Yesterday at our diocesan synod, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the ordination of women to the priesthood. We began the service with words adapted from our marriage liturgy:
Throughout the ages, people on great journeys have stopped at important places and built cairns. These cairns were marking points of progress mad and signposts of the way that they travelled. We mark this day as a cairn, celebrating the progress made, and the way we have travelled together. We mark this day as one step on a longer path. We rejoice in the richness of our journey and acknowledge our need of one another in drawing nearer to the Kingdom of God.
A special liturgy had been prepared for the celebration, and we had created a film to tell the stories of some of those first women to be ordained. It should have been a joyous afternoon.
Fr Pip has already written a wonderful blogpost about what happened earlier in the day. And to be honest, I have little to add to what he has already expressed so beautifully, but I’m angry and hurt, so forgive me for repeating him.
In the morning, as we were discussing changes to the Cathedral’s statutes, a member of clergy pointed out that all the language was still exclusive and asked that it be changed. It was decided that it was irrelevant … until someone later offered to inclusivise the language himself.
We had been given the option to vote for a new cathedral chapter canon and a new clergy representative to General Synod. Women had been nominated for both. But synod decided to elect men. These men will do a good job, I have no doubt. But they are already prominent members of the diocese and fill many roles (which is probably one reason why they were elected).
I realised then, despite the bishop’s opening remarks about justice, that we as a church would rather choose the safe option. We’d rather talk about justice … and mission … and the kingdom … than actually live it. We are an institution of fear, of conservatism. We, as someone rightly said to me today, corporately lack imagination.
Would choosing women for leading roles in the diocese, would changing our canons and statutes be tokenism or political correctness? No. I didn’t used to agree with positive discrimination, but the stained-glass ceiling in our church was all too evident yesterday. In the current system, it is nearly impossible for women to be visible enough in the life of the church to be recognised for the gifts they have to offer.
I felt deflated as the liturgy for the anniversary celebration started.
Part of the film (which hopefully will be up on YouTube shortly), showed +Richard Holloway reading from the sermon he preached twenty years ago: We must confess that for too long women have been wounded in the house of their friends…
Yes. Too long indeed. Even today, even amongst friends, even amongst those who say they are sympathetic, we are still wounded.
As I presided at High Mass today, I held in my prayers all of my fellow women who have gone before, who have been wounded in their journey, who have suffered unimaginable pain in seeking to live the ministry God has called them to.
Today’s gospel reading from John was the story of Jesus cleansing of the Temple:
Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’
Yesterday in our service we said we stopped to build a cairn on our journey together. But in our business as a church, in our life together, what we really did was simply add a few more stones to the Temple that has been under construction for 2000 years.