The Aftermath

Fears of a split within the Church following the vote on women’s ordination were partially realized. Immediately following the verdict, the Anglican Orthodox Church of Statesville, NC, invited dissidents to join their church, headed by Presiding Bishop James Parker Dees, an Episcopal priest whose theology strongly rejected not only women’s ordination but racial integration. In November of 1976, the American Church Union (a group of Anglo-Catholic clergy) rejected the General Convention’s decision, on the grounds that Convention was “incompetent to legislate on matters of Apostolic faith and order,” and stated that they refused to abide by a “structural authority which has not the authority of Christ.” In December, a group of seminarians mobilized to create a network of students opposed to women’s ordination, offering support to opponents of ordination studying in liberal environments. In January of 1977, with the formation of Anglicans United, another group split off.

Often these departures were motivated by other deep changes in the life of the Church, such as the discussion over adopting a new Prayer Book. Among the departing groups, a feeling prevailed that they were not leaving the Church; the Church had already left them.  These rifts would continue to form over the next decade and a half even as leaders and members sought reconciliation.  Though the tensions that flared up in the aftermath of the Special General Convention in 1969 and the acceptance of civil rights for African Americans caused some to seek a spiritual home elsewhere, those who remained in the Episcopal Church devoted themselves to a central organizing theme of inclusivity as the expression of the Body of Christ on earth.  The House of Deputies would never organize itself in the same privileged way after 1976.

The Rev. Carol Anderson, pictured earlier at General Convention in 1970 hoping to be ordained, reads the Gospel during the opening service of the 1982 General Convention in New Orleans. Rev. Anderson was ordained a priest in 1977.