Wednesday, October 11, 2006

New Directions for Women's Ministry?

Here's a "taster" of what's in store, taken from a post I made on the "Fighting Father" Forum:

The member Stephen wrote:

"I had great respect for the late Bp David Penman who led the Melbourne Diocese to the ordination of women and celebrated with appointment of one of them for our own parish as deacon. I was absolutely flabergasted when the the archaic logic that prevented women priests was then stepped up to the role of Bishop."

I'm one of the dissenters on this, I'm afraid. Whether we are for the move or against it, I don't feel that it is worth dividing the church over before a consensus is reached. In the Church of England we've just decided on a move to steamroller any opposition. I'm not sure what "archaic logic" means in this debate. Are we going to talk "archaic teaching" in our Bible Study now, rejecting anything we dislike?

I've always been a supporter of women's ministry in the Church, but find that the debates about women's ordination can be be bland and prevent further examination of what a priest is and how that differs from a minister or a deacon.

We have a huge opportunity to explore all this and to open up the discussion. Sadly we just assume that there is no difference between men and women, or between male and female, a position I find lacking both logic and scientific acumen!

I'm much more inclined to the view of an Orthodox Archbishop over here who was asked "Will there ever be women priests in the Orthodox Church?" replied "Yes, when we all agree!" One of the most sensible comments came from a prominent German theologian Manfred Hauke who remarked that what we think about women priests affects what we think about everything else. It is not a matter that can be reduced to the simplicities of "political correctness" but one which requires us to examine exactly what we mean by "priest", and "minister", by "authority," by "man" and "woman," and indeed how we think of God. Fr Thomas Hopko, Head of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary in the USA commented that the cintroversy over women priests "shows what a person believes about everything."

It was that realisation which made myself and a retired archdeacon in our local "Deanery Synod" move from being in favour to being against the legislation being presented. The debates had brought up profundities of necessary thought which were essential to the deliberations but tossed aside because of the prevailing fashion.

One of my closest colleagues - an Anglican lay woman who taught seminars and workshops for the local Jesuit ladies - was and is very much in favour of the ordination of women to the priestly offices. However, she felt that the Church of England General Synod decided to go ahead after a debate which did not prove the point but fell considerably short. "There was no way they could go ahead on those arguments" was her assessment. Like me - waiting for the voting to be announced, and hearing the figures which gave the go ahead - "Wrong Decision" was the gut reaction to the debate. It sticks in my memory because she rang as the result was announced!

Perhaps some of us were suspicious when at the start of the referral to the Dioceses, the Diocesan Synod and the clergy, were called to a meeting at which various Diocesan Officals, including both Bishops and a Church Commissioner, in order to tell us how we should vote! Such a democratic system!

This a very long post and I apologise. However I shall be looking at some new thoughts on the matter in my blog, which is noted at the end of my posts.

Maybe one of the best reasons for holding back a little from this decision is that women priests and women bishops seem in the main to ape the men. The promised feminine and female gifts seem to be dropped in favour of somewhat manly behaviour. The new thinking I'll be looking at is in line with thoughts I've always had about the work of my women colleagues which would do them more justice than blandly saying [in effect] "OK There's no difference between men and women. Let's ordain you, and then you can get on with the work the way we men do."

Let's face it. "Priesthood" as we have received it is very much a male construct, propped up by a patriarchal system. The right kind of priesthood for women would reflect their gifts - different from men's - and be complementary and of equal status to men's forming a better whole. Mind you, I think such a priestly ministry has always been there, just not expressed very explicitly!

Fr Ted (The Revd. Dr. Edward Baty)