Rosie Ward spoke about the call to leadership and how those claiming to be reading scripture at face value cause women hearing the call to question their obedience to God. This was her experience and has been mine. Faith Forster, at Spring Harvest, led on women in the ministry and from listening to what she had to say, women were able to understand what was going on. It would seem Faith Forster was a real gift. I found Gilbert Bilezikian's book freeing in the same sort of way. In her book Rosie references Bilezikian. I know I've waxed lyrical on this blog about Bilezikian but there you go, I'm not the only one. You must read it.
We are to be grateful, to this generation of writers, for all the work that people have put into this area, analysing scripture and looking to the bigger Bible picture to free women to serve. Rosie wrote her book to encourage and inspire women leaders. Many books about leadership have been by men and the resesarch that has taken place in a secular setting into leadership hasn't infiltrated ministry thinking. She attempts to integrate the two.
We have to take a wider view than the difficult passages to avoid slinging the proof-texts at each-other. There is an egalitarian direction to the whole trajectory of scripture and this is at last recognised by the church. This is not a modern debate because Margaret Fell wrote a defense of women preachers in 1667.
Reflecting on what Rosie said, she confirmed for me that we are too hung-up about so-called differences in gender. We do need to think instead about personality and giftings.
Rosie explained how leadership has been seen in male terms and there is a juxtaposition between women and their 'qualities' and leadership 'qualities'. Women have to work out how they can authentically be themselves when the role has been filled by men for the most part.
The idea of power and service is a difficult one. Jesus was a servant leader but some women have been forced into servant roles when this was not a choice. Power is problematic for women. How do we respond to positions of power? We don't want to look exploitative, we are not competing for power, we want to give it away and encourage and build up others if we are truly Christ-like.
There are only 13 women archdeacons and women make up only 8% of senior posts in churches. They are usually not in stipendiary, senior posts. The further on one might think, the more complex things get. It is not women's lack of confidence, it is the system within the church.
Women's voices are heard at Parish level but not so much nationally. Women need to be in these senior posts alongside men. There is a marked lack of women leading larger evangelical churches.
A review of Rosie's book suggested that she did not suggest how we go forward and so she proposes that we work on the following:
Modelling and mentoring
Keep praying – change takes time
The issues around women now are different to issues 15 years ago when women were first ordained. We are getting there. But there is a way to go. The church is still learning to accomodate female vicars who have children. Part-time working can marginalise women if we're not careful. It is, however, normal now to see women in ordained ministries. They are simply getting on with the job. At first there was an expectation that women were going to change the Church and this has not happened in the way that was expected. The first generation of women had to prove themselves and it is good that the Church is not burdening women with the responsibility for changing the Church. Rosie discussed how Willow Creek's Nancy Beach had once described 'the freight of being iconic' and how the first ordained women had carried the responsibility for the whole of the ir marginalised group. Judgements about people's experience of one woman preaching perhaps badly were applied to all women, in a way that would never happen with men. It is crazy, isn't it? We would never say that we once heard a man preach and he was dreadful and therefore think all men must be terrible.
John Coyne (Dean of college) soon to be working for CPAS, asked questions about collaborative ministry. We need to think more about men and women working together. Personally, I think that this has to be a better reflection of God's intention for us at our creation and of our mutuality and complementarity. We need to think about how we can make this more effective. Teams should be about integrating personalities more than they are about integrating the genders, gender has to be secondary.
We were encouraged to ask questions and when Rosie was asked whether she thought there are ministries that are more effectively led by men or women, she gracefully answered that we have to look to giftings and not gender. She also confronted the idea of the so-called feminisation of the Church. Men at the front of churches have not led more men than women to church so why the hang-up with the feminisation of the church, women are not bringing more women into church. It's illogical.
I asked whether Rosie felt that provision should be made for traditionalists and let's just say I didn't get the emphatic response I once got from Christina Baxter. Rosie, perhaps wisely, avoided commiting herself to an answer. She did say later however that sometimes for change to happen, people have to be upset.
These are just some of the aspects of Rosie's presentation that impacted me and I have not captured everything she said and it is very much my interpretation of what she said. It is what I heard. (What a postmoden defence! ;))
She spoke in seminar afterwards with female ordinands and it was very interesting to hear the stories of those securing their curacies before I embark on the journey. Some women were finding it hard to secure stipendiary positions because the Church sees them also in the capacity of wife and mother and so prefers to secure NSM women or pay a part-time stipend. Women whose husbands are ordained seem to be in an even worse position. There is the problem of stipendiary ministers having to live in the parish where they serve to contend with, which would ultimately require married couples to live apart if they were both each in charge of a church! There is also the Church's desire to only want to pay one stipend which usually means the female vicar in the pair will not be remunerated.
I will not face this problem, having a husband in secular employment but I do have young children. Of course, in no other area of life would employees offer women less of an income to live off because they will also be caring for children. It's amasing. But then the Church is a very original employee! They do not pay salaries. They pay stipends – a sum of money to live off so that you don't have to work and can dedicate yourself to the Church. They do not have to conform to many of the policies and legislative frameworks that normal employees have to.
And so God made us child-bearers and God calls us to serve him and so the question remains, can the Church affirm women so that they might be everything God has called them to be and serve the Church? I hope so.
Perhaps we could learn a thing or two from the Methodists.