By WATCH Chair Hilary Cotton
On 14th July 2014 a small piece of the world changed. At last, after nearly a century of active campaigning, the Church of England made it possible for women to be appointed as bishops. Hallelujah.
We are in new territory here – territory that is familiar to wider society, but also that is fundamentally different. There is still plenty in the culture of both Church and society that reeks of sexism and paternalism, and those deep-rooted sins need to be brought to awareness and eradicated. But the foundation of that culture has shifted. At a deep spiritual level women are no longer to be regarded as also-rans to men, whose experience is lesser, or weaker, or dependent on men.
Women need no longer apologise for being who they are, at any level of themselves whatsoever.
Living this out is going to be difficult. The settlement agreed by the Church of England may look very similar to the one agreed in 1993: there is still an opt-out for parishes from having women in sacramental authority; and those who dissent from the agreed Church of England position will still be able to be ordained and appointed to any office.
But the question-mark over women’s ordained ministry within the Church of England has at last been removed: the 5 principles of the House of Bishops’ Declaration affirm this.
So if you know a female curate, vicar, chaplain, archdeacon, canon, dean, associate minister or theologian, please send her a note asking her to be even more fully herself than she has been so far, so that God may use her gifts even more fully than she has done already.
What next? I have been reading ‘She changes everything’ by Lucy Reid, and it is reminding me that the quest for the Divine continues throughout eternity, and we never get more than a little closer in our own lifetime. We have had glimpses of the female Divine in the many women who have been ordained as priests in the Church of England. There is much still to explore and re-explore. Feminist theology (shamefully considered as passé in many theological colleges) is a must for the future of the church; the place of lay women (and men) needs to be restored in a church that has become more and more focused on clergy as authority; and our language in worship about God needs expanding from the over-dominant ‘Father, King, Lord, Almighty’.
If you think there is more still to do to make the Church fully inclusive of women and their experience and gifts, please do let us know. Email [email protected] to send your thoughts, ideas and support.
The way ahead is full of adventures, and if we dance with the Spirit she will surely give us her blessing. Please join us.