Silence can hold immense power. In a world of clamour, creating silence can speak eloquently, making voices redundant and words empty. Yet for everything there is a season. A time to be silent and a time to speak; yes, even a time to be silent and a time to shout, whoop, holler and cry out in joy. And that time finally came in All Saints Hertford last Thursday at the St Albans Diocese celebration service marking 20 years of women in the priesthood.
Paul, Bishop of Hertford took us back to the day of the General Synod vote when we were asked to receive the result in silence. And what a silence. A large group of that first cohort of women priests stood together in the chancel for our celebration service, women who were silenced as 20 years ago the church finally recognised their vocation, their ministry, their place in God’s mission to the world. A remarkable group of women, silenced for so long, then received their voices in silence. As someone who was ordained priest only last Petertide, I can easily forget the hard labour of those men and women who paved the road before me, those who toiled in the heat of the sun so that the Church might more closely reflect the Kingdom. Last Thursday was a time to give thanks for them, to rejoice for all they have done.
And our worship was full of rejoicing for all that God has done and has given since 1994. We rejoiced that the Eucharist is no longer a place where gender gets in the way. As Ven Christine Hardman presided, I had to remind myself that this would have been out of the ordinary just two decades ago, and rejoiced that I had forgotten. We rejoiced in the ministry and gifts women have brought to St Albans Diocese in the last 20 years, we rejoiced in how far we have come. We rejoiced with shouts, whoops, hollers and cries of joy. We rejoiced with bread and wine and cake and remembrance.
But, as Bishop Paul acknowledged, the journey is not yet over; there remains too much silence. We live still with in church where the lost sheep eclipses the lost coin, where the witness of Peter eclipses the witness of Mary. We live still in a church where women’s voices are heard too little. We live still in a church where encouragement to cry out in joy comes from a Bishop who is by default a man. We pray for a time when the music of the Church will match the music of God, and all voices will be raised in rich and joyful harmony to the God who made us in her image.