Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Delighted at women's leadership

I'm pleased to say I shall never be a bishop (I'm sure others are also heaving a noisy sigh of relief at the idea too!) but I did by pure chance wear purple today as did my friend Nyambura, the first woman to be ordained in her church in Kenya. The ecumenical context is not one where you can be too noisily joyful about ordination of women to the priesthood or the episcopate.
Yet one of the things I am proud of my own church for is that it was the first Christian denomination to ordain women in Britain - in 1917, a year before women in Britain had the vote.
At the end of this week the United Reformed Church will also hold its synod, or General Assembly, in Edinburgh, for the first time with a woman, the Revd Roberta Rominger, as general secretary. The book of reports even expresses concern that with the retirement of many of our current group of moderators - those people in the denomination appointed to something similar to episcopal oversight - it is possible that we will not have any other women moderators for a while. Resolution 12 on page 220 of the book of reports says this:
The United Reformed Church, despite it commitment to women's ministry has been unable to achieve equality of opportunity, proper gender equality and participation by women at all levels of the Church's life. therefore Genreal Assembly instructs its equal opportunites and nominations committees to work together to discover the theological, cultural and structural reasons why this is the case. Assembly requests that procedures and policies to address this imbalance be brought to the 2010 General Assembly.

This evening, reading blogs like Anglican Wanderings by Andrew Teather, who seems a nice enough sort of person with whom I would probably disagree about almost everything to do with our common Christian faith, I realised once more how very different this church of Christ is from the one I am a minister of. Even though I know, understand and appreciate the Church of England's liturgy, I really do not understand its culture of debate and decision-making. I do however recommend Andrew's blog for it's cogent and up to date news of what part of the Anglo Catholic Church is thinking and feeling. He reports this for instance:
"Bishop Burnham, one of two "flying bishops" in the province of Canterbury, has made a statement asking Pope Benedict XVI and the English Catholic bishops for "magnanimous gestures" that will allow traditionalists to become Catholics en masse. He is confident that this will happen, following talks in Rome with Cardinal Levada, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Cardinal Kasper, the Vatican's head of ecumenism. He was accompanied on his visit by the Rt Rev Keith Newton, Bishop of Richborough, the other Canterbury "flying bishop", who is expected to follow his example. Bishop Burnham hopes that Rome will offer special arrangements whereby former Anglicans can stay worshipping in parishes under the guidance of a Catholic bishop. Most of these parishes already use the Roman liturgy, but there may be provision for Anglican prayers if churches request it. Anglican priests who are already married will not be barred from ordination as priests, though Bishop Burnham would not be able to continue in episcopal orders, as he is married and there is an absolute bar on married bishops in the Roman and Orthodox Churches."

Tonight I shall meditate on pain, the pain expressed by those priests who wept in open session, who feel their world is crumbling, that they are no longer at home in the church they loved and built. Many of them are the same priests who also inflicted pain and repeatedly made the point of not accepting the authority of the woman presiding at the eucharist but neverthless knelt at the altar and closed their hands so as not to receive the elements. This happened for instance to Canon Lucy Winkett at St Paul's Cathedral and many women colleagues have mentioned experiencing something similar. Perhaps some of those clerks in holy orders would say that they were duty bound to attend, that they felt they had to be there in order to experience the pain of such an event. I cannot help feeling that this is sexist power politics masquerading as personal and communal displayed and public pain. Just because people feel pain, are upset, angry or feel excluded does not necessarily mean that they are right - and of course I realise that works both ways.
Rowan Williams said in the debate that Christ would stand with those on both sides of the debate in their pain. The current Archbishop of Canterbury is a man of deep spirituality and learning and I understand what he was trying to say as he expressed it like that, but for once I really disagree, even as I pray for him during these difficult days.
Christ I think will have been rather busier standing alongside the pain of those suffering pain in Darfur, Zimbabwe, Burma ...; with the families of young people knifed on the streets of London, of women sold into prostitution, of the refugees ...

God of infinite grace
send us your spirit of consolation and commitment,
renew us to preach Christ's gospel
that your kingdom may come
and your love abound



GEORGE said...

Now if I wasn't home for the weekend I might have popped across to Edinburgh for GA - it would probably not have been good for my Protestant ego to be at Conference, outside Synod and then at GA all in one week however.

It's so easy to get lost in the politics and to forget that the problems of the world should be the problems of the church, and not vice versa.


Lac19 said...

Great post, thanks. I tend to agree with you about the rank of priorities: in the context of a world in shambles pretending the divine attention to be focused on these debates is really a shame.

Andrew Teather said...

Thanks for that~ although I think you might find yourself surprised at how much we would agree. However, the 'real blog' is now behind pages of synod updates. Keep reading!

Jane said...

Thanks Andrew - loved the pictures of Dominic by the way!
Very impressive synod uhpdates.
I'm actually quite a high church non-conformist.
Have just got in from an evening looking at photos of an Orhtodox Romanian wedding - which would make anyone other than the Armenians look pretty low church!