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Izabela Wiłucka-Kowalska - the first woman-bishop in Poland (1929)

In general religious use, ordination is the process by which a person is consecrated (set apart for the administration of various religious rites). The ordination of women is a controversial issue in religions where either the rite of ordination, or the role that an ordained person fulfills, has traditionally been restricted to men because of cultural prohibitions or theological doctrines.


In liturgical Christianity, such as the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, and Anglicanism, ordination—distinguished from religious or consecrated life—is the means by which a person is included in one of the orders of bishops, priests, or deacons.

In many Protestant denominations ordination is understood more generally as the acceptance of a person for pastoral work. Since the mid-nineteenth century, these denominations have allowed for female office-bearers and preachers.[1] Today, about half of all American Protestant denominations ordain women and about 30% of all seminary students (and in some seminaries over half) are female.[2] The United Methodist Church was the first American Protestant denomination to approve full ordination and clergy rights for women in 1956.

Orthodox Judaism does not permit women to become rabbis (instead, the women in leadership positions are often rebbetzin, wives of a rabbi), but female rabbis have begun to appear in recent decades among more liberal Jewish movements, especially the Reconstructionist, Renewal, Reform, and Humanistic denominations (see Women as rabbis) .

Muslims do not formally ordain religious leaders. The imam serves as a spiritual leader and religious authority. Most strands of Islam permit women to lead female-only congregations in prayer (one of the competences of an imam), but restrict their roles in mixed-sex congregations. There is a recent movement to extend women's roles in spiritual leadership.

Within Buddhism, the legitimacy of ordaining women as bhikkhuni (nuns) has become a significant topic of discussion in some areas in recent years. It is widely accepted that the Buddha created an order of bhikkhuni, but the tradition of ordaining women has died out in some Buddhist traditions, such as Theravada Buddhism, while remaining strong in others, such as Chinese Buddhism.


The ordination of women is currently and historically practiced in some Buddhist regions, such as East Asia and Taiwan, and now once again in India and Sri Lanka.

The tradition of the ordained monastic community (sangha) began with the Buddha, who established an order of Bhikkhus (monks).[3] According to the scriptures,[4] later, after an initial reluctance, he also established an order of Bhikkhunis (nuns or women monks).


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Part of a series on
and Gender

Women in Christianity
Women in the Bible
Jesus' interactions with women
Female disciples of Jesus
Paul of Tarsus and women
Image of God
List of women in the Bible
Women as theological figures

4 Major Positions

Christian Egalitarianism
Christian Feminism
Biblical patriarchy

Church and Society

Christianity and homosexuality
Ordination of women
Women in Church history


Christians for Biblical Equality
Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
Evangelical and Ecumenical Women's Caucus

Theologians and authors
Letha Dawson Scanzoni · Anne Eggebroten · Virginia Ramey Mollenkott
William J. Webb · Kenneth E. Hagin · Gordon Fee · Frank Stagg · Paul Jewett · Stanley Grenz · Roger Nicole
Don Carson · John Frame · Wayne Grudem · Douglas Moo · Paige Patterson · Vern Poythress

Catholic Church

The official position of the Catholic Church, as expressed in the current canon law and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is that: "Only a baptized man (In Latin, vir) validly receives sacred ordination."[5] Insofar as priestly and episcopal ordination are concerned, the Church teaches that this requirement is a matter of divine law, and thus doctrinal.[6] The requirement that only males can receive ordination to the permanent diaconate has not been promulgated as doctrinal by the Church's magisterium, though it is clearly at least a requirement according to canon law.[7][8]

Orthodox Churches

The Orthodox Churches follows a similar line of reasoning as the Catholic Church with respect to ordination of priests.

Regarding deaconesses, Professor Evangelos Theodorou argued that female deacons were actually ordained in antiquity.[9] K. K. Fitzgerald has followed and amplified Professor Theodorou's research. Bishop Kallistos Ware wrote:[10]

The order of deaconesses seems definitely to have been considered an "ordained" ministry during early centuries in at any rate the Christian East. ... Some Orthodox writers regard deaconesses as having been a "lay" ministry. There are strong reasons for rejecting this view. In the Byzantine rite the liturgical office for the laying-on of hands for the deaconess is exactly parallel to that for the deacon; and so on the principle lex orandi, lex credendi—the Church's worshipping practice is a sure indication of its faith—it follows that the deaconesses receives, as does the deacon, a genuine sacramental ordination: not just a χειροθεσια but a χειροτονια. However, the ordination of women in the Catholic Church does exist. Although it is not widespread, it is official by the Roman Catholic Church.

Even though Bishop Kallistos says this, ordination of women in the Roman Catholic Church is not,cannot,and will not ordain women to any canonical position such as the position of priest, deacon, or bishop. On October 8, 2004, the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Greece voted to permit the ordination of monastic women deacons, that is, women deacons to minister and assist at the liturgy within their own monasteries.[11][12]

There is a strong monastic tradition, pursued by both men and women in the Orthodox churches, where monks and nuns lead identical spiritual lives. Unlike Western-rite Catholic religious life, which has myriad traditions, both contemplative and active (see Benedictine monks, Franciscan friars, Jesuits), that of Orthodoxy has remained exclusively ascetic and monastic.


The majority of Anglican provinces ordain women as both deacons and priests. Only a few provinces, however, have consecrated women as bishops (although the number of provinces where women bishops are canonically possible is much greater). The Episcopal Church in the United States ordains women as both priests and bishops.


A key theological doctrine for most Protestants is the priesthood of all believers. The notion of a priesthood reserved to a select few is seen as an Old Testament concept, inappropriate for Christians. Prayer belongs equally to all believing women and men.

However, most (although not all) Protestant denominations still ordain church leaders who have the task of equipping all believers in their Christian service.[Eph. 4:11–13] These leaders (variously styled elders, pastors or ministers) are seen to have a distinct role in teaching, pastoral leadership and the administration of sacraments. Traditionally these roles were male preserves, but over the last century, an increasing number of denominations have begun ordaining women, such as the United Church of Canada in 1936 and the United Methodist Church in 1956.

Jehovah's Witnesses

Jehovah's Witnesses consider qualified public baptism to represent the baptizand's ordination, following which he or she is immediately considered an ordained minister. In 1941, the Supreme Court of Vermont recognized the validity of this ordination for a female Jehovah's Witness minister.[13]

Nevertheless, Witness deacons ("ministerial servants") and elders must be male, and only a baptized adult male may perform a Jehovah's Witness baptism, funeral, or wedding[14]. Within the congregation, a female Witness minister may only lead prayer and teaching when there is a special need, and must do so wearing a head covering.[15][16][17]


Although Muslims do not formally ordain religious leaders, the imam serves as a spiritual leader and religious authority. There is a current controversy among Muslims on the circumstances in which women may act as imams—that is, lead a congregation in salat (prayer). Three of the four Sunni schools, as well as many Shia, agree that a woman may lead a congregation consisting of women alone in prayer, although the Maliki school does not allow this. According to all currently existing traditional schools of Islam, a woman cannot lead a mixed gender congregation in salat (prayer). Some schools make exceptions for Tarawih (optional Ramadan prayers) or for a congregation consisting only of close relatives. Certain medieval scholars—including Al-Tabari (838–932), Abu Thawr (764–854), Al-Muzani (791–878), and Ibn Arabi (1165–1240)—considered the practice permissible at least for optional (nafila) prayers; however, their views are not accepted by any major surviving group.


It had been the longstanding practice that only men become rabbis. This practice continues to this day within the Orthodox and Hasidic communities but has been revised within non-Orthodox organizations. Reform Judaism created its first woman rabbi in 1972, Reconstructionist Judaism in 1974, and Conservative Judaism in 1985, and women in these movements are routinely granted semicha on an equal basis with men.

The issue of allowing women to become rabbis is not under active debate within the Orthodox community, though there is widespread agreement that women may often be consulted on matters of Jewish religious law. There are reports that a small number of Orthodox yeshivas have unofficially granted semicha to women, but the prevailing consensus among Orthodox leaders (as well as a small number of Conservative Jewish communities) is that it is not appropriate for women to become rabbis.

The idea that women could eventually be ordained as rabbis sparks widespread opposition among the Orthodox rabbinate. Norman Lamm, one of the leaders of Modern Orthodoxy and Rosh Yeshiva of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, totally opposes giving semicha to women. "It shakes the boundaries of tradition, and I would never allow it." (Helmreich, 1997) Writing in an article in the Jewish Observer, Moshe Y'chiail Friedman states that Orthodox Judaism prohibits women from being given semicha and serving as rabbis. He holds that the trend towards this goal is driven by sociology, and not halakha.


While the priesthood was traditionally male in Shinto, ordination of women as Shinto priests has arisen after the abolition of State Shinto in the aftermath of World War II.[18]


Tenrikyo was founded by a woman, Oyasama.[19]

Some beginning dates for ordination of women

A partial list with the approximate dates of either the approval of female ordination in principle or the ordination of their first women clergy by Christian and Jewish faith groups appears below:[20]

  • Early 1800s: A fundamental belief[21] of the Society of Friends (Quakers) has always been the existence of an element of God's spirit in every human soul. Thus all persons are considered to have inherent and equal worth, independent of their gender. This led naturally to an acceptance of female ministers. In 1660, Margaret Fell (1614–1702) published a famous pamphlet to justify equal roles for men and women in the denomination. It was titled: "Women's Speaking Justified, Proved and Allowed of by the Scriptures, All Such as Speak by the Spirit and Power of the Lord Jesus And How Women Were the First That Preached the Tidings of the Resurrection of Jesus, and Were Sent by Christ's Own Command Before He Ascended to the Father (John 20:17). In the U.S., in contrast with almost every other organized religion, the Society of Friends (Quakers) has allowed women to serve as ministers since the early 1800s.
  • 1815: Clarissa Danforth was ordained in New England by the Free Will Baptist denomination
  • 1853: Antoinette Brown Blackwell was ordained by the Congregationalist Church. However, her ordination was not recognized by the denomination. She quit the church and later became a Unitarian. The Congregationalists later merged with others to create the United Church of Christ.
  • 1861: Mary A. Will was the first woman ordained in the Wesleyan Methodist Connection by the Illinois Conference. The Wesleyan Methodist Connection eventually became The Wesleyan Church.
  • 1863: Olympia Brown was ordained by the Universalist denomination in 1863, in spite of a last-moment case of cold feet by her seminary which feared adverse publicity. After a decade and a half of service as a full-time minister, she became a part-time minister in order to devote more time to the fight for women's rights and universal suffrage. In 1961, the Universalists and Unitarians joined to form the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA).[22] The UUA became the first large denomination to have a majority of female ministers.
  • 1865: Salvation Army is founded, which ordained both men and women. However, there were initially rules that prohibited a woman from marrying a man who had a lower rank.
  • 1879 Church of Christ, Scientist founded by a woman, Mary Baker Eddy.
  • 1880: Anna Howard Shaw was the first woman ordained in the Methodist Protestant Church, which later merged with other denominations to form the United Methodist Church.
  • 1888: Fidelia Gillette may have been the first ordained woman in Canada. She served the Universalist congregation in Bloomfield, Ontario, during 1888 and 1889. She was presumably ordained in 1888 or earlier.[original research?]
  • 1889: The Nolin Presbytery of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church ordained Louisa Woosley.
  • 1889: Ella Niswonger was the first woman ordained in the United Brethren church, which later merged with other denominations to form the United Methodist Church.
  • 1892: Anna Hanscombe is believed to be the first woman ordained by the parent bodies which formed the Church of the Nazarene in 1919.
  • 1909: The Church of God (Cleveland TN) began ordaining women in 1909.
  • 1911: Ann Allebach was the first Mennonite woman to be ordained. This occurred at the First Mennonite Church of Philadelphia.
  • 1914: Assemblies of God was founded and ordained its first woman clergy
  • 1917: The Church of England appoints female Bishop's Messengers to preach, teach and take missions in the absence of men.
  • 1917: The Congregationalist Church (England and Wales) ordained their first woman, Constance Coltman (nee Todd) at the King's Weigh House, London. Its successor is the United Reformed Church (a union of the Congregational Church in England and Wales and the Presbyterian Church of England in 1972. Since then two more denominations have joined the union: The Reformed Churches of Christ (1982) and the Congregational Church of Scotland (2000). All of these denominations ordained women at the time of Union and continue to do so. The first woman to be appointed General Secretary of the United Reformed Church was Roberta Rominger in 2008.
  • 1920's: Some Baptist denominations start ordaining women.
  • 1922: The Jewish Reform movement's Central Conference of American Rabbis stated that "Woman cannot justly be denied the privilege of ordination." However, Reform Judaism takes a few more decades to actually ordain women.
  • 1922: The Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren granted women the right to be licensed into the ministry, but not to be ordained with the same status as men.
  • 1929 Izabela Wiłucka in Old Catholic Mariavite Church in Poland.
  • 1935: Regina Jonas was ordained privately by a German rabbi.
  • 1936: United Church of Canada starts ordaining women.
  • 1944: Anglican communion, Hong Kong. Florence Li Tim Oi was ordained on an emergency basis.
  • 1947: Czechoslovak Hussite Church starts ordaining women.
  • 1948: Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark starts ordaining women.
  • 1949: Old Catholic Church (in the U.S.) starts ordaining women.
  • 1956: Maud K. Jensen was the first woman in a Protestant denomination to receive full clergy rights and conference membership in the Methodist Church.
  • 1956: A predecessor church of the Presbyterian Church (USA) ordained its first woman minister.[clarification needed]
  • 1958: Women ministers in the Church of the Brethren were given full ordination with the same status as men.
  • 1960: Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sweden started ordaining women.
  • 1967: Presbyterian Church in Canada started ordaining women.
  • 1970: Lutheran Church in America and American Lutheran Church start ordaining women.
  • 1971: Anglican communion, Hong Kong. Joyce Bennett and Jane Hwang were the first regularly ordained priests.
  • 1972: Reform Judaism starts ordaining women.
  • 1972: Swedenborgian Church starts ordaining women.
  • 1972: Sally Priesand became the first woman rabbi to be ordained by a theological seminary. She was ordained in the Reform tradition.
  • 1974: Methodist Church in the United Kingdom starts ordaining women.
  • 1974: Sandy Eisenberg Sasso became the first woman rabbi to be ordained within the Jewish Reconstructionist movement.
  • 1976: Episcopal Church (11 women were ordained in Philadelphia before church laws were changed to permit ordination)
  • 1976: Anglican Church in Canada ordained six female priests.
  • 1976: The Rev. Pamela McGee was the first female ordained to the Lutheran ministry in Canada.
  • 1977: Anglican Church of New Zealand ordained five female priests.
  • 1979: The Reformed Church in America. Women had been admitted to the offices of deacon and elder in 1972.
  • 1983: An Anglican woman was ordained in Kenya
  • 1983: Three Anglican women were ordained in Uganda.
  • 1984: Community of Christ (known at the time as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) authorized the ordination of women. This is the second largest Latter Day Saint denomination.
  • 1985: According to the New York Times for 1985-FEB-14: "After years of debate, the worldwide governing body of Conservative Judaism has decided to admit women as rabbis. The group, the Rabbinical Assembly, plans to announce its decision at a news the Jewish Theological Seminary..." Amy Eilberg became the first female rabbi.
  • 1985: The first women deacons were ordained by the Scottish Episcopal Church.
  • 1988: Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland starts ordaining women.
  • 1988: Episcopal Church chooses Barbara Harris as first female bishop.
  • 1990: Anglican women are ordained in Ireland.
  • 1992: The Church of England passes a measure to allow women to be ordained priests.
  • 1992: Anglican Church of South Africa starts ordaining women.
  • 1994: The first women priests were ordained by the Scottish Episcopal Church.
  • 1994: The first women priests were ordained by the Church of England.
  • 1995: Seventh-day Adventists. Sligo Seventh-day Adventist Church in Takoma Park, MD ordained three women in violation of the denomination's rules.
  • 1995: The Christian Reformed Church voted to allow women ministers, elders, and evangelists. In 1998-NOV, the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC) suspended the CRC's membership because of this decision.
  • 1998: General Assembly of the Nippon Sei Ko Kai (Anglican Church in Japan) starts ordaining women.
  • 1998: Guatemalan Presbyterian Synod starts ordaining women.
  • 1998: Old Catholic Church in the Netherlands starts ordaining women.
  • 1998: Some Orthodox Jewish congregations started to employ female "congregational interns." Although these 'interns' do not lead worship services, they perform some tasks usually reserved for rabbis, such as preaching, teaching, and consulting on Jewish legal matters.
  • 1999: Independent Presbyterian Church of Brazil (ordination as either clergy or elders).
  • 2000: The Baptist Union of Scotland voted to allow their churches to either allow or prohibit the ordination of women.[clarification needed]
  • 2000: The Mombasa diocese of the Anglican Church of Kenya.[vague]
  • 2000: The Church of Pakistan ordained its first women deacons.
  • 2005: The Lutheran Evangelical Protestant Church, (LEPC) (GCEPC) in the USA elects Nancy Kinard Drew first female Presiding Bishop.
  • 2006: The Episcopal Church elects Katharine Jefferts Schori first woman Presiding Bishop, or Primate.
  • 2009: The Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) elects Margot Käßmann first woman Presiding Bishop, or Primate

See also


  1. "The question of the ordination of women in the community of churches." Anglican Theological Review, Viser, Jan. Summer 2002 Accessed: 09-18-2007
  2. Thinking About Women's Ordination Wheaton Univ. Women's Review.
  3. Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism (Volume One), page 352
  4. Book of the Discipline, Pali Text Society, volume V, Chapter X
  5. Codex Iruis Canonici canon 1024, c.f. Catechism of the Catholic Church 1577
  6. "The Catholic Church has never felt that priestly or episcopal ordination can be validly conferred on women," Inter Insigniores, October 15, 1976, section 1
  7. Canonical Implications of Ordaining Women to the Permanent Diaconate, Canon Law Society of America, 1995.
  8. Commentary by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the Declaration Inter Insigniores.
  9. Orthodox Women and Pastoral Praxis | The St. Nina Quarterly
  10. "Man, Woman and the Priesthood of Christ," in Women and the Priesthood, ed. T. Hopko (New York, 1982, reprinted 1999), 16, as quoted in Women Deacons in the Early Church, by John Wijngaards, ISBN 0–8245–2393–8.
  11. America | The National Catholic Weekly--‘Grant Her Your Spirit’
  13. "Women—May They Be “Ministers”?", The Watchtower, March 15, 1981, page 19, "Several courts in the United States have recognized female Jehovah’s Witnesses, in carrying on the door-to-door evangelistic work, as ministers. For example, the Supreme Court of Vermont, in Vermont v. Greaves (1941), stated that Elva Greaves “is an ordained minister of a sect or class known and designated as ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’.”"
  14. "Applying the General Priesthood Principle", The Watchtower, February 1, 1964, page 86, "Among the witnesses of Jehovah any adult, dedicated and baptized male Christian who is qualified may serve in such ministerial capacities as giving public Bible discourses and funeral talks, performing marriages and presiding at the Lord’s evening meal or supper. There is no clergy class."
  15. "Head Coverings—When and Why?", Keep Yourselves in God's Love, ©2008 Watch Tower, page 210-211, "Occasionally, though, circumstances may require that a Christian woman be called on to handle a duty normally performed by a qualified baptized male. For instance, she may need to conduct a meeting for field service because a qualified baptized male is not available or present. ..she would wear a head covering to acknowledge that she is handling the duty normally assigned to a male. On the other hand, many aspects of worship do not call for a sister to wear a head covering. For example, she does not need to do so when commenting at Christian meetings, engaging in the door-to-door ministry with her husband or another baptized male, or studying or praying with her unbaptized children."
  16. "Questions From Readers", The Watchtower, July 15, 2002, page 27, "There may be other occasions when no baptized males are present at a congregation meeting. If a sister has to handle duties usually performed by a brother at a congregationally arranged meeting or meeting for field service, she should wear a head covering."
  17. "Woman’s Regard for Headship—How Demonstrated?", The Watchtower, July 15, 1972, page 447, "At times no baptized male Witnesses may be present at a congregational meeting (usually in small congregations or groups). This would make it necessary for a baptized female Witness to pray or preside at the meeting. Recognizing that she is doing something that would usually be handled by a man, she would wear a head covering."
  18. Encyclopedia of Shinto—Home : Shrine Rituals : Gyōji sahō
  19. "Religious Movements Homepage: Tenrikyo". Retrieved 2007–03–20. 
  20. When churches started to ordain women
  21. Religious on Quakers
  22. Unitarian Universalism

Further reading

  • Canon Law Society of America. The Canonical Implications of Ordaining Women to the Permanent Diaconate, 1995. ISBN 0–943616–71–9.
  • Davies, J. G. "Deacons, Deaconesses, and Minor Orders in the Patristic Period," Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 1963, v. 14, p. 1–23.
  • Elsen, Ute E. Women Officeholders in Early Christianity: Epigraphical and Literary Studies, Liturgical Press, 2000. ISBN 0–8146–5950–0.
  • Grudem, Wayne. Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth: An Analysis of Over 100 Disputed Questions, Multnomah Press, 2004. 1-57673-840-X.
  • Gryson, Roger. The Ministry of Women in the Early Church, Liturgical Press, 1976. ISBN 0–8146–0899-X. Translation of: Le ministère des femmes dans l'Église ancienne, J. Duculot, 1972.
  • LaPorte, Jean. The Role of Women in Early Christianity, Edwin Mellen Press, 1982. ISBN 0–88946–549–5.
  • Madigan, Kevin, and Carolyn Osiek. Ordained Women in the Early Church: A Documentary History, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005. ISBN 0–8018–7932–9.
  • Martimort, Aimé Georges, Deaconesses: An Historical Study, Ignatius Press, 1986, ISBN 0–89870–114–7. Translation of: Les Diaconesses: Essai Historique, Edizioni Liturgiche, 1982.
  • Miller, Patricia Cox. Women in Early Christianity: Translations from Greek Texts, Catholic University of America Press, 2005. ISBN 0–8132–1417–3.
  • Wijngaards, John. Women Deacons in the Early Church: Historical Texts and Contemporary Debates, Herder & Herder, 2002, 2006. ISBN 0–8245–2393–8.
  • Zagano, Phyllis. Holy Saturday: An Argument for the Restoration of the Female Diaconate in the Catholic Church, Herder & Herder, 2000. ISBN 978–0824518325.
  • Zagano, Phyllis. "Catholic Women Deacons: Present Tense," Worship 77:5 (September 2003) 386–408.

External links



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