Noting that women were not yet fully represented in the ordained ministry of the Episcopal Church, bishop-elect John Coburn of Massachusetts assured an Episcopal women’s gathering last month that the way would become open “in God’s time.”

A few days later, God’s time apparently arrived. The House of Bishops and the 912-member House of Deputies (clery and lay delegates) in close votes approved the ordination of women to the Episcopal priesthood. The action came during the triennial convention of the church in Minneapolis. It was bitterly contested, and it may lead to an in-house schism, the establishment of a church within the church.

Some conservatives were jolted again when both houses voted overwhelmingly to adopt a new modern-language prayer book to replace the 1928 Established Book of Common Prayer. The old book, a guide to worship virtually unchanged from its ancestry dating back to the Elizabethan prayer book of 1549, can be used side by side with the revised one until 1979. A second vote must be taken at the time in order for the new book to become standard.

“If the church can survive this,” said an observer of the Minneapolis convention, “it can survive anything.” He described the proceedings as the Episcopal version of Vatican II.

There were other important actions, but the ordination and prayer-book issues overshadowed everything else, including indications that spiritual renewal is for growing thousands of Episcopalians the really significant story of what is happening in the 2.1-million-communicant church.

The women’s-ordination issue had simmered for a long time. In 1970 women were given the right to seek ordination to the diaconate and were seated as deputies for the first time. Proposals to admit women to the priesthood ...

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