On 4th September, I had attended the ‘Crossing the Threshold!’ conference held at St Michael’s Theological College, Llandaff where I am also studying as a 2nd year ordinand.
I am nearly 34 years old. I first felt a sense of calling at around 16 just as women were being first accepted into the priesthood. I did nothing about it at that point as I felt that nobody would ever take me seriously. Yet, here I was 20 years later, stood in the midst of women who are Priests and Leaders in the Church, including two who are Bishops! When I was 16, I did not think I would ever become a priest let alone meet a female bishop. This to me was a highlight of the conference; the normality of seeing a bishop who happens to be a woman. That is not to denigrate the experience as it was huge, but what struck me was that it did not feel different, it felt right. As a teenager, when I saw a woman wearing clericals for the first time it seemed strange, almost alien. I am a cradle Anglican, brought up in a middle of the road tradition and my experience of women’s ministry was limited to flower arrangers, cleaners, Sunday school teachers and my gran who washed the Eucharistic linens. To see a female priest for the first time was strange, not because there was something wrong with it but because it was outside my sphere of experience.
Something which I found disturbing, and a feeling that was shared by other delegates was, that when there is female representation on the Bench of Bishops, it may be seen as tokenistic and she would only ever be consulted on ‘women’s’ or ‘family’ issues. For some, a very real fear is that although on paper, women can be allowed to be part of the episcopate, in practice it will be a long time before it actually happens and that in the meantime nothing much will change and that is our current challenge, to ensure change will happen paving the way for a smooth transition into women’s episcopacy.
Baroness Morgan on her own rise to leadership stated “Judge me on anything, but if it’s on being a woman and young, you’ve no place in the room!” It is in Baroness Morgan’s words that I see positive change that times have changed and will continue to change. It is a positive indication of the future that I have not experienced the discrimination and sometimes abuse that my predecessors and colleagues have experienced. I remarked to Bishop Gerry on the day, that when I was on my first placement I had met a retired priest who had been part of the first round of ordinations in the 1980’s in England. She had faced a great struggle to have her vocation recognised and it was a powerful moment when I sat in her room as an ordinand and we discussed how times had changed.
The church has to engage in the changing attitudes in society. If it doesn’t then society will be poorer for it. The church is a living, breathing body. It has to discern and grow and be led by the Spirit. In all discernment there is a certain amount of conflict whether internal or external. There will always be opposition to anything new. However, this is a coming of age for women’s ministry.
The fears expressed during group discussions on the day point to a need for forgiveness, healing and reconciliation on both sides. What I experienced in Llandaff Cathedral that evening was, for me, a sense of a fresh start. As the offertory hymn started I felt an overwhelming rush of emotion. In a rather un-Anglican way I and a fellow ordinand had sat in the front row. I stood with a full view of the altar and as I sang the words:
“For companions past and present hear our gratitude today;
Could they guess what we have witnessed,
Could our forbears glimpse this day
When we gather in thanksgiving for your new steadfast way.” (Rosalind Brown)
I looked at the altar and those stood around it. I was struck by the tremendous sense of my own calling. That these strong women, and those who had come before them, had laid the path for me to be able to serve God in ministry as a Priest. What happens on the 12th September and what happened at the conference is important not just in the sense that they have laid a path for women like me but that through their fight against oppression they send out an example to all women who face injustice and oppression of what can be achieved with prayer and perseverance.
The Gospel reading that evening was from St. Matthew. In it we are told that “not one shall be lost”. As we danced, yes I said danced, down the nave with my fellow ordinand nobody was lost. We were there: male, female, lay and clergy from all walks of life and from different parts of the country and indeed the world. However, as the weeks and months pass it will become clear that there will be some who do feel lost. We must all work together, find the common ground and act as one body respecting the diversity, which although has the ability to divide, also has the ability to enable growth and mission, which reflects the needs of the two most important factors in all our ministries; the will of God and the needs of our people.