On March 12, 1994, the Church of England ordained the first female priests ending centuries of male domination in the conservative religious institution.
“There is a feeling that for this I was born. Now we are walking right into the central structure of the church,” said Christine Clarke one of the Church of England’s first woman priests.
The shift brought an end to years of spiritual torment and theological wrangling. Women were finally admitted to the priesthood for the first time since King Henry VIII created the Church of England in the 16th Century.
Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey said in 1992, “It is the humanity of Christ which is important, not his maleness.”
In making the change at the time, the Church of England joined 12 of the 28 self-governing provinces of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
just like male counterparts, women priests are able to bless the bread and wine at Holy Communion, pronounce absolution and the forgiveness of sin, and give blessings–priestly duties previously forbidden to them.
They are now allowed to wear their clerical stoles “priest-wise,” or across both shoulders, instead of “deacon-wise,” over just one.
At the time, the Anglo-Catholic traditionalist group, Forward in Faith, released a statement signed by eight serving or retired bishops and 712 priests and deacons indicating they intended to forsake the church to become Roman Catholics.
“This is a matter of great sadness,” said Margaret Brown, co-founder of Women Against the Ordination of Women. “We are not just a few cranks. Votes in various synods have shown at least one-third of the church opposes women’s ordination.”
The Rev. Malcolm Widdecombe of Bristol, a prominent dissenter, believed the church “was moving into error.”
“This is against the tradition of the church and the teaching of Scripture,” he said. “Our Lord gave an honored position to women, but he chose men for the major tasks.”