28.11.11

Vicarette

Vicarette being one of the names I have been known to answer to
I am reading through a 48 page document in preparation for tomorrow's 'Annual Meeting of Women Clergy in the Diocese.' We will discuss ideas, concerns and issues pertinent to women clergy working in the diocese. The title – The Challenge of Mary and Martha – will enable us to consider the balance between life and work.

The document I am reading is the result of a meeting on 19 September 2011 which saw sixty members of the Church of England attend a conference at Lambeth Palace entitled ‘Transformations – Theology and Experience of Women’s Ministry’. Issues discussed pertained to the experiences of women’s ordained ministry in the context of the current consideration to appoint women to the episcopate. The suspicion was that discussions would highlight the nature of the 'inherited model of ordained ministry' and how and whether this could be changed. The attendees were hoping to explore and challenge the church's increasing tendency to adopt 'bureaucratic processes' and 'inappropriate business models' at the cost of 'engaging prayerfully both with God and with God’s people'.

It was interesting to read the contribution of the bishop of El Camino Real, California, in particular. She reflected on her diocese's part in the Continuing Indaba Process, in which I am involved. She talked about how there has to be an 'honest sharing of views on scripture, on theology and ethics.' Their triad is with the Diocese of Gloucester and the Diocese of Western Tanganyika. She talks about how their efforts with one another involved not trying to 'convert the other to our point of view' and the importance of  'being honest.' She describes being 'honest about who I am, how I read the text and how my theological values work and what’s really happening in my diocese.'

She does a lot to unpack issues of power and authority and I am really grateful for this. One of my hot-topics is authority and power. At the clergy conference, during a debate about the atonement in which about fifteen of us were involved...more on that later, I was bold enough to challenge one colleague's description of serving the needy. I know that this is often what the gospel is reduced to and we have the servant-king who came to serve and not be served but for those of us who are not Jesus, there can never be that complete emptying of self and giving to another - such a kenosis is not ours to be had, neither is our ministry ever totally incarnational as Jesus' was and both of these terms can be misapplied and should be reserved for the second person of the trinity alone. 

As soon as I am to be server to the served, aid to the suffering, I am aware of the balance of power and its precariousness. Even in our churches (our!) we need to be careful not to perpetuate an atmosphere of host and guest. The welcome extended is important, of course, but not if it also creates an imbalance of power - the church does not belong to us and it is not ours to open and close at will. This does, of course, mean that any teaching about 'welcome' needs to be carefully navigated. 

People are increasingly rejecting the 'help' that the church wants to give and so we have to be offering something else. There are so many alternatives that people are turning to and they are investing less confidence in inherited models of care-giving and they are less inclined to see clergy people as authoritative or even able to help. The Rt Rev Mary Gray-Reeves talks about how, 'If we talk about mutuality and servant-hood, that changes the conversation and it honours that the person who may need something from you also has something to offer you. And that changes how it works.'

This seems to have been something that she developed more keenly through the Indaba Process. Mary Gray-Reeves describes how people commented on her Indaba triad, noticing,

'There’s something extraordinarily close about you all, in your partnership.' She explained that 'That’s because we argued for the first four months. And it’s true because we told the truth to each other and we had to find our space of negotiation.'  

Relational power is what it is all about. 

I had an interesting time at the recent conference meeting someone who only knew me through this blog and had read my first few struggles through the women's ministry debate, through which, amongst other things, God called me. I explained how we are all on a journey and how many of those conservative evangelicals with whom I had wrestled theologically, or perhaps the straw man versions I created as my Pipers and Carsons and Jensons and more local characters all morphed into each other and I wrestled against a polarised version, had become my friends and theological dialogue partners, how really I had very much more in common with them than my liberal Anglo-Catholic friends but that existing in some inbetween place is often strange, holding to many of the same ideas as other evangelicals but all with rather a post-modern and progressive twist, which sees women leading just as much as men but with models of authority that bear little semblance to the inherited models of leading church that belongs to many of those leaders a couple of generations above me. 

Through blogging and dialogueing I learn too, like Gray-Reeves that 'The only non-negotiable thing is that we have a relationship.' I shook hands warmly with the man who only knew me because of my blog, who does not believe that women should be bishops. He extended his hand first. I am unsure as to whether he came up for communion as I took my place with the cup at the front of worship and administered it. It had been consecrated by a male bishop and so perhaps for he did, but I missed it. In the future, perhaps he will not. He was there with us at conference and that is a good thing. 

I will take another of Bishop Mary's sentences into my next and final Indaba meeting which will occur in Mumbai in January 2012. She describes how a Sufi poet expresses 'Beyond the field of right-doing and beyond the field of wrong-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.' This is good. I found the last Indaba process conversation quite exhausting. In a way, I have been practising this kind of dialogueing for quite a few years in an intense way now and so my spiritual and emotional exhaustion came as a surprise to me. Through the blog, particularly in its early years (that's only a while back really - 2008) I have been practising this. I am glad that what I practised there and made mistakes over and grew from can inform other aspects of my involvement in mission and ministry now. I like the way that Gray-Reeves engages with a kind of 'joined-up thinking' as tools that she has developed in parish-life equip her for Indaba and for the Women Bishops debate and each in turn informs the other. None of this stuff is wasted. 

Mary believes that legislating procedures is a last measure, one to be avoided and in some ways I think that she is right - we are right back to that bureaucratising and to those 'inappropriate business models.' In many ways there has to be another way, however idealistic that might sound. 

Grace was interesting at the Clergy conference as a woman led to ask God to bless the food and addressed God as both mother and father. In the papers that I am reading, as I prepare for tomorrow, I see that there is a discussion about our shared liturgy and how even as early as 1994, it was said by the  Liturgical Commission:

that God may be addressed in prayer in a variety of ways and that authors should be encouraged to incorporate a wide range of metaphors, especially those drawn from Scripture, in the forms of address of the prayers.’ 
Common worship does not seem to have done justice to this.

There were several discussion groups and Rosemary Lain-Priestly's discussion group decided that a national database should record the patterns of ministry that have proved successful for women so that good practice on flexible working and a helpline could be made available. She does much to highlight the transfer of giftings between motherhood and priesthood and calls for the further recognition of this. I need to work out for myself whether my husband giving up work to stay at home is because my vocation is unmanageable without this, whether it is what works for us - we have never both worked whilst bringing up the children, but delegated the role to one of us and whether it also has much to do with his disillusionment and desire for a break from the business world in which he spent many years and became rather dejected, even if he was well-paid. I suspect that it has very little to do with the former and more to do with the latter two.

Lain-Priestly's aim, despite the word incarnational, which has issues, is to demonstrate


 a different way of being that is about fullness of life and not exhaustion, that demonstrates attentiveness and stillness - that is more Mary than Martha. But at the same time we want to authenticate the messiness of women’s lives, in celebrating an incarnational theology that really values the godliness of Martha’s ministry.

As the Archbishop's words close the report, he responds to 'meaning-making' with something which I think is at work in the Indaba process. This also makes sense of my journey displayed through this blog, despite my first rallying against those voices I did not agree with as this blog got launched, I learnt and learn that we have to keep listening to each other, inviting each other to sit at the table (conscious of power there). The Archbishop describes how in interpreting scripture we need to think about who is there and who is not there, which is again, why I am glad to have shaken hands with that particular priest at the clergy conference, conspicuous in his presence in contrast to his absenting like-minded colleagues - good for him. 


Biblical literacy is not just functional literacy. It’s a matter of being alert to the fullest range of meanings that those words possess. And if you're going to be alert to the fullest range of meanings you have to have the fullest range of readers. So a group whose readership is restricted is actually not going to be a fully literate group. So I just want to make that connection in response to the double point about literacy. And so that needs to go back to the bishops as a question about their biblical literacy. You have to ask at some point “Who’s not here?” before you know how far you're reading adequately or intelligently.

I enjoyed the humility with which he closed the document and his simultaneous shooting of two myths out the water - very clever:
...in my reading of the Bible, my partial reading of the Bible, my partly illiterate reading of the Bible, I don’t read in the New Testament either a rights discourse or a complementarity discourse. So what is going on?  ...in arguing for and working for the full inclusion of women in the ordained ministry of the church, what we’re after is not simply justice, though that’s not exactly insignificant, but we are after the humanising of the ordained ministry and all that that might mean in terms of mission and the health of Christ’s body.

Looking forward to tomorrow!

Update: 

What I learnt and appreciate

That we have a progressive diocese, engaging generously but intelligently with the issues.

The candidness of women sharing their struggles and their joys.

The sense of perspective given by someone offering that our struggles are the struggles of all those juggling the demands of life.

What I think we need to do better:
We were all women apart from two male bishops - if we are really talking about the humanising of the ordained ministry then we must invite men to these discussions too.

We must not think that women juggling these demands are pioneers causing the church to ask questions and working through solutions - men can pioneer this alternative servant-hood too - being fully present fathers and husbands and clergy people and working that one through in community. There will be clergy men whose wives have high-powered careers and also pick up much of the childcare - this is not a gendered issue.

We must continue to listen to those with whom we disagree.

Does the word 'discrimination' adequately convey what we are really talking about. I do not believe that it does, but I too am struggling to provide another word. Any suggestions? I used to work with the language of two integrities but many people beyond the church are struggling to see that ideas of male headship or catholic representation of Christ are not simply discrimination. What language do we use to explain the struggle to a mystified secular Britain?

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A little background reading on the two theological integrities in the Church of England regarding women in ministry.