Una Kroll talks about her battle to be ordained as a woman priest. As a doctor she enjoyed good working relationships with her male colleagues but the Anglican Church was still resistant to accepting women. Una Kroll was finally ordained as a priest in 1997.
Women in the church
In 1968 the Lambeth Conference of bishops declared that there were no theological reasons to prevent women from entering the priesthood, but it was not until 1994 that women were allowed to be ordained. During the intervening 26 years religious feminists such as Una Kroll constantly challenged the assumptions and structures that prohibited women from becoming priests. Kroll questions the logic behind the view that women should not be priests. Her opinion is that if God is as wonderful and powerful as Christians believe, surely he could do his work through a woman just as well as through a man. This led her to a further question – why did God need to do his work through a priest at all, rather than through any person?
In 1994 the first 1500 women were ordained as priests, and at the same time the London-based group WATCH (Women And The Church) was formed. Now a national organisation, it campaigns for honesty and transparency in the Church of England, equal treatment of women and men, and the ordination of women as bishops, a subject that is still hotly debated.
In parallel to the debates within the Anglican Church, there was (and still is) a parallel, passionate struggle within the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic Women’s Network was set up in 1984 bringing together previous Catholic women’s groups. It changed its name to Women Word Spirit and has become known as a radical group within Catholicism. Other Catholic women’s groups include Catholic Women’s Ordination.
Christ had 12 disciples, all of whom were men. Some Christians use this to suggest that women should not be ordained. What do you think?
Think about other faiths. Are women allowed to teach their religion or lead communal worship? Why or why not? Do you think this should change?
How important do you think gender is to the qualities of a good religious leader?
Why do you think the idea of women bishops causes such controversy? What reasons were given for the opposition to women becoming bishops?
Una Kroll, Flesh of my Flesh (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1975) © Darton, Longman and Todd
Women priests now! photograph courtesy of The Women’s Library, photographer Bob Pullen
Ordain Women photograph © Getty Images
By 1975 I was well-established in the women’s movement and I was an oddity and a lone woman among a group of men being trained for male authoritarian leadership. And I was countering that male authoritarian leadership in a number of different ways, in my theological college, and then when I was ordained in 1970 I was going on with the parallel works, both in the Church and in society.
By 1975 we had reached a place where Christian Howard had done her first survey of women’s ministry in the Church, dating back from the 1916 Six Point Group. At the same time Elsie Baker, who was a great friend of mine, she was a very conservative Christian, a lovely woman, she had had her own clashes with the Church because when she adopted a child they said she couldn’t work. And it was the custom then that all married women, as soon as they married, they couldn’t work for the Church, only single women were able to work. And she had been ordained to the diaconate in 1920, and, in 1930 she had been demoted to a lay person as a deaconess. And she refused to accept that demotion. So that was a big bond between us; two very different people, very different views of Christianity, working together to achieve a change in the Church. I was working with these people, and also with people like Diana Collins and Margaret Webster in the Church, who were feminists. So there were other people around. And particularly in the Methodist Church, the women in 1974 were ordained to Methodist ministry. I was delighted for them. We had been picketing for them as well as for ourselves and they had been picketing for us. And I had some wonderful friends within the Christian feminist movement. And so we were excited and we were moving towards proposing that the motion be set in point for women to be ordained. And I really thought it was going to go through in 1975. Well of course it didn’t. And, in 1975 there I was, left with what appeared to be, really defeat. So, I went on working for the secular side of it. I was still, by that time I was ordained and I was a spokesperson for a small group of women who had begun to say that they thought they might be ordained. When I started in 1970, no-one, bar myself and Linda Mary Evans, would ever admit to feel called to be priests. I did feel so called. I was passionate about it. And I thought it would change the Church, the coming of women would change the Church. And they needed it. They needed to work in partnership and not like that, or, like that. Of course I’m waving my arms about and showing you that women were supposed to be subordinate to men at all points of family life, social life, public life. And I was saying, no, we’re partners and we should be equal and we should be contributing equally.
- Una Kroll discusses the struggle for the ordination of women
- 13 - 14 March 2012
- Sound recording
- Sisterhood and After: The Women's Liberation Oral History Project
- © British Library
- Held by
- British Library
- Article by:
- Sisterhood and After Research Team
- Equality and work
Although women make up a large part of the congregation in many religious institutions, they rarely hold positions of institutional power. Discover how some feminists campaigned for equality in religious institutions or even explored alternative spiritualities.