The WATCH day on Saturday was bursting with creativity, ideas, sorrow, anger and hope. More than forty women from across England met at the Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham on Saturday to share our experiences of and hopes for the church. We heard from a panel of women their very different experiences of church and living out their faith: one of standing up to both gender and race discrimination, one of positive affirmation by female clergy, one of teaching wide-eyed Year 7 boys the patriarchal context of the Old Testament.
Nicola Slee offered some theological reflections in response, from her research into the faith lives of women and girls. Women often have common experiences of alienation from church, awakening to the divine, and a deep sense of relation with others and the created world as part of their journeys of faith. It was so affirming to hear both stories that we could connect with and concepts that began to make sense of what is often a maelstrom of feelings of anger, fear, joy and sadness in being women in the church.
Small groups listened to each other’s stories and put together a Wailing Wall of laments and furies at the failings of the church as we experience it.
Beginning the afternoon with a Psalm of Edwina Gately that included the lines ‘There is an awakening – an expectancy – threading the soul to the beat of heat and pulse and charged with breath Divine’. Offered a wealth of creative materials, groups put together pictures and collages of what the church could be. So many ideas, symbols and sources of life emerged: we created a Living List of resources that people have found helpful and want to be available in future. If only WATCH could wish all that into being!
We concluded the day with prayers that included a ‘Dangerous women’s creed’ including: ‘May we pray deeply and teach wisely. May we be strong and gentle leaders. May we sing songs of joy and talk down fear.’ That’s the sort of church we yearn for, and yearn to contribute even more to. We have a sense God is listening: as we return to our places of life and worship, we hope we can be leaven in the church as well as the world.