context that we celebrate tonight the achievement of women in the ordination to the priesthood.”
The Anglican leader noted that despite the fact of women being society’s leaders, resistance to their elevation remains and the act of ordaining the first woman priests on this island back in 1994 was a brave one.
“The focal point of our celebration tonight is not simply about how long we have been ordaining women in this diocese, and how many we have ordained to date. Rather, it is about the courage to move outside of the camp, outside of the box, and declare the outsider as an insider.
“We live in a world that takes progressive steps very cautiously, and the church is probably more cautious than any other institution.”
Conceding that caution and fear of the unknown are understandable human behaviours, Dr Holder said, “We should never allow the caution or the fear to halt the progress. We should resist the temptation to keep God locked inside the box of our ideas and fears, the box of traditions, many of which we may argue are hundreds and thousands of years old and so should never be changed.
Reverends Sonia Hinds and Beverley Knight became the first Barbadian Anglican women priests in 1996 when they were ordained by the Rev’d Rufus Brome at the Cathedral of St Michael.
Reflecting on the significance of the decision at that time, Dr Holder said, “It was said loud and clear that God’s great gift of ordained ministry is not one for an exclusive male club. In so doing, the Diocese was standing firmly on the solid biblical foundation.
“The ordination of women is not a male gift to women. It is God’s gift, even if men are the instruments used by him to present this gift,” Archbishop Holder went on. “Tonight we celebrate God’s great gift of ordination that is to be shared by women and men… that he has shared with the women of this Diocese.”