thomas-gabrielle-rec.jpgIn October, Assistant Professor of Early Christianity and Anglican Studies Gabrielle Thomas traveled to England for the annual meeting of the Anglican-Oriental Orthodox Commission (AOOIC). Thomas, a priest in the Church of England, was invited to serve on the commission in 2020 by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, and is the first and only woman to do so. Below, she answers some questions about the work of the commission and her experience.

What is the purpose of the AOOIC, and of this gathering in particular?

The Anglican–Oriental Orthodox Commission (AOOIC) was established in 2001 with the purpose of moving toward deeper unity between the churches, and for cultivating fellowship and relationships amongst Christians across the world. The Commission is currently working on a document entitled “Authority in the Church.”

What does the commission do outside of these annual meetings?

Some of our churches exist in areas where Christians are persecuted for their faith, and therefore, we continue to be in touch and to pray for one another throughout the year. The friendship and fellowship amongst members is important to all of us and we have a WhatsApp group through which we communicate important news.

It seems noteworthy that you are an ordained priest in the Church of England and the first and only woman to be part of the AOOIC, especially since the Orthodox tradition does not ordain women as priests. Can you reflect on that and whether that difference impacted your work in the group?

I don’t mind admitting that I was a little nervous about joining the group during the pandemic because I’m not the biggest fan of Zoom. This year was the first time I have met with the other members in one location, and it was a valuable experience. They received me kindly. I’d been invited [to be on the Commission] because of my scholarly expertise in the history of Christian thought, and members valued what I was able to bring in terms of knowledge and expertise. 

The only difference of any note involved how I was addressed. We are formal in our meetings and tend to address one another as “Father X” or “Archbishop Y.” Since I don’t use “Mother” and “Reverend” is rather a mouthful in that context, we settled on “Professor.” So, it was not difficult but simply a recognition of difference. The unity of the Church is very important to me, and it was a treasured experience to be able to contribute in this way.