If you’re just joining us, make sure to check out part 1 of our ongoing interview with Tish Harrison Warren, Anglican priest, author of Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life, and Writer in Residence at Church of the Ascension in Pittsburgh, PA.
Below, Tish answers two questions (submitted by readers) regarding women’s ordination. I’d like to point out that neither question is “What are your reasons for supporting women’s ordination?” That is, this interview is not an essay/argument for women’s ordination.
If you’re interested in Tish’s (and her husband Jonathan’s, also an ACNA priest) biblical, historical, and pastoral reasons for supporting women’s ordination, check out this podcast episode. And if you’d like to learn more about Anglican debates about women’s ordination, start with these resources.
How do you think the ACNA should move forward when it comes to dioceses that disagree about ordaining women? How do we all minister together? What has your experience been like as a female priest in the ACNA?
I know there are fellow priests and bishops against women’s ordination; I knew that before I was ordained, so I’m fine with that. This is what I signed up for. Male leaders against women’s ordination are not the problem.
What has been hard, at times, is harsh, angry, even misogynistic public comments by male leaders, and the propensity of those who are against women’s ordination to act as if female Anglican priests don’t exist. The fact is, we all agreed to get on this boat together. We all knew the deal: that there was a diversity of thought about women in the priesthood and we were not going to split over it, and that we will work together, so here we are, we have to stay on the boat we boarded together, trusting that Christ is at the helm.
One thing we could do, moving forward, is simply plant and grow churches, begin deaneries, and if the majority of priests in them want women serving in their churches, then consecrate bishops that are for women’s ordination. If not, then consecrate bishops against it. This makes things really hard for women called to priestly ministry in these geographic regions, but otherwise, we simply aren’t adding deaneries at all, and that’s not a long-term, sustainable model.
Of course, this would not address the realities of churches who want female priests but are in a diocese that does not ordain women or of those already-ordained female priests who are not allowed to exercise their priesthood locally, and these situations cannot be ignored, so we need to continue to engage these ecclesial challenges and creatively hammer out solutions to them.
Additionally, in the short term, a few things need to happen:
1. Male priests cannot be allowed to publicly or viciously malign female priests or pro-women’s ordination bishops.
Female priests absolutely need to, not just tolerate, but embrace our fellow clergy that disagree with women’s ordination, but they shouldn’t have to endure public humiliation or malicious vitriol from other clergy (even online). There is a gospel imperative to seek unity and to act kindly.
I really am fine with people who disagree with women’s ordination, if they argue that biblically. I’m not okay with openly sexist comments because they are sinful and really hurt our public witness as a church. I do not think these can be allowed.
2. If a male priest is for women’s ordination in our Province, he cannot simply be neutral or quiet about that conviction.
I’ve learned this from Fr. Jonathan Millard, my current rector who has been a great encouragement and advocate for female priests. His big concern—that I share as well—is that we are not going to resolve our provincial disagreement over women’s ordination through careful theological and biblical debate, but that, instead, we will look up in 10-15 years and there simply won’t be any female priests around. This will happen if male priests do not intentionally raise up female leaders.
Women in our seminaries (for instance, at Trinity near me in Pittsburgh) who are gifted, trained, and equipped for ministry decide to enter other liturgical traditions or not get ordained in the ACNA simply because they don’t want to have to endure hostility from other priests or they worry about the prospects of getting hired and being supported in the ACNA.
Female priests do not have the luxury of being laissez faire or passive about women’s leadership, but truly male priests for women’s ordination do not either. Male priests for women in leadership and ministry must be absolutely proactive about that conviction. They should hire women. They should look out for women with gifts in ministry and encourage them to be ordained. They should advocate for women around them.
I’ll be so bold as to say that if you are a male priest for women’s ordination and you do not have a female priest on your staff, your next hire should be a female priest (or a woman on her way to the priesthood). This is important for the Province, but it will also be a huge blessing to men and women in your parish.
I hope that this issue will not be so turbulent in 100 years. Things, I believe, will shake out and resolve. We may still have “dual integrities,” but everyone will be far more comfortable with how it can and should work. We have to be patient and to be as faithful as we can to this community that we willingly chose to enter.
What advice would you give to other women called to ordination in the ACNA?
Make friends with female priests and, if possible, have an older female priest mentor.
I couldn’t have survived my priesthood so far without the mentorship of Mary Hays and a few key female priest friends, who help me remain moderately sane. It gets really discouraging sometimes and having other friends and mentors is helpful.
Also, it’s essential to have male priest friends who you know are in your corner. At the darkest points in ministry (and the public argument about women in the ACNA), my phone would ring and male priest friends would speak words of blessing, grace, encouragement to me, and sometimes anger on my behalf. These friends have been advocates for me and I couldn’t be in ministry without them.
Also, focus on your actual work. It’s easy to get abstracted and think about the conflict in the Province, but the people God is calling us to is the people right around us, in our church, in our neighborhood.
In my case, it does no good to fret about the future of the global Anglican Communion or the state of women in the ACNA, when I really need to be writing a chapter or finishing a sermon. Do the work God has called you to today, and don’t worry about where we’ll be in ten years. It doesn’t matter. God has called each of us to his work in the moment and place where we actually are.
Furthermore, know that being a female priest in the ACNA will make you a lightening rod for conservatives and liberals alike. Being a female priest in an orthodox and traditional denomination gets you (almost) no twitter street cred among feminists, and being orthodox about the gospel, the scriptures, or sexuality won’t matter to people who think that female ordination is a heresy, so just know that your very existence will displease many people and confuse many categories.
The important thing is that you know and are able to articulate why you believe what you believe in clear and biblical, historic, and pastoral terms with theological depth and compassion.
(Click here to listen to Tish and her husband Jonathan give a biblical, historical, and pastoral defense for women’s ordination.)
You kind of have to die to any ego, and just seek to serve the church how you can, and not care if others (who are not your bishop, your spouse, your community, and your friends) disapprove. Don’t try to posture yourself, “brand” yourself, or manipulate others or their image of you. Just seek to be faithful.
Lastly, I’d want them to know that, in spite of any difficulties that come from being a priest (the priesthood is hard, for everyone) or being a female priest, specifically, there is luminous and overwhelming joy in this calling to the priesthood. There are many moments where I thank God that I can do this—and sometimes still can’t believe I can– and it is absolutely worth anything I’ve endured so far.
And I’d want them to know that they are needed. The church needs Mothers, and desperately so.
I see it every time a visitor approaches me after a service and tells me how healing and refreshing it was to hear the gospel from a female voice. I see it every time I take a confession from a woman, eager to meet with a female priest. I see it, especially, from younger women (and men) as I travel around the country and speak.
But the church doesn’t just need women who are priests, it needs us to be really rooted in the truth of scripture, walking in repentance, and growing in the gospel, so don’t wait to be approved of or ordained, but really seek God with all you got in the moment and context you are in.
Ordination is a gift, but it won’t complete or fulfill you (whether male or female). What I want for my sisters (and my brothers) is to know Jesus in fullness, and to serve the church however He has called us to today, however that looks. There is so much life and rest in that.
In part 3 of this interview, Tish answers:
- What challenges do you think the ACNA faces when it comes to ecclesiology, given how many people (myself included) are coming in from non-Anglican traditions?
- What do you see as the strengths of the Anglican Church’s modes of accountability and where do you see the need for change, clarity, or progress? How do we as Anglicans pursue healthy and accountable expressions of power?
- Have you experienced any tension between your roles as author and pastor? How do you put the two together?
- What’s been the most unexpected reaction/result of your (excellent) book, Liturgy of the Ordinary?
- What’s next?
If you’d like to hear/read more from Tish, make sure to check out her book, Liturgy of the Ordinary, if you haven’t done so already! You can follow Tish on Twitter at @Tish_H_Warren, and check out her website at tishharrisonwarren.com.