February 4th, 2013

“After November...”

Comments, stories and experiences from WATCH members and supporters

4th Feb 2013

“...I am beginning to look for a job outside of the church after 16 years of ordination” “...I have felt very cast down ... I wonder whether to quit and go and work in a bookshop”

“...the vote has been a rude awakening and has knocked me right off course spiritually - I find it hard even to go to church, let alone to exercise my ministry”

“I felt that my authority to preside at the Eucharist was suddenly in question”

“The next day I was surprised at how hurt I felt - really hurt physically. My chest seemed sore with the weight of the pain of it”

“On what basis can I challenge injustice when my Church has institutionalised it?”

1. I write as a laywoman, and licensed lay preacher. As a former member of General Synod I was not very optimistic about the result, before the debate. I was worried when my stepdaughter, ordained deacon only last year, announced that she was going to go to London to queue for the Gallery because she wanted to be there when the legislation passed, just as I had been there when the legislation for women priests passed. I listened to the afternoon speeches on my office computer in the company of a senior woman colleague who is not a Christian but was interested from the point of view of a woman.

When the result came through, I was not surprised, but quite angry. My colleague was furious. When I spoke to my stepdaughter, she said she felt numb. Both she and I were horrified by the way that speakers opposed to the legislation had not spoken about it specifically, but had rehearsed all the old arguments which had previously been rejected when Synod had concluded that there are no theological objections. It was a step backwards, rather than a simple no to the legislation.

What surprised me was my reaction the following Sunday at my church. A baby girl was being baptised, and when the words of the service said 'we welcome you' I was suddenly struck by how our church does NOT welcome her - not if she is ordained and then shows the gifts and skills that would make her a fine bishop. I broke down and cried, much to the consternation of the rest of the congregation who don't expect me to show emotion at yet another 'no' from our church.

Since then, I have been heartened and supported by members of the congregation whom I had thought did not care one way or the other, but who turn out to be as appalled as I am at what feels like a slap in the face for women clergy and for women laity. I have seriously questioned how I can stay in this church with any integrity and I suspect that is something on which I will need to go on reflecting.

Lay woman

2. On the day of the vote I met several female colleagues at a meeting. Quite honestly, the mood was one of depression and no matter how many voted in favour of women bishops, here we feel as if the Church has said that our ministries are not valued and that the Church has to make do with us. Amalecolleaguewantedtopickmybrainsandcouldn'tunderstandwhy female clergy should be feeling depressed as so many voted FOR women bishops, but he eventually got the picture. Life goes on in the parish with only a few tuts after the vote. My diocese held an Epiphany service to celebrate women's ministry which was wonderfully affirming. Several of my parishioners attended in support. The feeling I detect now is that we are expected just to get on with things. As one (male) parishioner said, 'It was a fair vote' and the response from supporters has shown us up as being sour and unable to accept what the majority have wanted. It seems that this vote has been viewed in the same way as a general election. Perhaps that's the nub of it for me: theology and vocation is not the same thing as politics and election.

Female Priest

3. It has been surprisingly draining continuing to minister in the parish post - November. All my ordained life, in fact all my life as an adult Christian, we have been on the journey to women’s full inclusion in the church. So although in practical terms nothing has actually changed, it feels very different indeed to have had 'No' said, rather than 'we are working towards it'. It feels rather like a bereavement, and so is taking an amount of mental energy/ resilience that I hadn’t anticipated fully. In addition, I find myself wondering whether I am simply colluding by propping up a fundamentally unjust institution, by continuing to minister within. This nagging question also inadvertently takes up mental energy. So I feel drained - the sort of drained that you feel after a night of weeping - which means there is less energy for other things. I’m carrying on, of course, but I’m snapping more at my children and so on simply, I think, because I feel tired and sad.

Female Priest

4. I heard the news about the vote as I was driving to our diocese's office for a Readers' meeting and I nearly turned the car round and went home. As it was I think I drove rather badly after that and when I got there and met some of the other women Readers, could hardly hold back tears. The next day I was surprised at how hurt I felt - really hurt physically. My chest seemed sore with the weight of the pain of it. I felt that I was lucky to be part of an Anglican/Methodist LEP where I know that my ministry is valued and treated as valid.

I think that I have got past the point of making excuses for those who cannot accept women's ministry. I keep repeating to myself that if they substituted 'black' for 'female' no-one would tolerate it, and rightly so and this exposes this prejudice for what it is.

This time, I think, no compromise - a single simple measure. It's all taking energy and time which would be much better spent on the body of Christ.

Lay woman

5. After years of crap from opponents of women priests that I put up with as we appeared to be on an upward curve with first the amendment and then the failure even of that I am beginning to look for a job outside of the church after 16 years of ordination. I walked out of chapter as my colleagues evangelical and catholic exchanged strategies to 'stop us having a woman'. I have sort advice from others as to more women friendly Deaneries and looked at 2 posts outside of the C of E plus discussing with another denomination a switch but am dismissing that as an option.

Female Priest

6. It has been very difficult to continue since November. I have felt very cast down. The worst thing though is that several key members of the congregation which I serve are wavering in their commitment - they are angry and upset and are considering whether their gifts could be better used elsewhere - I think it is only because they want to support me that they have struggled on. Our numbers on Sunday mornings have dropped noticeably since November. In this tough UPA parish November's decision has made things much harder. I wonder whether to quit and go and work in a bookshop.

Female Priest

7. It has been extraordinary the huge wave of support which has developed since November. Our Bishops wrote to us all immediately expressing their sorrow, anger and support and colleagues at the Rural Deans meeting said that the decision had diminished their own ministry. However the pain remains.

Lay Woman

8. I’m studying full time in a college that is very supportive of women’s ministry and of the consecration of women as bishops. I think it is fair to say that the vast majority of people here were extremely shocked when the vote did not go through. The nature and level of debate also gave cause for general concern. Several of us who are WATCH members were more aware of the potential for the vote to fail but were still extremely disappointed.

As you know, training for ordination is a time of great liminality and uncertainty. The process of priestly formation is a challenging and precarious business. The question many have been asking is - what does it mean for each of us, as women, if the laity whom we have felt called to serve have rejected the possibility of women as bishops? This has raised some serious questions for all of us, and I think the experience for younger people in training has probably been far more disturbing - as they have grown up in a church that welcomes the ministry of both women and men and for the first time properly ‘heard’ all these arguments.

Some people here have had a lot of support from their dioceses, DDO and/or Bishops, but the level of contact has been patchy and some of us, myself included, have had no correspondence at all. Which was both disappointing and unsettling.

If any good has come out of this event for us, it is that the shock brought the whole community together and we have felt very supported by our male colleagues and all the tutors. We were given plenty of time and space to talk, cry and eventually start to laugh about it.

Ordinand

9. I am ordained. Everyone I have met is either despondent or angry or both. Very deep reserves of emotion are being touched, and together the above two feelings seem to yield a sort of paralysis, an abandoning to our unhappy fate, a distrust of the church and its processes. It’s not that we won't do anything. It just FEELS hopeless.

Male Priest

10. I was devastated (like all of you) when the measure didn't get through Synod. I feel undervalued - a second class citizen. I feel supported by my ministry team and congregation, but they can't understand what is going on. It's very hard to carry on when I feel so undervalued. This is made much worse by the fact that my Rural Dean and Archdeacon both voted against the measure. They've both assured me that they value my ministry - but that's not how it feels.

So of course I carry on with my ministry - leading worship, preaching, weddings, funerals, baptisms etc etc-because the people I meet don't care whether I'm a woman or a man. They just want me to be a good priest.

Female Priest

11. I'm a Reader-in-training, I'm 29 and work for a large UK charity. I was completely taken aback by the results of the vote in November, more shocked than upset initially as I had really expected the vote to pass. Someone featured on the BBC news - I think perhaps a Forward in Faith spokesperson - was endorsing this decision as being right for "Church unity and mission". I found that statement in particular very hard to swallow.

People at work know I'm a Christian and that I'm training for ministry - it's part of my ministry to be a Christian in the workplace after all! The morning after the vote I walked into an office (literally, in some cases) laughing at the Church of England. I would say the general mood was one of baffled incredulity. As a known Church 'rep' working with a lot of women in the mid- to late- twenties, many of whom are non-Christians but certainly not anti-Church, I was asked repeatedly for explanations about why the Church had made this decision. It was hard to come up with anything convincing or persuasive and, honestly, this decision has made the Church look outdated, irrelevant, sexist and just plain weird to most of the people with whom I work. Who, in this day and age, is allowed to discriminate against women!? It has made the work of mission in the work place just so much harder as the CofE has lost a great deal of its respect for a generation of young women, reinforcing the sense that it is completely out of place in society now.

Lay woman

12. Since the vote on women bishops and during the immediate aftermath I faced many questions from the lay people that I met, and am still meeting, asking for an explanation. Yesterday the female nurse at mydoctor'spracticecameoutofherroomtospeaktomeaboutthevote. ThemenIhavemetfeel angry and frustrated, understanding the political view more than the women, who feel more hurt and disappointed, not to mention demoralised. 'Whatever were they thinking of?' is a common response. This example of discrimination has been difficult to swallow for those who have working lives and expect to be treated equally with men.

I find myself praying for the women in ministry more often and looking at them with anxiety. I think of children at school facing the challenge of belonging to a church that 'hates gays and women' as one teenager said to me. I pray for those with lost vocations who will not now come forward, particularly the young women and men who value democracy and are stunned at the reaction of the House of Laity. I set up a petition which is still online so that people could express their opinions in the public arena.

Church life is affected as we are looking at our mission action plan and are wondering what we can now do that will be effective. In fact we will be starting the mission now with ourselves, so that we can try to keep our members. Our Lent study will be 'Everyone Welcome', a course which meets the needs of our hearts.

Lay Woman

13. I am a male priest who has always been a supporter of WATCH and its predecessor MoW. My coming to faith was very much influenced by time I spent living in the USA where of course women were priests quite a long time before they were in England. When I trained for ministry it was on a course where the majority were women. I have only realised since the vote quite how much my spirituality is bound up in the view that the gospel imperative is to break down barriers - between different races, nationalities, social groups, and of course genders. I realised that it was a journey for the Church to accept this as far as women were concerned, but we were travelling in the right direction. However, the vote has been a rude awakening and has knocked me right off course spiritually - I find it hard even to go to church, let alone to exercise my ministry. It doesn't help that my day job (I am NSM) is in an organisation led by a woman and one which takes issues of equal treatment seriously. My experience in the church is that having women priests but not bishops has a toxic effect in the treatment of women throughout the organisation - they are patronised and even bullied by some of their male colleagues and their priestly ministry is seen as in some way flawed or second best, and this hurts all of us. I hope the group can find a way through this and it must be stressed that this is far larger than just about ordained women themselves.

Male Priest

14. I am an ordained woman in my second year of curacy and a member of the local WATCH committee. Following the vote I was surprisingly calm but those in my congregation and friends of mine were not.

I received many messages via email and Facebook asking me what I was doing remaining in ministry within the Church of England. All of them told me I was an intelligent woman and they could not see why I stayed in an institution that was so irrelevant to the people on the ground - those it purports to serve. Many members of the congregation also received messages from their friends along the same lines and part of my ministry, and that of my incumbent since November, has been helping them to articulate how they feel and enabling them to have a balanced response rooted in the grace of God.

During the week following the vote I was at a couple of local community events as the ‘curate’ and was staggered by the anger that people felt on my behalf, people who would not call themselves Christians or darken the door of the church except for weddings and funerals. Theywantedtoknowwhy‘their church’ was behaving in this way.

Many people could not understand how the vote had been unrepresentative of their thinking and wanted to know how they could now be part of General Synod. Most people in the congregation were appalled at what had taken place and had just thought that the vote would go through. Asateam of churches we had so many people asking for information and further understanding that we arranged a ‘conversation’ evening for people to come and ask questions about the nature of Synodical Government within the Church and the wider issues pertaining to the Episcopacy of women. People came from four of the five churches and a lively discussion ensued - leaving some people in total disbelief about the fact that General Synod allows people to have a ‘free’ vote and a deeper understanding of some of the main issues surrounding the consecration of women to the Episcopacy.

As for me the anger and the sadness came later. It was only when I wrote a parish magazine article on the situation that I realised how angry I was - pointed out to me by the magazine editor who thought he couldn’t publish it without a counter view. Suffice to say I changed it for it certainly wasn’t ‘gracious’. I have to say that the sadness was not on my part - I don’t think I have a calling to be a Bishop - but for those young girls in my own congregation who are already saying they want to be a vicar when they grow up and have huge potential in leadership of the church for the future. However, the flip side of that is whatever we end up with it has to be right for them - there is no point in rushing this now.

A very wise woman Bishop in America told me not to let ‘them’ take away the joy in serving God at this time and she was right to let me know that, as I realised the joy that I should have been feeling in the run up to Christmas was definitely diminished by what had happened. I am in a more settled place with it all now, through prayer and a renewed trust in God, rather than the church but feel very tired about everything. The exhaustion is beginning to hit now just at a time when we need to gather ourselves for more campaigning.

For me personally, I have mainly had support from my colleagues, although I work within a Deanery that has a high level of parishes who are either Conservative Evangelical or Anglo-Catholic and who have passed resolutions. This leads again to the question of always needing to be ‘gracious’ that eats away at our energy and therefore our effectiveness in ministry as a whole.

God is faithful and I do believe that we are to now called to wait at the foot of the cross with Mary and Mary Magdalene. Let’s pray that Easter Morning will be utterly glorious and that Easter Saturday doesn’t last too long.

Female Priest

15. This decision has made be seriously question whether I want to belong to an organisation which would probably sink without the work of women but will not recognise them in senior roles. If women are deemed fit and able to be parish priests why are they not deemed able to become Bishops.

My frustration is increased by the news that ‘Gay Bishops’ are acceptable. How can this be fair? Are we not all equal in the eyes of God – or are some more equal than others.

Female Priest

16. I am a priest, in the same benefice since being ordained in 1998. I can't say that the carrying out of my ministry has been affected. However, since the oh-so-disappointing and disheartening November vote, I have had so many expressions of commiseration especially from parishioners (and "how could this have happened?") and colleagues; caring and concerned comments together with puzzlement / mystication / incredulity from people attending baptisms and funerals, and friends and relatives around the UK.

Female Priest

17. It really is quite simple ... The Ministry of Women Priests is a NORMAL part of life in this Diocese ... it's normal. Women as Bishops is part of this Normality ... and so it should be throughout the Church of England.

Lay man

18. I am ordained and in my 3rd year of curacy.

My first reaction was to feel better (oddly). I think it was partly just relief that the vote was over. I became aware of how much time I have spent (perhaps wasted?) since I started training with attempting to fit into a male pattern of ministry which does not fit me or my life. And also of how much emotional energy I have invested in trying to fit into that pattern and failing and then feeling bad about not being able to live well within it. So there was a certain sense of greater freedom – I’ve spent all this time being a good girl, doing my best to fit into a mould that doesn’t fit me – many other women have worked hard and faithfully for many years - and it still hasn’t worked. So maybe it’s time to stop apologising for being different from the male norm.

My second reaction was to feel shattered, vulnerable and shaken in my identity as an ordained woman in the church of God. I didn’t preside until 2 weeks after the vote but when I did the ground literally felt unsteady beneath my feet. I felt that my authority to preside at the Eucharist was suddenly in question. This might seem extreme but it’s just logical. If women aren’t fit to be bishops then why are they good enough to be priests?

The whole experience has raised my awareness of misogyny which suddenly seems to be everywhere. For me there are very clear parallels between the failure of the church to affirm women’s ministry and the ways in which women in wider society are prevented from being fully the people that God is calling them to be. It has made me determined to be far less tolerant of sexism within the institution.

There have been some interesting conversations since the vote. My neighbour’s husband (not a Christian) asked “Why is the church exempt from equalities legislation?” He wasn’t being provocative – he genuinely wanted to know. I don’t think that there’s a mission shaped answer to that question.

Female Priest

19. I am an NSM working in a benefice of five rural churches. I was down to preach on the Sunday following the vote. My male incumbent was adamant that I should not make any mention of the vote as he intended to say something about it before the Service, and "Gender has never been an issue in this benefice and I don't want it to become an issue". Not surprisingly this did nothing to reassure me about his understanding of the legitimacy of my ministry. Like many clergymen, my incumbent believes in equality but is unable to practice it because he doesn't recognise that what he does and says is discriminatory. Although he did recognise that, as emotional women, we might be upset about the vote, his instinct was to sweep the whole matter under the carpet with no understanding of the healing that I, my fellow female NSM and others in our congregation might be needing.

I did challenge him, but got nowhere. Happily on the Sunday, I received some very positive support from members of the congregation, but it didn't stop me from feeling angry and let down again. The cherry on the cake is that since then my incumbent has announced that two funeral parties have specifically requested for a male clergy person to conduct the funeral. This was raised at an executive meeting with the suggestion that a policy be formulated to accommodate such requests. I pointed out at that as my incumbent is retiring this Autumn, perhaps it would be appropriate that this be left until his replacement is appointed.

All this has made it more difficult for me to overlook the constant undertone of sexism that colours our incumbent's ministry and has consequently put a strain on what was a reasonably amicable working partnership. We just overlook it don't we? But I think, if I didn't know that he was going, I might well have found it very difficult to carry on working with him without a major set to, which I guess he would have found both mystifying and hurtful.

On the other hand, our Bishop has been outstandingly brilliant in sharing our anger and distress, and in supporting women's ministry both here and nationally.

Female Priest

20. At a really good New Year party at 1.30am I found myself explaining yet again the Synod’s decision. I have lost count of similar conversations since November which I have had in this rural area. Absolutely no-one who has interrogated me can understand the mess that the CofE has got itself in and no-one can understand why we are exempt from equality legislation. The Synod and “the church” seems to have lost all credibility and respect – but not locally where there seems to be a rallying behind our 3 wonderful woman priests. There is huge sympathy for the way their ministry has been treated and astonishment that such a small minority has such power in spite of the votes of the dioceses.

Having sat through all the GS debates from 1993 to 2010, I am still unable to adequately explain to anyone in or outside the church why the November legislation would not satisfy the opponents. I feel exhausted by the whole business. My daughters won’t talk about the subject with me; their husbands and friends simply laugh at us or dismiss us as irrelevant in this day and age.

Trying to cope with the attacks on the church is really hard for me as one-time lay leader but the pain for my ordained women friends is awful – even in a very supportive diocese.

Lay woman

21. I did not expect to be so upset by the vote as I was quite prepared to wait to ensure a single clause measure. However I did have a profound emotional response. I was angry, bewildered despairing and weary. I simply could not believe that after all this time, we would still be discussing this. The tenor of the debate was hurtful. Attitudes which were completely unacceptable were aired without challenge. It seems to me you can say anything about women provided you define it as a "theological".

I have not doubted for one minute that God has called me to the priesthood because it was a very loud calling with no room for ambiguity. When people say that women can't be priests/bishops I find it personally hurtful because they are saying that I can't hear from God, that I am fundamentally mistaken, indeed that I am a liar. Most of the time I live with this, suppress it, ignore it, but at the moment it is very raw.

I am not particularly motivated at the moment. I feel no matter what I do it won't be appreciated. While the public has been very supportive of women priests, there is a sense that my status as a Vicar/leader/public voice has been damaged. I don't like people feeling sorry for me and asking "How do you put up with it?" I also feel unable to provide any kind of moral lead. On what basis can I challenge injustice when my Church has institutionalised it? I hate to admit it but sometimes I haven't cared as much as I should, I haven't bothered, I've gone through the motions. I don't know where my energy has gone.

I have questioned my behaviour at Diocesan meetings as I have been much more vocal than usual and then worried about being that vocal. I contribute to meetings, feel my contributions are welcome but then I berate myself afterwards for putting myself out there too much.

My parish has been supportive by and large, but having to rehash all the arguments again has been draining. When my parishes have discussed matters such as joining WATCH or putting forward a motion to Deanery Synod I have not felt able to be present. I don't want to force them into taking a decision to please me and I don't really want to know if anyone would argue against women bishops.

I feel my Bishops have done the best they can to be supportive, and affirming on a personal level. Although the House of Bishops voted overwhelmingly in favour, I do not have huge confidence in them and their decisions, because they are all male and because of the level of sympathy that there seems to be for the opponents of Women's Ministry. Why didn't the House of Bishops give a lead on the issue earlier than it did? Why don't they challenge some of the more misogynistic attitudes and say they are beyond the pale? Why were opponents of the measure allowed 50% of the debate when they certainly didn't reflect 50% of the opinion? If Bishops feel this is so important why don't they so something personally costly such as all resign until there is a level playing field or stop appointing new bishops until they women can be considered. Why don't they appoint a women for a suffragan and give her a different title. Why aren't they behaving prophetically? I think it is because they don't really get it and they don't really care.

I am not cross with God, and I do not feel myself any less a child of God as a result of the debate or the current climate. I have become aware that some people do consider me less, but that is their problem. However I have been exploring with great joy the idea of God as Mother. I had not wanted to do this. I had resisted it. I hate overtly inclusive liturgy changing hymn words etc, but I wrote a poem called if God were Woman and it felt great. I got rid of a lot of anger that way.

I won't leave, but I'm tired of fighting. It's exhausting being a woman in this Church.

Female Priest