When I immigrated to this country from Austria in 1953 with my wife and baby boy, we first settled in Montreal, a pleasant city with a predominantly Roman Catholic population. I was very busy working my way from the bottom up, but I had time to observe the medieval powers of the Catholic Church, the sway it had over its people, with each parish’s priest dictating the lives of his citizens as a shepherd over his flock of sheep.
Decades later, the Quiet Revolution ushered in a gradual secularization of the people of Quebec. The separatist movement ushered in a Francisation program, resulting in an exodus of Anglophones. The Anglican Church was not immune to the effects of these movements, and to this day constantly faces the threat of closures, finding it difficult to entice Francophones to join what has traditionally been considered an all-Anglo church. But now, perhaps, the latest event in that church’s history will provide the attraction that has been lacking in Montreal, as it has demonstrated yet further support for gender equality, another milestone in Canadian history.
Mary Irwin-Gibson was elected the first female bishop of the Anglican diocese of Montreal on June 6th. Irwin-Gibson was ordained as a deacon in 1981, then as a priest in 1982. She served in Montreal between 1981 and 2009 before moving to Kingston, Ontario to serve as Dean and Rector of St. George’s Cathedral. She joins several women who have been selected to lead the Anglican Church of Canada in recent years. The ordination of women into the Anglican priesthood began in 1976, and since that time, the appearance of women in top positions in that church has become increasingly common. The Anglicans elected their first woman bishop in the U.S. in 1989, and the first woman bishop in Africa in 2012.
But, are women clergy making a difference? I believe so. And, I believe their time of relevance in human affairs is yet to come in a new Reformation! Even Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church, who for now opposes the ordination of women into the priesthood, has succumbed to the strengthening role of women by encouraging their participation in “important decisions … where the authority of the church is exercised”. There is hope for gender equality even in that male bastion.