Academic journal article Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

A Church with Newly-Opened Doors: The Ordination of Women Priests in the Anglican-Episcopal Church of Japan

Academic journal article Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

A Church with Newly-Opened Doors: The Ordination of Women Priests in the Anglican-Episcopal Church of Japan

Article excerpt

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The Anglican-Episcopal Church of Japan (or Nippon Sei Ko Kai [nskk] H^Ě^é)1 was established in 1887 through the efforts of missionaries and bishops sent to Japan by the Anglican-Episcopal churches of the United States and England. The Constitution and Canons delineated at that time do not mention male-female gender as a condition for seeking the priesthood (MoTODA 1914). No doubt this was due to the assumption, not necessary at the time to record, that only men could seek such a position. From the early years of this preaching of the Gospel, however, many women missionaries were dispatched to Japan from the home missions, and these women were involved in various evangelical and educational activities. Again, there were many Japanese women who served as evangelists, and many seminaries and schools for nurturing women were established throughout the country. The roles of these women, however, were not considered to be "holy orders" or "ministers" (seishoku ... ), but rather roles of service by the laity who served under the jurisdiction of male priests.2 At the time, the way for a woman to become a minister was completely closed. Historical records on the church refer mostly to the activities of male ministers, so it is not easy to find records and related materials that testify to the activities of women evangelists or missionaries. The historical records of the nskk marginalize the existence of these women evangelists, rendering them powerless and invisible.

Around the end of the 1980s, voices calling to open the way for women to be accepted for the ministry began to be heard within the church. For twelve years beginning in 1986, not only the provincial synod-the highest level of decision-making for the nskk-but also each diocese, each church, and all related committees, and voluntary organizations such as women's associations, sponsored active discussions from many perspectives on the issue of ordaining women to the ministry. In May of 1998, after long discussions, the general meeting of the nskk decided to modify the church Canons to allow women to seek the priesthood, thus finally opening the door to the ministry for women. How ever, due to guidelines that were established in order to avoid a schism in the nskk, as of 2017 there are still dioceses and ministers who refuse to accept the ordination of women.

As one deeply involved in the movement to realize the ordination of women, including the discussions and consultations within the nskk, and as one who has been ordained as a priest and is currently serving as a woman priest, I will hereby record the historical background of this reform and the concurrent issues within the church. I will also attempt to shed light on the activities of women Christians that tend to be overlooked, reexamine the significance of the new door that has opened for the ordination of women, and consider what sort of vision should be sought for the future.

Historical Currents in the Ordination of Women in the Anglican-Episcopal Church Around the World


The first ordination of a woman as a minister in the nskk occurred in 1978, when the evangelist Shibukawa Ryöko was ordained as a deacon by the Chūbu diocese in central Japan. We must point out, however, that before this ordination was possible, there was a system defining a "deaconess" that served as a basis for the issue of women ministers.

In the Anglican Church of England, the category of a "deaconess" as an ancient role was revived in 1862, more than a hundred years before the first ordination of a woman as a deacon in Japan. At this time a deaconess was ordained by the London bishop (see Heiwitt and Hiatt 1973). A woman was ordained as a deaconess also in the United States in the late 1880s. At the General Synod of the nskk in 1891, a committee to study the development of a Canon concerning women deacons was established. …

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