Friday, 19 December 2008

Gifted to Lead

It's exciting to see that there are more like-minded women around!

When I first started working at CPAS, there was not much activity around the subject of women as leaders in the Church. But now there are more resources, more groups, more interest.

It still seems a shame that we have to bring a woman over from the USA - so perhaps we have got a way to go! But Nancy Beach, who is coming in January, will be worth hearing, I think; I am going to hear her myself. She is speaking in Bristol on 28th and London on 31st - details from

Nancy Beach has been a leader and teacher at Willow Creek since 1974, and her book, Gifted to Lead, encourages women to own their calling as leaders. Read a review of this book here (and if you've not discovered it already, you can read a new book review each month).

What is encouraging to me is that this blog seems to be meeting a need - the counter is up to 2,300. Do keep the comments coming, with feedback or ideas.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Getting Leadership Right for Gen N

Who are Generation N?

They are those born between 1977 and 1984. They've been tagged 'The N Generation' because of the influence the internet has had on their lives. They are the people who have never known life without CDs, computers and mobile phones, so they're technologically savvy and wired to the world 24/7.

So what do they need in terms of leadership? I recently read a book by a business consultant who has done some research on this. Here's the gist of what she says:
  1. They really do want to be on a team.
  2. They like diversity - different people and different viewpoints.
  3. They see politics at work, and don't like it.
  4. They see work as a means to an end, what they do in order to do what they want to do.
  5. They respond to leaders who earn their respect, not those who demand it.
  6. They like leaders who appreciate their talents and creativity.

So how does this affect the way we work with twenty-somethings in our churches? Does it mean that if they have demanding jobs, they may still see their Christian service as their 'real' work?

And what of leaders in their 20s? They will assume that leadership involves teamwork - and be frustrated when the rest of the church is slower to catch on! They will enjoy working as part of a diverse team (sometimes too diverse?). They may be impatient with church 'politics'.

And what does the church need to be like to make the most of rising Gen N leaders?

(Based on: Epiphanies at Work, Jill Malleck, 2005)

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Women writing hymns and songs

Why are so many of today's song-writers men?

Nothing against men, or against the great worship songs which help us to come into the presence of God, but I wonder why far more songs are written by men than by women?

Is it because it tends to be men who stand up to lead worship? Or men who are appointed as official leaders of worship?

But I was reminded recently that in addition to all the nineteenth century women taking the lead in philanthropy, and preaching at the time of the mid-century revival (following the examples of Phoebe Palmer and Catherine Booth), there was a whole strand of women hymn-writers in the nineteenth century.

Which names come most readily to mind? Christina Rosetti perhaps? Soon we will all be singing 'In the bleak mid-winter'. Or Mrs CF Alexander: 'Once in Royal David's City', 'There is a green hill', 'All things bright and beautiful'. Other names include Harriet Auber, Charlotte Elliott ('Just as I am'), Emily Elliott, Sarah Flower Adams, Jane Eliza Leeson, Caroline Noel ('At the name of Jesus'), Anna Letitia Waring, Dora Greenwell and Elizabeth Clephane.

Perhaps the best known of all was Frances Ridley Havergal (1839-1894). She wrote 60 hymns, including 'Take my life' and 'Who is on the Lord' side?' She said of her hymn writing: 'I can never set myself to write verse. I believe my king suggests a thought and whispers me a musical line or two and then I look up and thank him delighedly, and go on with it. That's how the hymns and poems come.'

Our age might stuggle with her understanding of a woman's submission (was this what God's spirit was saying, or what was expected of women in those days?), but there's no doubt about the addition made to Victorian spirituality by all these women.

I know there are a few women writing songs for the church today, but could there be more?

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Men and women: mixed messages

I long for a time when men and women are free to work together in ministry and leadership as I believe God intended.

But just when I think we are making progress in this direction, there's another step back.

Recently I've been thinking about and reading about this subject. I came across a great book, Becoming Colleagues. In the course of exploring the stories of various mixed-gender teams, and what we might learn from them, I came across a great section on 'mixed messages.'

It's compared to 'the creaking of an ancient, heavy door, slowly opening, with some pulling it open and some pushing it shut.'

On the one hand women are made welcome as leaders, but increasing invitations, by inclusion in previously all-male gatherings, by men who advocate for women.

But at the same time women are made unwelcome - by language that excludes, by hierarchical models, by an enduring fear of working with women.

I wonder if you've experienced these mixed messages:
'We want you here. We know you have something to contribute.' So far so good?
'If you are going to be here, we want you to act in a way that will be comfortable to us men.'
And 'This is the way things are, and you have to fit in' (meaning, it's fine so long as women are not too assertive or too powerful or too visible.)

Where do the mixed messages come from? I guess some assumptions about women are still deeply embedded in our culture, and the church. When women are viewed as wife, mother, virgin or whore, how is it possible to see women as leaders? But why is it that women are still 'the unknown other', when God made us equally in his image?

And back to the subject of men and women working together, women are cautious about working with men (often with good reason), and men are cautious about working with women. How do we create a church where men and women can work together as equal partners?

Thursday, 6 November 2008

High heels and hot tempers

I was fascinated by a programme on ITV on Monday evening, Violent Women.

Apparently the number of women arrested for violent crimes has doubled in the past 5 years, and scenes involving violent women are becoming commonplace in cities. Often women's violence is fueled by alcohol.

It was noted that some of the role models for women are not setting a great example, and the programme showed clips of Naomi Campbell and Bjork both in violent mood.

What do we make of it? I am not for one moment condoning women's violence. But I wonder if there is something positive in women emerging from being seen as the 'naturally nicer sex'.

You see, I've always thought that women are fallen, so capable of sin, which might include violence. When our society sees men as 'naturally' violent (or more prone to violence) that does damage too. Men are sometimes seen as not able to help it. That's not how it is in my theology either. It does men no favours.

If women are seen as 'naturally nicer', that makes nonesense of sin, and contributes to the difficulty people have in seeing women as anything other than caring, nurturing and 'nice'.

Why can't we get real? Men and women can be violent. We are all human - and fallen. The real question is what we do about it as a society.

The really depressing thing for me is not violent women, but that society is doing its best to marginalise Christianity, when the transformation Jesus Christ can make really is the only answer, the only person who might transform violent women - and men.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Next Level Leadership

I've just come back from a trip to Toronto, Canada.

I went to participate in a 'Leadership Intensive' run by Next Level Leadership, a leadership programme devised for Christian women leaders in Canada.

It was my first visit to North America, so first impressions included the amount of space everywhere, driving on the 'wrong' side of the road, and that I sounded different from everyone else!

But I was really impressed with the thinking and skilled facilitation of NLL. I was doing the first module of 4, 'Foundations of Leadership', which in two packed days covered a whole variety of issues and topics, all in a great atmosphere, a wonderful mix of the spiritual and the skilful.

Next Level Leadership's Mission is: 'We build leadership confidence in women by... integrating leadership development and Christ-centred spirituality.' Their research has shown that women need help with developing in the areas of competence, character, and most of all, confidence, so the module focused on these three areas.

Plenty for me to ponder, both for my individual journey and as a possible tool for use this side of the pond. And what do you think? Do you like the idea of a leadership programme specifically for women? It's not, as sometimes happens, a tool for women who are going to lead only women, but a safe place for women to come together and learn in a way which suits women. It was very 'intensive'! But in two days it gave a unique opportunity for learning new skills, finding new ideas, and provided a climate for potentially life-changing learning.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Gender equality in Rwanda

'The healing hands that saved a nation.'

So ran the headline of an article in the Telegraph last Saturday. Rwanda has become the first country in the world whose women MPs outnumber men.

What an amazing achievement, especially in a culture where women are used to being in the background. Part of the secret of this progress has been what one might call positive discrimination, ensuring that at least 30 per cent of all administrative and government posts nationwide must go to women. How else would things change?

Sometimes I almost despair, when I think how difficult the path of progress is for some women, whether in a church or wider context. A few steps forward, followed by a backlash - and several steps back. But in Rwanda, women are seen as key to the healing which is needed since the genocide. 'Women are better able to nurture reconciliation.' I'm not one for stereotypes, but I think this is probably true.

I believe it's important as women leaders to look beyond our own context to see the plight of women in the developing world. But I was caught by surprise when I read what these women may have to say to us. Inspiring, or what?

'Now the young girls see all these women in power and realise they can do anything. To succeed is no longer about physical force, it is about the force of your mind. We know we are capable of anything that men can do.'

And to the challenge that this might threaten men? 'We're not taking over, we're just coming along to join them.'

I long for the day when we are saying that about women bishops, or women leading larger churches! But in the meantime, I'm rejoicing at this news, and praying that these women leaders in Rwanda may teach the world a thing or two.

Friday, 10 October 2008

A woman for Edmonton

I've just received the news that the first woman incumbent has been appointed in Edmonton Episcopal Area.

That's Edmonton, London.

I have to admit I didn't know there were no women incumbents in that Area, despite its particular theological flavour. But it reminds me of how patchy women's deployment still is in the Church of England. In some deaneries there are more women than men, in others, women still find themselves on their own at chapter meetings.

Which no doubt accounts for the varied ways in which women clergy perceive the scene in the Church, and their acceptance. For some, it's 'What's the problem? I'm just getting on with the job of ministry.' For others, feeling as though they have entered a 'boys' club', it can be a very different experience.

So - great news for Edmonton and London, and I hope that Marjorie Brown, who's been appointed vicar at St Mary the Virgin, Primrose Hill, is well accepted both in her parish and her Area.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Gift-based ministry

I am constantly amazed how many women are still held back.

I've just come back from running a vocations weekend, and met several obviously gifted women who were beginning to grasp the idea that they could be called to leadership as much as their husbands were.

I really thought the days when women aspired to be married to a vicar (rather than being a vicar themselves) were over, but I fear that in some parts of the Church this idea is still alive and well. Over and over again I hear women say how men are always encouraged to consider ministry, whereas they struggle to hear God's voice amid the conflicting messages around them.

Yet it seems so obvious to me that God does not universally oppose the authority or public ministry of women. In Scripture there are so many examples of women who served as apostles, deacons, prophets, judges, church planters - and just one example would be enough to demonstrate that limiting women's leadership is not a universal biblical principle.

One of the chapters in my book recounts briefly the stories of women leaders in the Bible, while another examines the theology often used to restrict women's ministry - the so-called 'difficult passages', the significance of priority in Genesis and the recent concept of 'role subordination.' As more and more scholars support a more egalitarian interpretation, it grieves me so much that gifted women are unaware of how God can call them (and not just their husbands) to serve him in ordained or authorised leadership in the Church.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Sexist - and rich?

Men with sexist views 'earn more'.

One of my colleagues alerted me to this recent news item on the BBC news channel. A piece of US research has found that men who think that women should stay at home rather than work outside the home will consistently out-earn more 'modern-thinking' men.

On average this meant an extra £4,722 a year.

The somewhat obvious conclusion of the study was that more traditional people are seeking to preserve the historical separation of work and domestic roles.

I was intrigued by the possible explanations of the earnings disparity - that traditionally minded men are more interested in power, or that employers are more likely to promote them if they are the sole breadwinner.

I wonder if this is really true in the UK as it may be in the US. Personally it doesn't really worry me - and if the whole US economy is about to collapse, lots of those high earners may not be earning anything at all before too long.

And more modern-thinking men, as they are called, often realise that there's more to life than work, so salary is not everything. They might believe that their spouse and children deserve a little more of their time, or they need some friends and leisure time.

And in the church - well, we get paid the same for the same job, but when it comes to who has a stipend and who does not, I think there is room for progress!

Monday, 22 September 2008

Book signing

It was fun!

Even if I did not sign thousands of books, I enjoyed meeting people on Saturday, when I signed copies at a bookshop in Coventry.

The book is published at last!

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

First woman dean in Sudan

It was great to read recently of the first woman dean in Africa.

The Very Rev Martha Deng Nhial was installed as dean of St Matthew's Cathedral in Renk on August 17, according to a report in the Church of England Newspaper on 5 September.

The new dean was ordained deacon in 2003 and priest in 2005, having previously been a leader in the Mothers' Union. She was born in 1959, and trained as a nurse, working in the diocese's clinic before ordination. She came to faith as an adult.

For her, there's a gospel imperative: 'The Bible says to go and preach the gospel.' Christians who want to see the gospel preached are bound to want to be involved in that process. 'When God calls you, you cannot stop.'

I hope those who want to keep half the human race in 'different' roles in the Church take note!

Friday, 5 September 2008

The concrete ceiling?

I wonder what you made of yesterday's report from the Equality Commission?

'The number of women in Britain's most powerful jobs is falling after decades of progress as they hit a "concrete ceiling" of discrimination', the equality watchdog warns today.

The report goes on to note that there are now fewer female MPs, police chiefs and senior judges than there were a year ago.

I have several thoughts. Further down the report is the sentence: 'although women are becoming better educated and keen to forge careers, too many people still believe that their place is in the home and that men should hold the leadership positions.' The writer of the report, Nicola Brewer, claims that radical change is needed to address the issues.

So what's new? Did we expect a straight line of progress? In the book Through the Labyrinth, which I reviewed on the CPAS website in April this year, the authors make some interesting and relevant points. First that there's no longer a 'ceiling' because women have broken through it (there are some women in these senior positions) - hence it's more like a labyrinth for women than a ceiling - and that 'social change does not proceed easily or without struggle and conflict' (p 198).

As women gain greater equality, it's inevitable that some people react against this, and there is a backlash. Women need to expect this pattern. The question is, how do we interpret the pause? Some might say, it just goes to prove that all this equality stuff is a big mistake. Or, we can say, this is just what we should expect to happen.

I'm with the latter! After leadership has been shaped by men, and leadership positions filled mainly by men for thousands of years, how could this not be difficult to shift? At the same time, passage of time itself will not bring change; there has to be activity by women and by those who hold the power.

What's my take on this as a Christian? I believe that while the church is slower to embrace women as leaders, our basis for this is much stronger than 'justice' or 'human rights'. The Bible teaches that women and men were created equal, and that leadership positions, whether inside or outside the church, should be filled on the basis of giftedness (plus talent, experience, etc), not gender.

I look forward to hearing about the future work of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in this area; and to hearing the voice of the church speaking out in the market place. Who's going to speak God's truth into this area?

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Evangelical Feminism

I enjoy train journeys - a good chance to catch up with reading.

On Saturday I had a meeting in London, which gave me three hours to read. Among other things, I picked up the latest copy of Priscilla Papers, the theological journal produced by CBE.

I discoved, to my surprise, that I had missed hearing about the latest book by Wayne Grudem, published in 2006, Evangelical Feminism. But an excellent review by Kevin Giles told me as much as I probably need to know.

In my optimistic moments I dream that one day I'll read that Wayne Grudem has had one of those lightbulb moments and changed his views. But that's not happened yet, and his latest book continues his crusade to buttress his view of the permanent subordination of women as God's ideal. That is the theme of this latest book.

But I discovered that it's getting even more unpleasant. This time, Grudem gives a long list of names - eminent evangelical Bible scholars, whom he regards as 'liberals'. The book seems to move Grudem's case out of the world of reality into fantasy: all those who don't believe that women are permanently subordinated to men are 'liberals'. In other words, 'If you don't agree with me, you're wrong, and a liberal.'

The redeeming feature of reading about this depressing book was Giles' sense of humour: 'Why this humanly devised theological construct should be judged the only true interpretation of Scripture escapes me.'

Giles also takes issue with the use of the word 'feminist', which he contends Grudem uses deliberately, and is inevitably loaded. Most of those who believe in gender equality don't use the word 'feminist' but Grudem knows that by attacking 'evangelical feminism' he may find assent, in some quarters at least.

What makes me really angry is the effect of books like this on people who have read nothing else. They will not know that the views he attacks have been modified, that this book his previous books, depend on a (recent) heretical view of subordination in the Trinity, or that Grudem is a lone voice, citing only his own works and those of few others who agree with him. So many Christians will continue to believe that egalitarians are 'secular feminists in sheep's clothing who in reality deny the authority of Scripture.'

Nothing could be further from the truth - but reading about the book made me wonder if recent attempts to create an 'us and them' mentality within evangelicalism in the Church of England are suffering from an overdose of Grudem.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Women and power

Power is a key issue for leaders.

And a confusing one for women. At a conference of women bishops from around the world and senior women in the Church of England recently, we explored (among other things) the issues of power and authority.

Women have often experienced the abuse of power, so we are sometimes hesitant to exercise power ourselves. On the other hand, women may be able to transform power by using it differently, not as 'power over', but power shared, and used to serve others.

June Osborne, Dean of Salisbury Cathedral, spoke of the power to make decisions - and with a budget of £5m, she has plenty of that; power in the role; and that having 'iconic status' , as one of only two women deans, also gives power.

She noted that the more power we have, the more we need to cherish our own formation, and watch for the temptations that come with power. Power, she argued, is not about who wins or loses, but who writes the agenda. And one issue which women should put on the agenda is the empowerment of women across the world.

Thought-provoking. But like many of the women who spoke, I felt she only just scratched the surface.

I'm currently reading a book called Real Power, by Janet Hagberg, which seems to unravel the puzzle of how one can move from powerless (where the danger is that people manipulate others), to power by achievement, and beyond this to a power which is not ego-driven but motivated by empowering others. Perhaps that is the kind of power which we see in Jesus, and to which he calls his followers. A power which is not abdication, but is purposeful, courageous, humble - and unafraid of death.

Interested? You can

Friday, 22 August 2008

Growing Women Leaders

Nurturing women's leadership in the Church

It's quite exciting, if a little disconcerting, to surf the net looking for info about oneself! Nevertheless that's what I've been doing in relation to the imminent publication of my book. It's already in the online catalogues of Amazon and Eden, as well as BRF and CPAS.

Growing Women Leaders is published by CPAS/BRF on 19 September - 4 weeks today. You can read an extract on the BRF website, using this link. Click here to order a copy from CPAS.

One chapter of the book is about leadership style: do women lead differently? The conclusion is - yes and no! Yes, to the extent that some leadership research suggests that women bring some particular skills to leadership. I've just picked up news of a recent 'forum' for professional women, which says that 'Our research shows that leadership style is different for women as they tend to use innovation, trust and empowerment of others...'

A 4-page, very readable piece of research on women's leadership along these lines which is worth downloading is The DNA of Women Leaders, a research study by Aurora and Caliper. While the study was of business women, the conclusions make interesting reading for those also interested in leadership in the Church. It suggests some distinctive leadership qualities of women - being more persuasive, risk-taking, inclusive and team-oriented than men.

But this does not necessarily mean that women do lead differently from men, and other studies have shown that differences between women are more significant than between women and men. Hence my 'yes and no' answer!

Why not ask this question about yourself and the women leaders you know: do you and they have a leadership style which is distinctive to women, or is it all about personality?

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

An epoch of matriarchy?

How will feminisation change the Church?

The headline of an article in the Church Times last Friday (15 August) caught my eye. Hugh Rayment-Pickard writes that 'the Church needs to think urgently about its increasing domination by women.'

'Increasing domination'? Snce when did 25% of priests, a sprinkling of archdeacons and no bishops constitute domination? Especially when it's been the other way around for quite a while.

I was slightly puzzled by the fact that the writer appears to support women priests and bishops. In which case, a slightly less scaremongering title might have helped his cause.

He rightly points out that the dominance of women as members of congregations has been true for many decades (probably through the entire history of the church, in fact). What has changed, of course, has been the leadership. But why is it always women's fault? No, it's not ideal, but don't make it women's problem.

I am looking forward to some solutions from men other than 'Blokes and Bhajis', The Bloke's Bible, and banning certain kinds of hymns and songs. I have long believed that many features of church life have alienated many women as well as some men, so don't let's start perpetuating unhelpful stereotypes about men and women. Some men and women enjoy the same kinds of activities, so we need not send them all in different directions, or simply replace women's groups with focus on sport and DIY.

If women have always been better at evangelising other women, perhaps the men who are not so good at it already need to take a leaf out of our book and try a different tack: talking to each other? Or even talking to women? Together perhaps we can find some solutions.

But I am still frustrated that so much of the joy of seeing women become equal participants in decision-making and leadership in the church is being turned into a crisis about the lack of men.

Can we not rejoice that we are finally regaining what was lost in the early years of the church, a partnership of men and women? And then maybe men will allow women to help find solutions to the lack of men.

Talk about 'feminisation' if you must - but please stop blaming women!

For an article from the Sophia Network which touches on this issue, click here.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

First woman bishop for AME Zion Church

It was so good to read of praise and applause at the election of a woman bishop.

I take the point that in the Anglican Church, not everyone is excited at the prospect of having women as bishops at last - well, in ten years or so! But I really enjoyed reading about the election of Bonnie Hines as the first woman to be elected bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (USA) on July 19th.

Shouting 'Praise God' may not be our style either. But what struck me was the excitement and enthusiasm in the church as they took this historic step forward. If there were people who did not support the move, it didn't show:

'Outside the hall.. the celebration was in full swing as most hugged and danced in the hallways...' 'If there were any doubters with gestures of uncertainty they were silenced by the thunderous praise and clapping from thousands of women and men that voted for this historical mark and stamped an assurance that said, YES! YES!... YES...YES!...YES WE CAN!'

Read the full story here

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Men and women are from where?

I've been reflecting on the last page of The Myth of Mars and Venus.

The author ends with a quotation she'd been sent: 'Men are from Earth. Women are from Earth. Deal with it.' She goes on, 'Clinging to myths about the way men and women communicate is no way to deal with it. To deal with the problems and opportunities facing men and women now, we must look beyond the myth of Mars and Venus.'

So why do some Christians look to these myths? I'm convinced that we of all people should be those who 'look beyond' the myths. After all, we know that men and women came from God - OK, I suppose the quote is right if we think that Adam was made from the dust of the earth!

But why is it that 2000 years of following a leader who was so able to relate to both men and women, and having as our handbook a book which speaks on its very first page of men and women being created equal, we have not made a better job of overcoming the 'battle of the sexes'?

Is it all a reminder that power corrupts, and that religious power is both more attractive and more dangerous than any other kind?

As leaders we do well to be alert to the dark side of power.

But we must have an answer to that great challenge! How do we show the world that God knew what he was doing when he created that first partnership of men and women? How do we show them that we can overcome the barriers, the myths, the boxes that divide us, and together make a difference in God's world?

Friday, 18 July 2008

Mary Magdalene

I've been reviewing a recent book on Mary Magdalene.

I was struck by this great quote from one of Jerome's letters, written in the fifth century:

'The unbelieving reader may perhaps laugh at me for being occupied with the excellences of mere women. Yet, let him but remember how the holy women, the companions of our Lord and Saviour, ministered to him of their subtance, and how the three Maries stood before the cross and especially how the Mary 'Magdalene'... was privileged to see the risen Christ first of all before the apostles. Then he will convict himself of pride sooner than me of folly. For we judge of people's capabilities not by their gender but by their mind.' [emphasis mine]

I find it so sad that after another fifteen centuries, the Church still has not 'got it'.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

The Myth of Mars and Venus

It's already half way through July!

And I've just remembered I have put a new book review for July on 'Book of the Month.'

It's a fascinating book which explores the thinking behind popular self-help books like Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. This issue has lots of implications for women as leaders. Do women and men come from different planets? Or, do you think that the differences between women may be greater than the differences between all men and all women?
'Mars and Venus' thinking has been very popular and influencial in the last 20 years. But if you've ever wondered if it is actually quite dubious, read the review - and read the book!

Transfiguring Episcope

I've just come back from an amazing conference!

It was a conference for women leaders, and what a gathering it was! Fourteen bishops from around the world, a good number of archdeacons, and other women from around the country. We were all meeting to explore women's leadership, in the light of progress towards women becoming bishops in the Church of England - even if, in real terms, that still seems light-years away!

Topics covered vocation and ambition; theological education; power and authority. In addition to some stimulating sessions, there were lots of fascinating people to catch up with, or meet for the first time.

Briefly, some observations which I gleaned:
  • Lack of confidence is a common issue for women leaders
  • Women are in a double bind: needing to prove our competence, but then often seen as losing femininity
  • Leadership is about service, not about power and ambition
  • Women bring to leadership their sense of fragility, reminding us that it is not our leadership but God's.
  • We can be encouraged by remembering the 'great cloud of witnesses' - of women leaders in the history of the Church
  • We need to foster our own leadership development and that of others.

That's just for starters! Plenty to ponder, and I shall continue to do that...

Monday, 30 June 2008

It takes ONE woman

Have you heard about the Li Tim-Oi Foundation?

I have heard of it before, but only recently realised how much it's valued. The Foundation makes grants to fund theological education or other training, for women in the global south. This enables women to serve God as priests, evangelists, theological educators, Church Army sisters, and in various other roles.

Florence Li Tim-Oi was the first Anglican woman priest. She was ordained priest in 1944, after having been deacon in charge of the church in Macao for two years, with no priest to preside at communion. After the war she resigned her licence as a priest, but not her holy orders.

After Florence died in 1992, her sister Rita asked friends in England to found the Li-Tim-Oi Foundation, to help women who are called to serve the church and their communities, but have little money.

In the first ten years of its existence the Foundation helped 200 women from 79 dioceses in 11 provinces of the Anglican Communion - in Africa, Brazil, Fiji and Pakistan.

For more information go to or

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Women leading larger churches

This issue has been going around my head!

I really want to find some answers - and even better, some solutions. Yesterday I came across a fascinating article, which refers to research on 'breaking through gender barriers'.

The article refers to a sociological study by Edward C. Lehman, based on the Presbyterian Church (in the USA) and published in 1985. Another denomination, a few years ago - but the issues look strangely familiar.

So here goes, some of the insights from that research:

  • members of large, wealthy multiple-staff churches were more resistant to clergy women than were members of small churches.
  • the more a church is seen as 'important' or 'prestigious', the greater the likelihood that its members will expect and assume that its senior pastor will be a man.
  • members of large churches have generally had less experience of women clergy.
  • the higher the church values leadership/management skills, the greater the likelihood of its strong preferance for male leaders.

In addition, I also came across Fulcrum's Forum Thread on 'Developing Evangelical Women as Leaders'. This raised the following additional barriers:

  • perception that women are deaconesses and deacons, rather than leaders
  • conservative evangelical theology of 'headship'
  • lack of role models for women in leadership
  • evangelical women unable to do curacies in evangelical churches (sometimes out of fear that they 'might want to jump into bed with the vicar')
  • and then unable to find a evangelical parish because they have not done their curacy in one
  • there is still a perception that 'male is norm'.

So what are the answers? Action on the part of three groups of people: men who are leading larger churches, those involved in appointments, and women themselves:

  • those who lead larger churches could be better advocates of women, appointing women as curates, visiting preachers, or to lead special events.
  • those who are involved in appointments need to ensure that processes are fair, and that overt or covert sexism is addressed.
  • women need support in applying for posts, knowing that they will often be rejected. Further thought (and research?) is needed on the relationship between women's leadership style and the operating style of larger churches. Perhaps when that leadership is more about partnership than hierarchy, we will see more women leading larger churches.

What do you think?

Friday, 13 June 2008

Last among equals

Three cheers for Tearfund!

I've just been reading the latest issue of Teartimes, and a particularly fascinating and heart-rending article on women in Liberia.

These are the opening words of the article: 'An invisible injustice is putting lives at risk. It affects at least half of your church. Some Christians believe the Bible teaches it. But in Liberia, and across the world, the belief that women are inferior to men is having devastatingly visible consequences.'

The author then speaks of a woman who was raped and later got sick: with HIV. She was nearly stoned to death, by a crowd including her brother.

A reminder about how tough the world is for women:
  • only one per cent of the world's women own land
  • 70 per cent of the 1.2 billion people living in poverty are women and children
  • 67 per cent of illiterate people in the world are women
  • of the 191 member countries of the United Nations, only 12 have female leaders.

Tearfund is working with partner organisations for gender justice in Liberia.

The article also quotes David Peck, the Archbishop of Canterbury's Secretary for International Development: 'How on earth have we allowed women - who bear the brunt of so much poverty and family breakdown - to bear the brunt of HIV? What in God's name are we thinking, and what in God's name are we reading, that allows suffering and death visited upon women by predatory male sexuality to go unchecked? The church needs to be healed from the sin of patriarchy.'

Not so much healing, as repentance?

But this may also be an issue closer to home; does inequality between the sexes breed injustice in our own community? How can we challenge injustice wherever we meet it?

Books by Christian women

Books by Christian women: are there any?

This was the title of an email I received from a friend the other day. Do women write books? Of course they do: Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, J K Rowling, to name just three.

So how come in any listing of available Christian resources, the list rarely includes any women writers? My friend had been to an event about discipling, women, but on the list of resources around Bible study, overviews and commentaries, there was ony one book by a woman.

This conundrum went round a few people in one of the groups I belong to, and we came up with a few names - and a few explanations.

One reason may be the 'Christian books are written by Church leaders' phenomenon - well known people write books, and then become more well known. And there are few women leading larger churches... And it is difficult for an 'unknown' author to break int othe publishing world.

Then there is the cultural devaluation of women's writing: surveys consistently find that women will read books written by both sexes, but men rarely read books written by women.

Thinking of women who've written commentaries, there is a new Tyndale commenary on Esther by Debra Reid, who teaches at Spurgeons College - replacing one by another woman - Joyce Baldwin.

In the area of leadership, women write about women's leadership, but most general books are written by men. There are a few exceptions, Margaret Wheatley, for instance. In the Christian world it's the same, nearly all books are written by men, and some of those by women, especially by US authors, are not only about women leaders, but about women leading 'women's ministry' ie ministry to women only!

A few notable exceptions - Christian books by women on subjects other than pastoral care, children and family life, biography, or the usual 'women's' subjects: Sally Morgenthaler, Worship Evangelism; two titles in the 'mission-shaped' series: Mission-shaped and Rural by Sally Gaze, and Mission-shaped Spirituality: the transforming power of mission, by Sue Hope.

I'd love to hear of more titles...

And finally, on the subject of biblical equality, there are some books by women. I even discovered my own (first) book on a page of books and links on the MWG website - click here to find it.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Florence Nightingale

What a fascinating TV programme last night about Florence Nightingale!

I had been working away all weekend and missed the beginning of the programme, but was fascinated to see a glimpse of how Florence's faith helped to motivate her compassion, and informed her grief over the mistakes she made.

There's an interesting discussion on some of the controversy raised by the programme on the Times Online (click here for a link).

For myself I have always warmed to someone who yearned to devote herself to serving God, but could find no place within the church for her gifts, and wrote these words about the Church of England:

'I would have given her my head, my hand, my heart. She would not have them. She did not know what to do with them. She told me to go back and do crochet in my mother's drawing room, or, if I were tired of that, to marry, and look well at my husband's table.'

Of course, if she had become a deaconess, hospitals might not have been transformed in the way they were, but it was still a tragedy that an intelligent and capable women had to work by using her position, intrigue and subterfuge.

Having just returned from a vocations conference, I was fascinated to be reminded of this remarkable woman, a women who was determined to follow the call of God.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Getting more things done

I used to think I was quite an organized person.

But I still struggle to handle all the paperwork, answer all the e-mails, talk to all the people and plan the events and do all the other things I feel God is calling me to do.

Recently I've read a couple of great books on managing time: Getting Things Done by David Allen and Do it Tomorrow by Mark Forster. The former is the June 'Book of the month'; click here to read the review. The latter will be featured in a couple of months' time.

As a result of reading and pondering these, I now have a new system for dealing with all the 'stuff' which I have to process. Do it tomorrow is not about putting things off, but making a list each day of the tasks for the following day, and not adding those little 'urgent' things which crop up, or following the interesting web links... all the other things which seep away at my time.

I had a tidying-up blitz - that was a good thing, too; and I have better systems for collecting what I have to do, and organing priorities and tasks.

I commend the idea of having a sort out and learning new skills in this area every so often. Why not allocate a day over the summer when you get sorted and set up for the future? For me, this is already reaping rewards.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Men and women in ministry

I've just listened to a great message by John Ortberg on the subject of women in ministry.

I'm always on the look-out for good resources on this subject, and this is certainly one. Ortberg explores women in the Bible, the so-called 'difficult passages' and how to come to a conclusion on the question of women's ministry. I was amazed at how much material he covers in this talk, and as one might expect, it's communicated in a lively way.

It's great that Willow Creek, which influence many leaders, should have produced such an excellent summary of what I would call the egalitarian 'biblical equality' position.

The message CD can be obtained from Willow Creek UK.

Women in Willow
Willow Creek has also recently launched Women in Willow. 

I have to admit that when I see the words 'wife of a leader' alongside 'woman leader', I'm immediately anxious, and it remains to be seen whether this resource is helpful for women leaders. If I could go to the Leadership Summit, I would; I don't want a 'women's' alternative set of teaching. But if this group helps women struggle with the additional challenges women leaders face, I'm all for it.

While on the subject of Ortberg's message, New Wine South A (and B), 2007 had a similarly excellent session on 'Women in Leadership' by Anne and John Coles, which is available on CD. This can be purchased through the New Wine site .

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Not for Sale Sunday

Sunday 18 May is Not for Sale Sunday.

Not for Sale Sunday, which aims to inspire and inform churches to help reduce sex trafficking in the UK is organized by CHASTE (Churches Alert to Sex Trafficking across Europe).

Just adding one prayer to the intercessions at your church on Sunday would be heard by God and would help to bring this cause to people's attention. See

I particularly liked the Josephine Butler Citation:

'Remember them that are in bonds, as being bound with them. Even if we lack the sympathy which makes us feel the chains which bind our enslaved sisters are pressing on us also, we cannot escape the fact that we are one womanhood; we cannot be wholly and truly free.'

In the nineteenth century, Josephine Butler (1828-1907) made herself thoroughly unpopular in the Anglican church by campaigning tirelessly to repeal the Contagious Diseases Act and prevent organized prostitution. She believed that God cared about the suffering of women and was determined to do something about it, supported by her clergyman husband and the rest of her family.

For more information about Josephine Butler, click here.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Even more numbers

I've just been reading about the numbers of women in appointments in the gift of the Crown.

WATCH (Women and the Church: see has recently circulated an excerpt from the Commons 'Oral Answers to Qustions' on 8th May concerning the view of the House on women bishops. Robert Key, MP for Salisbury, asked a couple of questions of Stuart Bell, the Second Church Estates Commissioner.

In response, Stuart Bell said: 'There are approximately 650 parochial appointments in the gift of the Crown, of which patronage for around 450 is exercised on the Crown's behalf by the Lord Chancellor. In some cases, the patronage right is shared in turn with other patrons of the benefice. 103 of those appointments are held by women.'

It's interesting to compare this with the figures I quoted in a previous post, for CPAS patronage churches. I find these figures slightly ambigous: does he mean 103 women out of 450, or of 650? Assuming the former, that means that 22% of these appointement are held by women, as compared with 10.5% of CPAS patronage posts. (If he means the 650, that is about 16%.)

I wonder what accounts for this higher percentage in the case of Crown appointments...?

And Stuart Bell's final comment: 'This House - in its majority, I think - supports women bishops and we urge the Church in this case to make haste less slowly.'

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Numbers: a small correction

It's been pointed out that my post of 24 April ('Good news about numbers') contained a small error.

The number of churches where CPAS is involved in the patronage is 514, not 540.

But the good news is that this means that 54 women incumbents is 10.5% of this number, rather than 10% - even better news!

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Mentoring Leaders

There's a new book review on the Women in Leadership area of the CPAS website.

To read the review, click here.

There's a wealth of wisdom on leadership and mentoring in this book, so it's worth looking at the review to decide if it's for you.

Originally published in the USA in 2005, it may not be stocked in in all UK Christian bookshops. However, it should be readily available to order - at your local bookshop or through internet sites.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Good news about numbers

I've just been doing my sums!

I never thought statistics could be exciting, but here are some good news numbers.

According to the latest C of E statistics (2006), women now make up 25% of the total number of clergy in Church of England. What is perhaps more surprising is that they now make up 22% of stipendiary clergy.

How does that compare to numbers of clergy leading the 540 churches where CPAS is involved in the appointment?

Four years ago, only 38 of those 540 clergy were women. The number now is up to 54 - that's 10%. What is even more encouraging is that in 74 appointments over the last 2 years where CPAS has been involved, 19 of the appointments have been women - that's 25%, which is slightly higher than the percentage of stipendiary women clergy!

So yes, there may be a long way to go - but women are being appointed to evangelical churches.

If you are looking for a post and want to find out more about CPAS and the Register we keep of clergy looking for moves, you can click here to go straight to that part ofour website.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Get a life!

A great new resource for helping young people explore vocation.

The latest email from the Church of England draws attention to a new course for teenagers on the subject of vocation, written by Tim Sledge and Ally Barrett. Click here for more info.

It's a shame that the course appears to focus largely on male Bible characters, and uses a film focusing on boys (Billy Elliott). They could have used Bend it like Beckham, or Whale Rider. But then I realise there are probably fewer boys than there are girls in many youth groups, and they may need extra encouragement.

If you know of those at the top end of teenage (17-18+) or any age older than this, who might value a weekend to find out more about ordained or authorised ministry in the Church of England, CPAS is running one of its You and Ministry weekends in Poole at the end of May. See the CPAS website for more details.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Home is Where the Hurt is

While training for ordination I spent a few hours each week answering calls to the Women's Aid helpline.

I count the experience alongside those which have been most life-changing, like spending three weeks in an African country, or four years in inner-city Liverpool.

A college project turned into a Grove booklet, Home is Where the Hurt is: domestic violence and the Church's response, which is now sadly out of print. However, you can download the full text here. The text is as written in 1994, but contact details at the end have been updated.

More recently I contributed to a debate at the Church of England 's General Synod in 2004, which resulted in the publication of Responding to domestic abuse, guidelines for church leaders (CHP, 2006). This includes information about domestic violence, theological reflections, and guidelines on how to help those suffering from abuse.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Women: not for sale

Not for Sale Sunday aims to alert churches to sex trafficking.

I've just been looking at the site (, and I'm impressed by this brave campaign to inspire and inform churches about the modern slavery of sex trafficking.

Not for Sale UK is a campaign inititiated by Chaste (Churches Alert to Sex Trafficking across Europe), to raise awareness in the UK that women, children and men are being sold in the cities and towns of our island for sexual exploitation.

Not for Sale Sunday this year is on May 18th. There are a variety of resources on the site, including liturgy, Biblical material and prayers.

A reflection on Acts 16: 16-25 comments on the Phillipian slave girl in relation to the kinds of slavery common in our own century, and challenges Christians to stand against the forces which keep people in slavery. It urges us to speak out against sex tourism, lap-dancing clubs, 'leisure evenings out' in brothels, massage parlours - even though it will make us unpopular. How easily these things seem to have become part of our culture, and are lining the pockets of those who promote them - at the expense of thousands of vulnerable human beings.

I admire Chaste for taking up this cause, and I hope the Not for Sale Sunday campaign will become widely known.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Isabella Gilmore - a hidden history

April 16th is the day Isabella Gilmore was ordained deaconess, in 1887

Isabella Gilmore is credited with opening the way for the revival of the deaconess movement in the Church of England. Widowed at the age of 40, she trained as a nurse, but felt God's call to ministry in the text of a sermon: 'Go, work for me today in my vineyard'.

She responded to the call and began to prepare for her new ministry, being ordained at the age of 45.

Isabella was brought up in a middle class family. Her brother was the socialist and artist William Morris. Her decision to become a nurse shocked her family, but her training, and leadership experience as a ward sister helped to equip her for her work as deaconess.

Up to this time, deaconesses had lived and worked in communities, but Gilmore saw the need for them to be part of the parish system. She also thought that deaconesses should be trained, not only in nursing and domestic work, but in theology. 

She bought a house in Clapham Common, later to be named Gilmore House in her memory, which remained as a theological college training women for ministry until 1970. In her 19 years of service as head deacon in Rochester diocese she trained head deaconesses for at least seven other dioceses.

To read of the ministry of Isabella Gilmore is to be reminded of God's heart for the poor. On one occasion, when a probationer recoiled as Isabella was dressing the infected wounds of a teenage girl, she responded to her, 'Jenny is Christ.'

Gilmore is one of so many women whose stories are hidden, unknown. Had you heard of her before? Do you know of others who have had such an influence on the church today, yet who are virtually unknown?

Read more here

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Women bishops in Wales - not yet

Last week The Church in Wales narrowly failed to vote in favour of women bishops.
You can read more in Ruth Gledhills's report here.

The vote got well over the required two-third’s majority in both the House of Laity (52 in favour, 19 against, 1 abstention) and the House of Bishops (5 in favour, none against, no abstentions). It was only in the House of Clergy that the vote failed, by a very small margin – (27 in favour, 18 against, 1 abstention).

Interestingly, some argued that the reason the vote went the way it did was because there was insufficient provision for those who disagree with women bishops. But Archbishop Barry Morgan and the six diocesan bishops had agreed to resist all attempts to include arrangements which would have discriminated against bishops who are women.

The Archbishop argued that “to appoint a bishop with jurisdiction for those opposed to the ordination of women... would be to sanction schism and for these theological reasons the bishops, as guardians of unity, could not give their support for such a measure.”

This may have implications for the process in the Church of England: how far do those in favour of women bishops make safeguards for those against this move, and how far is this actually legislating for an unworkable compromise, which would make it very difficult for those women who become bishops to exercise their ministry?

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Domestic abuse

Domestic violence - how do we break through the 'wall of silence'?

I was impressed by a recent account (Church of England Newspaper) of the Rev Eleanor Hancock, who has described her experience of domestic violence. She writes:

'I lived for many years as a victim of domestic violence and abuse. Very much in love with my partner, I made countless excuses for his behaviour and, instead of feeling sorry for myself, I felt sorry for him. ... I escaped from my abusive situation many years ago and was lucky enough to have a good friend to go to. I also had the support of my family.'

She talks about how she was able to work through the hurt and guilt when welcomed by a church fellowship, and 'found the love of God personified'.

After explaining how she found healing and transformation, she writes, 'I believe that the Christian community has a big part to play in supporting families through sharing the love of God in practical ways and in helping to bring about long-term healing and acceptance.'

Some years ago I wrote a booklet called Home is Where the Hurt Is, because I was concerned that many individual Christians and churches were unaware of how common domestic violence was, and how to respond to it.

  • Have you heard sermons or teaching on domestic abuse?
  • Would women find a welcome in your church, and help in dealing with an abusive situation?
  • What can we do to offer God's love to those who have suffered, or are suffering, from abuse?

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Through the Labyrinth

This is perhaps the most significant book I’ve read in the past year, full of research (a third of the book is footnotes) from a variety of disciplines.

It asks important questions, such as:
  • ‘Is there still a glass ceiling?’ (the answer is No, but women have to find their way through the twists and turns of a ‘labyrinth’)
  • ‘Do people resists women’s leadership?’ ‘Do women lead differently from men?’
  • ‘Do organisations compromise women’s leadership?’
The bottom line is that there are few differences in personality between men and women, and these are getting smaller. Women make just as good leaders as men do, yet people still discriminate in a number of ways against women in authority and leadership.

Women may be in a ‘double bind’ because the expectations of women (to be so-called ‘feminine’, attractive, kind and caring) can conflict with expectations of leaders (to be assertive and competent).

Women leaders have to navigate their way between these expectations. While these conclusions relate to women in business and the professions, it is not difficult to see very similar patterns in the Church. (Rosie Ward.)