If we are working for the Kingdom we must always be open to new insights. These were the words of the Reverend Canon Nancy Charton, who was one of the first woman priests ordained in South Africa.
If we are working for the Kingdom we must always be open to new insights. These were the words of the Reverend Canon Nancy Charton, who was one of the first woman priests ordained in South Africa. She was speaking at a special service at the Grahamstown Cathedral last Sunday to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the ordination of the first women priests in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa.
The service was led by the Reverend Claire Nye Hunter, with the participation of Grahamstown Bishop Ebenezer Ntlali. The cathedral congregation was joined by women clergy from around the Diocese of Grahamstown, as well as Charton's friends from other dioceses and denominations.
In her address Charton outlined the long road she had travelled to fulfil of her vocation to become a priest and gave thanks for the many people who had encouraged her.
She recalled the historic Provincial Synod held in Swaziland in 1992, presided over by then Archbishop Desmond Tutu, at which the proposer of the motion to ordain women priests, Dean Colin Jones of Cape Town, had reminded those present that they were there to seek God's will.
After the motion had been passed with a 79.2% majority, it was the Grahamstown Diocese that was first ready to ordain women. On 5 September 1992 Charton was ordained priest by Bishop David Russell, together with Su Groves and the late Bride Dickson.
Drawing on this experience, Charton challenged her listeners by saying that if they are working for the Kingdom of God they must always be open to new insights. She mentioned challenges facing the church today: homosexuality, climate change and economic justice.
Although people can quote the bible to support their point of view, she reminded the congregation that even the devil quoted scripture. We can quote, and quote, and quote – but we really need to pray, and pray and pray!
Saying that the battle against apartheid was not won with politics, but with prayer, Charton ended her speech with an encouraging reminder that her definition of prayer involves doing.
At present, out of the 98 priests in the Grahamstown Diocese 23 are women.
Within the last few weeks two dioceses of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa have elected women to be bishops: Ellinah Wamukoya to be Bishop of Swaziland and Margaret Vertue to be Bishop of False Bay Diocese in Cape Town. They will be the first women Bishops in this Province of the Anglican Communion.
Charton was born in 1920 and now lives in Graaff-Reinet, where she is in charge of a parish where the newly-appointed priest had suddenly died.