Friday, 18 December 2009

7 Deadly Sins of Women in Leadership

We've all heard of the 7 deadly sins. But now the organisation W'men in Leadership, designed for Christian women in ministry or the marketplace who influence others, has devised the '7 deadly sins of women in leadership'.

You can find out more about them - or how to avoid them - at a series of day conferences. The first of the series is being held in London on Saturday 27th February - follow links on the website to find a booking form.

The deadly sins are:

  1. Limiting self-perceptions

  2. Failure to draw the line (boundary issues)

  3. Inadequate personal vision

  4. Too little life in the work

  5. Everybody's friend, nobody's leader

  6. Colluding and not confronting

  7. Neglect in family matters
I am always reluctant to stereotype. But I do think there is truth in each of the 'sins' they have identified. Regarding 'Limiting Self-Perceptions', for example, I know many women who 'cultivate a limited and unrealistic view of themselves.'

'Women are particularly susceptible to inadequate personal vision.' If your new year resolution is going to include better self-development as a leader, this series of events might be one place to start. Another resolution might be to read Growing Leaders (esp chapter 5) by James Lawrence, Living on Purpose by Tom and Christine Sine or To be Told by Dan Allender.

Happy Christmas!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Bishop Eve - a child bishop

The subject of women bishops is controversial. But amid all the controversy, and endless debate about how to accommodate those who disagree with women's episcopal ministry, I was struck by a lovely news story I heard about today: a thirteen-year-old, Eve Johnson, inaugurated as a child bishop at a church in Wellingborough.

In this revival of an ancient tradition, Eve will serve until December 28th, Holy Innocents Day, during which time 'she will preside at services and pray for and bless the parish congregation'.

So for this congregation at least, it seems that having a female bishop is not out of the question.
Eve: her name reminds me that God created a team of two when he gave human beings instructions on how to look after the world.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Still a man's world?

'It's still a man's world on screen', laments Mirren.

That was one headline in the papers on Saturday. She went on to say, 'I'm looking forward to the time that at least there's a balance. Women represent half the population and I want to see as many female roles as there are male roles, because at the moment the balance is very unfair.'

TV and film is dominated by men, and it sounded from the article as though actresses still suffer sexism. Reading my Church newspaper, I am reminded that sadly the Church is no better. It's one thing to disagree on the basis of theological conviction, but I was disturbed to read a letter about sexist jokes in the pulpit. She makes the point that sexist jokes are a form of violence.

I must admit I've been surprised by the use of sexist jokes, by preachers who should know better. A few years ago I heard a well-known evangelist tell a joke which I thought completely inappropriate. What was almost more worrying was the fact that so few people found it disturbing (or perhaps they just didn't let on). What was he doing? Assuming that a male audience found it funny to make a sexually loaded joke?

I could rant on, but that's probably not very constructive. On a more positive note, but still reflecting the 'man's world' of the church, I've just been reading a blog post by Lucy Moore on the Share site. She laments the lack of women blogging on the subject, and whether that reflects a lack of women involved in Fresh Expressions (of course it could just reflect a lack of women blogging generally).

But since this is something I've noticed before. Why are there so few women involved in Fresh Expressions? or is it the fact that lots of women are involved, but they are not speaking or writing about it?

Perhaps it's time we generated a bit more thinking about this issue and ensured women's voices are heard in the world of Fresh Expressions....

Friday, 4 December 2009

A woman's place is in the boardroom?

If you recognise the title of this book, you may have read it a couple of years ago.

But you may not have read the sequel, which has the addional subtitle: The Roadmap. This is now reviewed on the CPAS website. Book reviews are in a slightly different location from previously, but the whole site is much more colourful and easy to use, with better access to resources.

The idea behind this second book is to give more of the how-to for women aspiring to senior posts.
Why am I reviewing it? The 'senior' part of the Church is not a boardroom. But there are distinct similarities and connections.

Christian leadership is very different in many ways from leadership in the corporate world. But I believe there are things that Christian women leaders can learn from the corporate world which will help us to negotiate an alien leadership arena.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Arrow: developing as a leader

This morning I was talking to a woman who was planning to apply for a place on the next Arrow programme. It's great to hear from women who want to be on the programme, and I'm particularly excited this year because we've already heard from several women who are planning to apply. So far, we've heard from more women than men!

The CPAS Arrow programme is designed to develop Christian leaders for the Church of the 21st century. It's more than just another leadership course, and through its unique blend of residential, mentoring, peer support and project work, it aims to transform leaders, addressing issues of call and character as well as competence and confidence.

If you don't know about Arrow you can find out more by clicking here. The deadline for the next Arrow programme, starting in March and running through to autumn 2011, is 3rd December.

But when I remind folks that Arrow is only open to leaders between the age of 25 and 40, I know what response I'll have. 'Why 40?'

There are good reasons, but I know that if you're in your 40s, that does not help!

We had one enquiry today, and it makes me sad that we have to say sorry to some of those who would really value the programme. Many women are frustrated, because by the time you've struggled with what the Bible says about women leaders, with people who encourage men to lead but don't encourage you, and you've negotiated selection, training and ordination or moved into some other leadership role - you find out that when it comes to Arrow, you are 'too old.'

Part of my brief is to help equip women for leadership. If you're reading this, thinking 'I'm over 40 but I'd really love the kind of things which Arrow gives', why not respond to this post? I'd love to hear what you think your greatest needs are when it comes to leadership. ... We are currently thinking about a similar 'not Arrow' leadership programme, and about other ways of helping women to access some of the teaching, insights and opportunities that Arrow gives.

And if you have not already found the resources for women leaders on CPAS's website, click here. We've got a great new CPAS site! In the resources section there are book reviews and articles, and downloadable studies to go with the book Growing Women Leaders.

If you have any comments on all this, do add them to the post, or you can email me directly at

Monday, 2 November 2009

One Hundred Awesome Women

I'm so excited that the number of members of Awesome has reached one hundred!

The name Awesome is an acronymn for 'Anglican Women Evangelicals: Supporting our Ordained Ministries'. We're a network of ordained Anglican women from across the evangelical spectrum, and aim to support each other and to equip each other for ministry in the Church.

The network was launched in January 2004, so almost six years on it's good that we have attracted good numbers of women, and a record number of 42 at our most recent conference in September. Click here for our website, where there's more information.

Membership has reached 100, and we know that there are more women who support our aims. Some 20+ have been members but are lapsed or no longer active, and many others agree with our aims but find support through other networks.

It can be tough an evangelical woman at this point in the life of the Church of England. Many of our ordained sisters come from a more liberal perspective, while some of our evangelical brothers don't believe that those of us who are priests should be ordained!

But there are always signs of hope around too. I'm excited about a couple of books I've just read. One is called Inspiring Women: discovering biblical role models, and it's about the significance of role models and how to preach some of the women in Scripture so that women find new roles models there. Click here for a review. It's a great little booklet, which deals with some of the tricky passages about women as well as encouraging preachers to look at some of the 'little people' in Scripture. Jehosheba, Sheerah, Shallum's daughters? I'd never heard of them either, but I have now!

What else is good news? Another woman appointed archdeacon: Christine Wilson, currently vicar of Goring by Sea has beeen appointed Archdeacon of Chesterfield, bringing the number of women archdeacons to 15. It's going to take a while to change the climate of the church when it comes to senior leadership, but there's slow progress being made.

I want to change the world, but I realise that progress usually only comes in very small steps.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Are women up for 'stepping up'?

I've just received some fascinating results of a survey on 'Women in Senior Posts' (in the Church of England).

A total of 1083 questionaires were returned, from women clergy currently in posts ranging from dean to curate. In response to the question, 'If the opportunity arose some time in the future, would you be prepared to take up a more senior post?' 850 out of that 1083 (78%) said 'Yes'.

This is somewhat at variance with the view that many ordained women are just not interested in posts which come with a high degree of responsibility.

The project was focused around women's aspirations to senior posts, including episcopal ministry. Of most interest to me were responses about other posts which women aspire to, what might prompt them to apply for these posts, and what might prevent them from applying.

Out of those 1083 women, 635 said they'd consider a Team Rector post, 537 being Rural Dean, and 597 a Major Incumbency. What would encourage them to apply? 80% said a personal approach, and only 5.6% said they'd respond to an open advertisement.

If they would not consider a senior post, the first reason given (21.5%) was lack of confidence, followed by the nature of the role, and way down at 2% was geography.

I'm fascinated by this. Almost surprised at the large proportion saying Yes, despite the current situation of deployment patterns. Not surprised that women lack confidence. And moderately surprised at the gap between those who would only respond to a personal response and those who would take the initiative to apply.

If women are up for stepping up, then it seems that the lack of women in senior roles is not so much to do with women's aspiration. So is it, as many have been saying, more to do with hidden bias in the system, and the male leadership culture of the Church? And if so, what is ever going to change it?

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

To the ends of the earth

I've just been reminded that it was October 1932 that a small party of supporters gathered to say farewell to Gladys Aylward as she set sail for China.

The story is well known. Gladys Aylward, a London parlour maid who felt that God was calling her to China, but was unable to learn Chinese and had to leave the training college.

But she was not deterred, and after a hazardous journey to China she spread the Gospel as she went around unbinding the feet of women. In 1940, in the midt of the war, she set off with a hundred children across the mountains and led them to safety away from the advancing Japanese.

The 'cockney sparrow' continued to work among Chinese in Britain and then in Taiwan, where she died in 1970.

The story of her being turned down, yet persevering in pursuit of God's call is echoed by the story of Jackie Pullinger.

God chooses the most unlikely people. Leaders come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes it takes persistence to challenge the 'system'. Women, perhaps more than men, can sometimes challenge the world's way of thinking, that it's the obvious, 'charismatic' figures whom God chooses to be leaders. I'm glad the Bible sees it differently: 'God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise..the weakness of God is stronger than human strength..'
(1 Corinthians 1:25-31)

Thursday, 8 October 2009

It's all Greek to me!

A few weeks ago I was in Greece (sigh! - and apologies for the gap in blog posts).

Warm sunshine, blue skies (mostly), great food, great wine - and Orthodox churches.

We had a great tour guide on our second week, Thanos, who led us on our visits to villages on the island of Evia. He was an active member of the Orthodox Church, and we had some excellent explanations of the design and layout of churches.

What a great lesson in artistic communication, but which is probably sadly lost on most visitors. I am struck again and again by the images of Christ 'Pantocrator' high up in the dome.

But what most interested me was what Thanos said at the end about the Orthodox Church today. He commented on the fact that many clergy are older rather than younger, and the church is struggling to attract younger priests. I learnt some interesting things about the Orthodox vs Roman Catholics: Orthodox have no time for the Pope and infallibility, or for priestly celibacy (except for bishops).

One solution to the shortage of clergy, Thanos explained, is that Anglican clergy are allowed to lead worship in Orthodox churches. Then (not knowing I was a priest) he turned to the subject of women priests. How often I have heard that some sections of the Anglican church don't agree with the idea of women priests because the Orthodox and Catholic Churches don't.

Apparently there has been a vote in the Greek Orthodox Church in favour of women priests (why is this not more widely known? I ask myself). But the Greek Orthodox Church is part of, and smaller than the Russian Orthodox Church, and the Russian Church is not in favour of women priests, so the Greek Church could not proceed as it wished.

So nothing has yet changed in Greece, but to me this does put a rather different take on the 'tradition' perspective... When it comes to women bishops, does the 'tradition' arguement hold as much water as its supporters suggest it does? If at least part of the Orthodox Church supports a move to women being priests (and bishops), where does that leave the 'traditionalists'?

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Women's Work

A recent Washington Post article: 'Fixing the economy? It's women's work.'

And in Marie Claire in July, the 'Big Question' was 'Could women rescue the world?' 'Worldwide recession, global warming, war...would the planet be in such a mess if women were in charge?'

Part of me wants to say, Yes, women would make a better job of running the world and fixing the economy. But two things stop me. One, to say women would make a better job of these things is too essentialist for my liking. I've just written an article which basically maintains what most research argues: that women and men don't lead that differently.

And two, there is a God dimension to running the world and fixing the economy! No matter whether it's men or women in charge, without regard to God's ways I'm not sure either sex is going to make that good a job of it.

Marie Claire - it was a bit of a feminist rant, but I liked one sentence a lot. 'Our world would be more Garden of Eden, less Soho at closing time on the last night on earth.' Sadly, though, given the level of binge drinking by some young women, I'm not sure women's world would be so 'Garden of Eden'. When it came to the way the writer pointed out how female politicans are treated by the media, though (only interested in their clothes, not whether they can do the job), I was with her all the way.

The Washington Post article is somewhat more serious writing. You can read it by clicking here. The gist is that companies with more women in senior management roles make more money. In Fortune 500 companies, having three or women women in senior management positions made it more likely the company would outperform the competition. Reading between the lines, the research is not actually saying that women are better managers, but that gender diversity is important.

They also cite research which sees a connection between hormonal differences and leadership styles - men are more prone to competition and risk-taking, and women to collaboration and long-term results.

I do find this a little confusing, because another piece of serious research on women leaders suggests they are better than men at taking risks (of the right sort). And as men and women we are much more than the sum of our hormones!

The article also mentions something called the 'diversity prediction theorem', which says that a diverse group will solve a complicated business problem better than a homogeneous group. I suspect most people would think that was obvious!

But while not everyone has got the message, perhaps it is still worth saying. By this token, the Anglican Church would benefit from having women in the House of Bishops, and male-dominated leadership teams and committees might benefit from considering how the voices of women could contribute.

For Christians, it's not about making more money, it's much more important than that. The Church is about spiritual life and death. We can't afford not to use all the gifts God gives.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Women in the City

A woman serving in a tough parish has returned from holiday to more broken windows in her church. Not long ago her car was broken into.

Frustrations she could do without, on top of all the demands of leading a church.

I've been reflecting on her situation, and the fact that in some tough areas most of the vicars are women. It's one of the emerging patterns that the Dean of Leicester, Viv Faull, noted in a lecture in 2006. But why should this be?

Recently, I found someone else who was asking the same questions. Juliet Kilpin, a Baptist minister, asks: 'Why are there proportionately more female ministers in the inner city than male ministers?' Click here to read the article, on the Baptist 'Mainstream' site. So this is clearly an issue for Baptists as well as for Anglicans.

Kilpin gives 4 options:

  • women have more guts than men

  • women are less worried about money than men

  • inner city churches are more liberal

  • inner city churches are more desperate

I wonder which one you would go for? Kilpin's paper is definitely worth reading, though from my own experience I would want to add 'outer estate' to 'inner city': many of the challenges are similar.

Ministry is about service, but it does sometimes seem puzzling to me that some tough parishes can be hard to fill, whereas clergy flock to apply to those in leafy suburbia.

In fact I guess this is the flip side of that other big question, why there are so few women larger churches? One answer might be that numbers of them, whether out of choice or necessity, are following a diffent path.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Religious leaders: end discrimination!

A friend recently sent me a link to a fascinating article about former US President, Jimmy Carter. Click here to read it.

The gist of the article is that Carter, a Baptist deacon and Bible teacher, has severed his connection with the Southern Baptist Convention.

Who cares? one might ask.

But what Carter goes on to say is that it's not just about what women can or can't do in church that has made him question his allegiance. It's the fact that once one has said that women are 'somehow inferior to men', all kinds of other things follow.

He moves on to explore briefly the implications of holding women inferior to men in both Islamic and Christian traditions, and draws attention to a statement issued by the Elders, a global group of eminent leaders, that 'the justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable.'

He goes on: 'we are calling on all leaders to challenge and change the harmful teachings and practices, no matter how ingrained, which justify discrimination against women. We ask, in particular, that leaders of all religions have the courage to acknowledge and emphasise the positive messages of dignity and equality that all the world's major faiths share. '

I look forward to seeing what happens. I've not noticed much media attention - have you?

Thursday, 30 July 2009

More on Festivals and Deacons

I've noticed lots of commemorations of women in the Church calendar at this time of year!

25th July was the festival in the Greek Orthdox Church of Olympias. She lived from c 360-408, and was both a patron (of St John of Chrysostom) and was also ordained deacon, after being widowed. Why have I not heard of her before? After her death she was venerated as a saint, and she is commemorated in both the Greek and Roman church - on different days! Yet another woman who exercised a ministry similar to that of male deacons in the third century - before the office was phased out.

Then a couple of days ago (28th) it was the festival of Irene Chrysobalantou (pictured left), another deacon and abbess, who lived in the late 9th to early 10th century. She was born in Cappadocia to an aristocratic family, and having turned down some marriage proposals, she gave her inherited wealth to the monastery of Chrysovaluantou and entered the community. After some years of study, service and leading many others to Christ, she became abbess, having previously been ordained deacon by Patriarch Methodius.

And yesterday was the Church of England lesser festival of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, 'companions of our Lord'. Two significant women in the New Testament: one who sat at Jesus' feet, the place of a trainee rabbi - and how frustrating that we have no idea of the end of her story - and Martha, whose affirmation that Jesus is 'the Messiah, the Son of God, who was to come into the world' is one of the high points of John's Gospel.

Watch out for festivals of more recent women in August: Mary Sumner (9th), Florence Nightingale and Octavia Hill (13th), Catherine and William Booth (20th), and Phoebe, deacon of Cenchreae and patron of Paul (Romans 16:1) on 3rd September.

Let's make the most of celebrating those women who have gone before us!

Friday, 17 July 2009

A pioneering deaconess

Tomorrow (18th July) the Church of England commemorates a pioneering deaconess, Elizabeth Ferard.

I've just been reading Derek Tidball's comprehensive study of New Testament ministry, Ministry by the Book, and among other things he notes that the reference to 'women' in 1 Timothy 3:11 is probably to women who are deacons and not to deacons' wives (as the TNIV also notes - what does your Bible say?).

But it took until 1862 for a woman, Elizabeth Ferard, to be admitted to the office of deaconess. She was one of the first woman to train at Kaiserworth in Germany, and after a spell with the Anglican nuns at Ditchingham she went on to found and lead the North London Deaconess Institution, the first and only establishment of its kind. Deaconesses were appointed in Liverpool and Bedford in 1869 - and the rest, as they say, is history.

But apparently that history could have been very different. Reading a review of a book on female clergy in the Medieval West (were there any, you may ask?), I find that in the early Middle Ages ordination was for someone who would be head of a community. But in the late 12th and 13th centuries ordination became centred on the eucharist, and women who were formerly ordained, including queens, abbesses and deaconesses, were no longer ranked as ordained, although abbots and deacons were considered to be so.

While I'm aware of controversy around women's ministry in the early years of the Church, I had no idea that ordination for some women was also current around 1000 years ago. But there were various changes in thinking in the 12th century. And according to the author of this study, published by OUP in 2008, Gary Macy: 'Within a fifty-year period, the centuries-old tradition of the ordination of women had been reversed and denied.'

Another well-hidden secret. How recent it is (I remember it happening in 1987) that women who had been deaconesses could be ordained and be 'deacons'! But there were women deacons in the early church! And women deacons 1000 years ago!

Such are the vagaries of history - or should I say the persistence of patriarchy?

Friday, 10 July 2009

Do Christians believe in equality?

This is one of the questions asked at a consultation I attended recently.

At the Sophia Network's consultation, Thriving in Ministry, there were a number of provocative questions asked. Do men and women thrive in ministry? Do Christians believe in equality? What barriers are faced by women in youth work, or in other kinds of ministry in the Church?

Unfortunately I missed 2 of the presentations, but in the morning I enjoyed the opportunity to take a wider view. In 2009 we are still celebrating a number of 'firsts' for women, and the number of women for example featuring in the sports pages of newspapers or as FTSE 100 Directors or even MPs is lamentably small.

Within the areas I'm most interested in, I was reminded that there seems an increasing emphasis in some churches on segregated ministries (good for women to develop as leaders - as in the days of women's mission societies? Bad in terms of integration, real leadership, and fully accepting women as leaders).

One of my own beefs is Bible translation, and that came up too (click here for a link to a downloadable article on why Bible translation matters - scroll down to 'Inclusive Language Bibles').

And for me, one issue which struck me was self-imposed constraints. I am passionate about helping women take their place alongside men as leaders in the Church - but I'm subject to the same pressures as other women. How much more could I have done so far if I was not sometimes thinking, 'but I don't think I can do that'?

For many women that's where role models, mentoring and networking comes in. Congratulations to the Sophia Netywork on passing the 300 member mark, and for their creative programme of events. As we all work together, one day maybe we will help the world to see that Christians do believe in equality - in the sense that we believe women and men are equally called, equally gifted, and can be leaders in God's church.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Out of Africa

Earlier this month, the Diocese of Accra voted to permit the ordination of women to the priesthood. According to the Church of England Newspaper, there are a number of women who have been trained for ordination, and are waiting and ready. The diocese has yet to determine what role they will play in the life of the diocese.

I'm really pleased to hear this, for a number of reasons. First, it's sheer good news that another diocese is recognising the value of women's ministry.

Then, it's significant that this is in Africa. It cuts across the growing sense of polarisation which says, to put it crudely, 'North America is liberal and pro-women; Africa is conservative - and thus does not support women in ministry?' It's just not as simple as that!

I recall that when I was at college I helped a fellow student with the writing up of his research thesis. I was fascinated by his subject, which was that Christianity brought liberation (in every sense) to women in his part of Africa. That's what I believe ought to have happened, if the gospel was recieved: women were no longer seen as second class, possessions of their husbands or fathers, but as equally children of God, equally called, equally saved, equally gifted.

So I was excited to hear of this news from Accra. Given the different cultural context, it's a much bigger step for women to be ordained in that context than it is in ours. But the gospel can challenge culture!

And just to keep up to date, here are the stats:
Of 38 provinces in the Anglican communion, only 8 do not ordain women. Two ordain women to the diaconate only, and 24 including the Church of England ordain women to the priesthood. Four provinces have consecrated women bishops.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Men women and teamwork

I've been writing a piece about men and women working together.

It prompted me to remember God's first team. 'In the beginning, God did not send a committee...!' Instead, he created a team.

It was a team of two, one man and one woman. Sadly, all too soon it went wrong, and where there had been perfect harmony, there was disharmony. I was reminded that we see glimpses of great teamwork in Deborah's leading with Barak, and in the New Testament, some of those great partnerships like Priscilla and Aquila.

It seems bizarre to me that in the 21st century the Church can't be setting the world an example when it comes to teams of men and women. Surely we can show that we can work together as brothers and sisters, without our relationships being sullied by assumptions based on gender stereotypes, or by moral lapses?

I wonder how you see it? I am disturbed by reports of how some Christian men seem to have capitulated to our sexualised culture and to see all close working with women as unhelpful. And it's funny how it always seems to be men who make up the rules, and women who suffer as a result.

I hope that we can soon come to a better place, and show how the Church is fulfilling that great prophecy in Joel, that God will pour out his Spirit on all people, and contrary to the cultural rules of 2000 years ago, 'your sons and your daughters will prophesy', and the Spirit will be poured out even on servants, 'both men and women'.

I think it's pretty clear, really. God meant everyone, men and women, to lead and minister together!

Friday, 22 May 2009

Women in mind

Today's a special day for me.

After lots of hard work by a couple of my colleagues, I'm finally launching two sets of downloadable studies to go with my book Growing Women Leaders.

With these studies, groups in churches who want to explore the issue of women as leaders, or groups of women who want to encourage each other and develop younger women as leaders, can get together and over three meeting can explore a number of areas raised in the book.

These studies can be downloaded free! Just click here for a link. You'll find two sets of downloads, one for mixed groups and one for women-only groups. There are separate sets of notes for leaders of the groups and for participants.

Do use them in your context - and let me know what you think!

Friday, 8 May 2009

Celebrating Women's Ministries

8th May is the Festival of Julian of Norwich.

On 8th May 1373, Julian suffered the illness during which she received a series of visions. She subsequently became a hermit at St Julian's church in Norwich, and wrote the book which has made her famous, The Revelations of Divine Love.

Tomorrow, 9th May is cause of another celebration, this time 40 years of Women's Reader ministry.

Reader ministry was revived in the Church of England in 1866, but it took until 1969 before women were admitted to the office of Reader alongside men. This weekend, churches are being encouraged to celebrate the ministry of women Readers (or Lay Ministers as they are called in some dioceses) and there are suggestions of special prayers on the Reader website.

I'm amazed that it took so long! I'm familiar with the long journey to women's priesthood, but Reader ministry is a lay minstry.
But as women Readers make such a significant contribution to the ministry of so many churches, this is indeed something to celebrate!

Friday, 24 April 2009

Women only?

I received an email recently from a woman who said she didn't like groups for women only. And to some extent I agree.

Gender is not the most important factor in life, and I'm not defined by it. Among my dislikes I would include some events which are advertised for women: gatherings of women for worship or Bible study, when they seem to constitute a parallel universe where women can operate.

One of my colleagues wonders why at Men's breakfasts (for businessmen), cooked breakfast is served, while for 'Ladies' breakfasts' (which are not usually for business women, but for stay at home mums), it's continental breakfast!

I've been reading an article which notes that often events for Christian women focus on fashion, women's emotions, crafts, diet and exercise. This is where I part company. I want to learn about leadership and vision, being a godly leader, Bible study, green issues, and how to think Christianly about our society.

I love Catherine Booth's characteristically blunt comment: 'It would be a happy day in England when Christian women turn their attention from poodles and terriers to the poor and destitute.' The things that matter.

What I sometimes need too, though, is a safe space to explore where as a woman I find the church, and sometimes other Christians, a challenge. I relish the groups where I sometimes feel I can be more myself, and find help and support from other women.

What do you think?

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

More good news about numbers

There's more good news this year about women being appointed to patronage churches.

Some of it's about numbers. May sound mind-numbingly boring, but numbers tell me that there is a slow trend in the right direction.

The percentage of women being appointed to CPAS churches in the last 12 months has crept up from 25% a year ago to 26% (10 women out of a total of 38 appointments).

And this brings the total of women patronage incumbents to 54 - out of the 454 churches where there is currently someone in post - that's nearly 12%. The 'patronage' system means that certain people or organisations has a right to be involved in the appointment of clergy, and there are 512 parishes where CPAS has this involvement. At any one time, some have a vacancy, hence the total of 454 clergy in post.

But of course this is a story about people. And I am really excited about one person, who was appointed last year to St Thomas, Blackburn - not a diocese known for it's support of women - in fact it is bottom of the 'league table' only to Chichester in terms of its percentage of full time stipendiary women clergy (as at the end of 2006).

Click here to read about Rosalyn Murphy. And you might want to pray for her as she continues to settle in to this demanding role - leading one of the largest churches in the diocese, with a over 550 worshippers.

I'm giving thanks for slow progress, but I'm not at all complacent. There are multitudes of obstacles facing women clergy in the Church of England (and no doubt in other denominations), not all of them obvious. And what we do, the things we say, the people we talk to, can all make a difference to changing the climate of acceptance, and ensuring that appointments are made on the basis of merit and not biased for reasons of gender.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

What they are saying about the Church of England

'Read our shocking report.'

That's how the editor of Stella, the Sunday Telegraph's magazine for women introduces her main feature article, 'The Stained-Glass Ceiling'.

The contents listing adds: 'Stephanie Rafanelli finds that sexism is still rife in the Church of England, with one female priest telling her, "My only choice is to leave my parish or have a nervous breakdown."'

As part of my role, I do get to hear some horror stories, but I was still surprised by this. So what's it all about?

The trigger for the article is the recent decision by General Synod to take another step forward towards women bishops. 'So does equality reign among the clergy? Far from it.' The article starts by focusing on Rosie Woodall, an ordinand at Cuddesdon. She is aware that she is part of a new generation of women who will be ordained into a church where women bishops is a real possibility. Yet 'being a woman priest is still going to be a challenge'.

The article cites the fact that more than 1.000 parishes have passed resolutions which allow them to 'opt out' of having a woman priest, and quotes Christina Rees: 'The Church is institutionally sexist.... if you substituted the word "black" for the word "woman" you simply wouldn't be allowed to say these things.'

Also interviewed are Nerissa Jones, Lucy Winkett, Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, Viv Faull, and a woman whose name has been changed, Rebecca, who has experienced bullying and 'constant low-grade sexual harassment'.

All depressing stuff. The piece ends with some words from Lucy Winkett about the potential of Christianity to be a force for women's liberation around the world (as it has been in many places), and expressing hope that this can be - but that the Church needs to put its own house in order first.

A pretty one-sided view in my opinion, despite the truth behind some of what is said. OK, we can use the word discrimination, but there was no acknowedgement of theology.

But as the view of someone outside the Church, it is salutory. Do we expect people to understand our nuanced theology? Or do they legitimately write us off as sexist and discriminatory?

If this is what people think of us, no wonder evangelism is an uphill struggle. Fifteen years ago I wrote a booklet about the challenges feminism was posing to the church - and how we might respond. Now what was 'feminism' is a mainstream view.

I don't like the tone of this article, but much of what lies behind it is sadly true. How do we put our house in order and proclaim a gospel not of discrimination but of equality?

Just when I think we are making progress, I realise how far there is to go before I will see my dream fulfilled. How long, O Lord?

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

A hymn from the early Church

I recently read a fabulous hymn written by Ephrem the Syrian, quoted in an email from CBE.

Of all the literature produced by the early Syrian church, the most prized was composed by Ephrem the Syrian, often called “The Harp of the Holy Spirit.” One of his hymns memorializes the faith of the Samaritan woman whom Jesus met at the well and sent forth as a missionary (see John 4).

O, to you woman in whom I see
a wonder as great as in Mary!
For she from within her womb
in Bethlehem brought forth His body as a child,
but you by your mouth made him manifest
as an adult in Shechem, the town of His father’s household.
Blessed are you, woman, who brought forth by your mouth
light for those in darkness.
Mary, the thirsty land in Nazareth conceived our Lord by her ear.
You, too, O woman thirsting for water,
conceived the Son by your hearing.
Blessed are your ears that drank the source
that gave drink to the world.
Mary planted Him in a manger,
but you planted Him in the ears of His hearers.
Your word, O woman, became a mirror
in which He might see your hidden heart.
“The Messiah”, you had said, “will come,
and when He comes He will give us everything.”
Behold the Messiah for whom you waited, modest woman!
With your voice your prophecy was fulfilled.
Your voice, O woman, first brought forth fruit,
before even the apostles, with the kerygma.
The apostles were forbidden to announce him
among pagans and Samaritans.
Blessed is your mouth that He opened and confirmed.

Ephrem the Syrian: Hymns tr. Kathleen E McVey. The Classics of Western Spirituality. New York: 1989. Hymn # 23

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

How do we change the Church?

I had a great conversation about this a few days ago!

And it set me thinking. If we want to see a Church which takes women as leaders seriously, which is really supportive and affirming of women as leaders, how do we change the Church?

Do we keep working away, involved in the structures and trying to influence them? Do we respond to the bad practice, and try to encourage people to change and do things better?

Or would a better solution be to set up a new organisation which aimed to be a model of good practice, a model of men and women working together, with a strong female presence on its leadership team?

It would be great to have such a model to point to, and say 'This is how to do it.' But I'm not so sure it's achievable. And to my mind there are too many splits and groups in the Church already.

I wonder if the best way to change things may be the apparently harder way? Getting stuck into the structures, whether at deanery, diocese or General Synod level, and aiming to influence others, person by person. Joining groups which stand for biblical equality, and working to inform and educate. Some of us may quietly beaver away, graciously pointing out the changes that are needed and suggesting how things could be done better. Others may end up in places of responsibility, and able to be those who help to shape church culture, rather than being squeezed by it.

In the Anglican Church, we've come a long way since 1994. But the challenges are still there - they are different ones from those which women priests faced back then. How do we continue to move forward, and make the Church a place where men and women who are equally gifted are equally treated at every level of church life?

What do you think?

Friday, 6 March 2009

Are women more gullible?

I had a feeling of deja vu yesterday.

I was giving a lecture at St John's College Nottingham yesterday, on women in leadership, and meeting the women ordinands. A great day, and getting together as a group of women felt really important - lots of important issues raised.

I had some free time in the afternoon, so took a stroll through the grounds. Wandering through the car park, a car sticker caught my eye. It had a fish on it, and yes, the name was that of a small car firm which used to service my car, many years ago. The owner was a Christian, but when I told him I was going to be ordained, he challenged me. 'My church doesn't believe women should be leaders,' he told me. 'Women are too gullible - think about Eve!'

Yesterday, I was wondering if he still holds those views. And what church life is like for women in that church if they have no women role models as leaders.

Today I was reading my CBE email, on that very subject! So here's an excerpt from Mimi Haddad's message of the week.

'How many times have we heard that women are more easily deceived than men? In overt and also subtle ways, some Christians seem to believe that women are more gullible, more easily deceived, less rational, and more emotional than men (and have been since creation). Much of the prejudice against women comes from a poor reading of Genesis, and of Paul’s reference to Eve in 1 Timothy 2:11-14 and 2 Corinthians 11:3...

In 1 Tim. 2:11-14, Paul writes:
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.
Some people today believe that women are more susceptible to deception than men, and for this reason they should be excluded from holding positions of authority over men in all circumstances. However, limiting the authority of all women is not a valid conclusion unless Eve is used consistently by Paul to refer specifically to women’s deception, rather than deception in general.

While Eve’s deception may be used to expose the deception of women in the church at Ephesus (1 Tim. 2:11-14), the deception of the entire church at Corinth is also likened to Eve in that they too had been deceived by the cunning of the serpent and were led “astray from their sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). Clearly Paul’s use of Eve as a representative of deception is not limited to women, but applies to both men and women. Deception is just as dangerous for men as it is for women. And both men and women are vulnerable to cunning deceivers.
Dr. John J. Davis, professor at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, will explore this topic more extensively in a forth coming issue of Priscilla Papers—CBE’s award-winning, academic journal.

To assert that women are more emotional, more gullible, and less rational is a destructive teaching based on a misunderstanding of the biblical texts. Let’s stop eroding the self-esteem of godly women, who are called by God to serve, teach, or hold positions of leadership and authority. Such women are not deceived, and their call should be tested and confirmed by the church rather than dismissed out of hand because of their gender. The church should be grateful that women come ready to serve. Let us not turn away the precious gifts God is giving us in women’s service, whatever it may be. '

Great stuff!

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

The first review

How exciting is that! My colleague has just forwarded to me a link to the Sophia website so that I could read a review of my book; you have to join the network to read most of the resources, but I've provided a link to the review here!

If you've not encountered the Sophia network ( ), it was launched just over a year ago to provide support, information and training for women leaders in youth work. The website is a fabulous source of information and comment on all kinds of issues relevant to women leaders, especially those who are leading work with young people.

But back to my review, one of the strange things about writing a book is that you put an incredible amount of hard work into it, submit a manuscript to the publisher, and then sit back and wait for nearly a year - by which time it all seems a long time ago.

Now it seems quite a while since September, when the book was published. It's been great to meet those who've said, 'what you wrote is so appropriate for me', or 'it was great, so helpful,' but I've been looking forward to seeing a proper review in print.

These days, more people are on-line than read written reviews, so it's not surprising that the first review I've seen is on-line. I was so encouraged to read it - and hope that it will encourage others to read the book.

Maybe I will consider writing another book some time...!

Friday, 6 February 2009

Gifted to Lead

On Saturday I went to hear Nancy Beach speaking in London.

The day was based around material from her book Gifted to Lead, and focused on leadership. It was an interactive day - and thinking about 'defining moments' as women leaders was an interesting exercise.

She reminded us of a phrase which also struck me from the book, 'the freight of being iconic'. I have not felt that experience much since I was first ordained, when as the first woman to preach or to lead communion in a church I did feel that the whole of ordained womanhood would be judged on the basis of how I was perceived.

We also explored the connotations of some words: it still seems to be the case that men are expected to be assertive, but assertive women are often labelled 'bossy'. And this affects our confidence.

I enjoyed Nancy Beach's style; and the 'American mom' thing grated a bit but I suppose was inevitable - that is her experience, and she invited us to use stories from our own experience when we preach and talk. She used some great clips of some women she'd interviewed, which meant that a variety of women were sharing their stories and insights with us.

The first session ended with a key point from the book: 'We are accountable to God for using our gifts'. Saying 'but I'm a girl' (Yuk! 'Girl' stuff really grates with me) is no excuse, and God did not make a mistake when he created us a woman and a leader.

The down side of the day for me was that for all her experience in Willow Creek, Nancy is leader of an area of ministry, not an overall leader, and the day reflected that to some extent.

There was a load of other good material... But the other thing which most grated was the attention given to the guys who served the coffee. OK, they did a good job, but when I went to another event the next day, not in a Christian context, both men and women were washing up in the kitchen without any fanfares. So why is it that in a church context we are still so stuck in gender roles that we have to give the men a round of applause for making coffee? I just don't get it.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Trinny and Susannah meet their match

Trinny and Susannah encounter clerical shirts!

It made for fascinating TV. Trinny and Susannah met a group of women, including a couple of women clergy, and selected a group of them for a make-over.

What made this programme different was that rather than just the usual make-over, first of all, some of the women 'met their match' in that they had to dress in the women's usual attire - clerical shirt and all!

I wonder what you made of it all? I'm one of those who before I was ordained vowed that I would not be seen dead wearing a clerical collar. But when I found myself in a context where that badge was really useful, I had to eat my words. Then the challenge was to find shirts which were decent and even remotely feminine.

The choice in 1994 was much more limited than it is now. I was disappointed that the looks Trinny and Susannah went for were not a great improvement on what the two women were wearing before. I was fascinated that one of the parishioners made the point that to wear a clerical shirt was important for many clergy women - a symbol of equality with men. Not to wear one was something of a cop out - and I think I would agree.

On the positive side, I felt that on this occasion the church came out well - Trinny and Susannah were clearly trying to understand what the women's lives were like, and it was a sympathetic picture of some aspects of parish life. But the fashion - for me, the challenge is still on.

I wonder what you think clergy women should wear?

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Women ministers: growing numbers

A new year is one of those times for taking stock and setting aims, so - how are we doing when it comes to numbers of women ministries in different denominations?

The proportion of women ministers across the denominations has grown from 8% in 1992 (the first year in which the number was counted) to a projected 18% in 2010, assuming current trends continue. So which denominations actually have the highest proportions of women ministers?

The URC's percentage is growing rapidly, and will be nearly 60% by 2010 . In the Salvation Army, who have always emphasised women's ministry, the proportion is dropping: women ministers made up 56% of officers in 1992 and will be 52% by 2010. The Methodists will be then be third largest, with 40% women. The Baptist proportion of women is growing fast too, increasing five-fold in this period, the fastest rate of growth except for the New Churches.
(Source: Religious Trends 7, May 2008)

So how does the Anglican Church compare? The latest statistics compare 2007 with 1994 (the year in which women were first ordained priests). In that time the percentage of ordained women has risen from 10% to 27% - a lower proportion, but much higher numbers than in the Free Churches.

So what do we make of this? I'm not sure I'm that happy if a denomination now has more female than male ministers. For me, the aim is equality, not replacing one domination with another.

An equally important question is, what lies behind the figures? The Anglicans do not have many so-called 'dignitaries', but the male 3% is well ahead of less than 1% women. What does the proportion of area, district or other leaders of leaders look like in the denominations where the percentage of women is now approaching 50%?

And in the case of Anglicans, an encouraging percentage of 27% women hides the fact that of that 27%, only 14% are stipendiary (ie paid), while 13% (nearly half) are non-stipendiary or OLM. For men these percentages are 57% and 13%. So when it comes to leading larger churches, becoming dignitaries, or even being training incumbents or team rectors, women are much less likely than men to be in the frame.

Growing numbers of women ministers: good news if this means that women are taking their place as leaders alongside men. But behind the figures there are many other considerations, which may be less good news.