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.