What Happens When Women Are Not Ordained? by Meagen Farrell

Meagen Farrell, women's ordinationWhat is a vocation to the Christian clergy? A woman or man feels a calling from God, and that spirit is tested in the community of believers. After discernment through study, prayer, and service that person submits herself for ordination. Simple, right?

Of course, as readers of the F-word blog, you know it is not that simple. Though women’s ordination is a common practice in many Christian denominations, it is far from universal. The issue has caused division within the Anglican Communion and dissension in the Roman Catholic Church. Despite the controversy, the number of women in discernment (contemplating  or preparing for ordination) and the denominations ordaining them continue to grow.

For my Master’s thesis, I want to learn from the stories of women (and men) who have aided their churches to successfully navigate this historical crossroads, as well as from those who live or suffer on the fault-lines of the issue. I don’t want to employ exaggerated rhetoric, but rather to focus on what can happen during positive, respectful dialogue. To this end, I want to highlight the history of women’s ordination in the Church of Ireland, a part of the Anglican Communion. After a trip to Ireland, I discovered Embracing Women: Making History in the Church of Ireland, Canon Ginnie Kennerly’s personal tale of politics, theology, and faith leading to her ordination in the Church of Ireland just two decades ago.

I want to compare experiences of other women in churches in the Anglican tradition, since each conference has a different history of the struggles leading to women’s ordination (or not). Do you know of any women’s stories from books, articles, movies, TV shows, blog posts, or conferences? Even connections with public social media accounts would help.

This is where I need your help! Do you know of women’s accounts of their calling to the vocation to the priesthood or diaconate?

Please comment with any names, links or ideas. You can also contact me directly by email farrellink@yahoo.com,  Twitter @farrellink, or Facebook Meagen Farrell. Mention that you are a reader of the Feminism and Religion blog! I’m happy to connect any time, but I hope to have my bibliography together by the end of January 2013. Follow my blog (farrellink.com) where I will post my reading list. If I don’t get enough recommendations for already-published-materials, I may follow up with a call for writing submissions from women deacons and priests.

women's ordination, Meagen FarrellWhat will I do with the sources you send? I want to analyze women’s narratives in light of our professed Christian commitment to uphold human dignity. Not everyone who feels a calling from the Holy Spirit to a certain vocation is ultimately ordained. Due to the controversy in our historical moment, women who desire simply to respond to God’s call may find themselves faced with hard words and difficult choices. But how communities treat women and discuss vocations is ultimately a matter of human dignity, which I believe is a central tenet of Christ’s social teachings.

I know this blog inspires great commentary. I look forward to connecting with you here or on the web to continue the conversation.

Meagen Farrell is an educational consultant, blogger, master’s student at John Carroll University and Penn State Unviersity, adventurous mother of two, and proud resident of Cleveland, Ohio.

Categories: General, Reform, Women in the Church, Women's Ordination

Tags: , , , , , ,

10 replies

  1. Megan, I respect your wish not to employ rhetoric that you feel further polarizes, but I hope you do not mean to silence women who are telling the truth about negative, hurtful, and even traumatizing responses to their “callings.” I think truth telling is always the most helpful policy, and I do not think it would be helpful to negate the truth-telling of women whose experiences have not always fallen within the rubric of positive, respectful dialogue. There can be a tendency on the part of some who wish for peaceful resolution of disputes with inherited patriarchies, to aportion the blame for what you call exaggerated rhetoric equally to both sides. I hope as you proceed you will be careful not to do that.

    Eleven female bishops attended the 1998 Lambeth Conference. 8 were from the US, 2 from Canada, 1 from New Zealand. All but one had been ordained as a priest between 1978 and 1984. They were thus pioneers from the beginning of their ordained ministries as deacons and priests. Bishop Katie Sherrod said:

    “Nearly all can tell tales of painful marginalization, even, in a few cases, of being spat upon, shouted at, verbally abused…With each bishop, however, such tales are told only rarely and then reluctantly, and usually, only to illustrate how much progress has been made.” 1


    Why is the truth of women’s experience not told? At what cost to she who holds it within?
    Is it really a good idea to hold back telling the truth about what women have suffered?


    • I’m sorry if this was unclear, but there are two aspects of my research proposal: 1) focus on the (far from idyllic, but overall positive) history of the development of women’s ordination in the Church of Ireland. 2) Compare this experience to other women experiencing a calling to the priesthood or diaconate in the Anglican communion and ecumenical conversation with them (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox). To restate: “I want to learn from the stories of women […] who live or suffer on the fault-lines of the issue.” I certainly hope to create a space for women to tell their own firsthand accounts, not silence them.

      I will check out your link, and if you have other resources of firsthand, historical accounts or documents to support your statements about women being marginalized and spat upon in their discernment of a vocation to the priesthood or diaconate, I would certainly appreciate specifics so I can consider it for my bibliography. However, I’m not going to require that a woman characterizes her experience as suffering in order to listen to her story, either.


  2. “Is it really a good idea to hold back telling the truth about what women have suffered?”

    Those of us who are sick and tired of accomodation to patriarchy have always said this. The radical feminist voice is silenced in these “equality” dialogues, in which women and men are supposedly equivalent. No they are not. Women are an oppressed sex class, and men are the dominators. This is replicated in all “god” read male-based religions.

    Women are abused, spat upon and attacked all the time as part of their
    “career paths.” This hasn’t really changed much at all in my opinion, and the abuse and silent treatment continues unabatted. Women who are bishops need to speak out, and we need to highlight the men who do this.

    I hate the sugar coated world of male pleasing “liberal feminism.” This gets us nowhere. But the male pleasing will continue, women will continue to be afraid to NAME THE AGENT. The agent is male dominance, and male worship. The truth is women should not allow men into our spaces, and we should rise up and refuse to participate in male centric religions. It gets us nowhere to try to male please or appease, we are dealing with an oppressive system, and any woman who steps out of line is threatened with death and rape all the time. Let’s tell the truth of censorship even within so-called feminism.


    • Are you alleging that women in the Church of Ireland have been threatened with death and rape for their work advocating for women’s ordination? If you have historical evidence of that, please let me know! My goal in this work is to rely on historical, firsthand accounts. Please follow up with additional comments or an email if you have any specific titles or names with recommendations for my investigation.


  3. I just wanted to say that I am really looking forward to reading your work on women’s ordination. If you want any perspectives from a Roman Catholic woman who has a calling to the Priesthood, I’m your gal!


  4. Strong words, strong passion, strong cause! And the unadorned truth is the strongest of all, particularly when it comes to women’s authentic voices..



  1. What might women’s ordination look like? | Katie and Martin's Blog on the Lutheran Church in Australia
  2. Breaking the Stained Glass Ceiling? Conflict in Religious Histories by Meagen Farrell | Feminism and Religion

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