1998-12-23 00:00:00

Two decades after her ordination as the first woman deacon of the Japan Anglican Church, Margaret Shibukawa Ryoko was ordained its first woman priest in Nagoya, 300 kilometers west of Tokyo.

Two leaders of the Church -- Bishop Francis Mori Toshiaki of Chubu diocese and Bishop John Takeda Makoto, primate of the Japan province -- ordained Reverend Shibukawa, 67, in the Laying of Hands ceremony Dec. 12 at St. Matthew Church, the diocesan cathedral.

The May 26-28 General Synod of the Nippon Sei Ko Kai (the Church´s Japanese name) opened the way for women priests by dropping "men" from one of its rules which says "candidates to the priesthood should be men over 24 years of age."

After the rule was changed, Reverend Shibukawa told UCA News, "I prayed about it, thought about it and at last made up my mind. When I told Bishop Mori my decision he said, ´Congratulations! You can do it.´"

"His words were a marvelous source of strength," she said, adding that she hopes to devote herself to the service of others in a ministry of healing.

She recalled how her road to ordination began to open in 1990 while she was shuttling between two churches in Nagano, 180 kilometers northwest of Tokyo.

A high school girl in one church asked her mother if the deacon would become a priest, and her mother replied, "I suppose she will someday."

That incident, Reverend Shibukawa explained, sparked a movement among parishioners of both churches who were ignorant of the Church rule preventing a woman´s ordination, so they formed a committee to have the rule amended.

Lay groups in Tokyo, Kansai and Kyushu also pressed for the change, and after eight years of public hearings and theological debate, the General Synod approved the ordination of women priests.

Despite the rule change, Reverend Shibukawa admitted, some Anglicans still oppose the idea. "There are parishioners who will not accept a woman priest. We shall do well to function as co-laborers with the fathers, dialoguing with the parishioners and building mutual respect for opposite viewpoints,"

The newly ordained priest graduated from Williams Anglican Seminary in Kyoto as a catechist in 1965 and has since been working in churches in Niigata and Nagoya. She was ordained a deacon in 1978.

The Japan Anglican Church has seven woman deacons, two of whom it plans to ordain priests early next year.


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