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'?