Thursday, 2 December 2010

Obeying the Spirit?

Why have denominations in the Holiness tradition been ordaining women for so much longer than in other Christian traditions?

That's a question asked in a recent article in the CBE journal, Priscilla Papers.

I was surprised to read that in the Church of the Nazarene (in the USA), in 1908 women made up 13% of ordained ministers. Yes, that's 13% of ordained ministers more than 100 years ago!

So how could this be? It was not because that denomination and others like it were being fashionable, or were influenced by feminism - a word which was not of course even invented then.

It was because denominations which emphasised the role of the Spirit in the Christian life took the Bible at face value when they read in Joel and Acts: 'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my spirit on all people. Your..daughters will prophecy.'

This was an arguement made popular in the mid nineteenth century by Phoebe Palmer (who influenced Catherine Booth, among others). Palmer (pictured here) wrote a 400 page book, The Promise of the Father, which talked of how the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost inaugurated a new era, as the Spirit had been poured out equally on men and women.

According to the CBE article, 3 things made women's ordination more acceptable in the Holiness traditions: a preference for leadership based on prophetic authority, an encouragement for all people to give public testimony at church gatherings, and flexible church structures.

As I continue to hear about able women being told that women's leadership is 'not biblical' I'm intrigued by this different take on Scripture from these 'back to the New Testament' denominations. Apparently, if women did not testify to God in their worship, they were being disobedient to the Spirit and to Scripture! And as they gained experience, and their churches were open to women preaching the gospel, women could be 'called'. Ordination was then an affirmation of the Holy Spirit's choice.

Perhaps some denominations need a bit more obedience to the Spirit. Or is that too much of a radical thought!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Better Together

I'm always excited when Mutuality comes through my letter box.

Mutuality is the news magazine of CBE international. One of the first articles to catch my eye this time was the conference report from the CBE conference in Australia, 'Better Together'.

And it was interesting to read that the issues around in Australia are not that different from those in UK.

'We feel really concerned with the pressure that is being applied to folk - that if you do not accept male authority and leadership you do not accept the Bible', wrote Kevin Giles. I am currently involved in some conversations where one of the issues is that of accepting that evangelical women priests exist, and that to be an evangelical woman priest is not a contradiction in terms. As I see it, we have the same commitment to scripture, we just read it differently.

What really caught my eye was a section on how the conference had served as a place of healing.

'A female Anglican vicar said to me after the conference that she felt like a child whose father had presented her with a birth certificate to show that she was really part of the family, after believing all her life that she was adopted and did not really belong! This person is about to retire after years of successful ministry in Melbourne. It is amazing to think it took this conference to really affirm her ministry.'

I don't know whether to be sad or angry. Just reading the book I mentioned in my previous post, The 7 deadly sins of women in leadership. As women we may have negative self-perceptions, but how did those self-perceptions get there? Subtly, as sometimes we have had to overcome so many obstacles. I thank God that early in my own exploring of ministry I found people like Faith Forster and others who back in the 1980s were showing that there was more than one evangelical way to read scripture.

You can read more about the conference at

Monday, 13 September 2010

Seven deadly sins

On Saturday I went to a book launch. Kate Coleman was launching her book 7 Deadly Sins of Women in Leadership.

In her book, Kate explores seven self-defeating behaviours in work and leadership, such as limiting self-perceptions, failure to draw the line, and inadequate personal vision.

The book is based on a programme of day events with the same title which Kate and others in Next Leadership have been running, and some of those who'd attended these testified to the life-transforming impact the days had had. It was quite an event; these testimonies, Kate herself talking about the book, some great worship led by Nicki and Pete Sims, and a magnificent lunch!

Elaine Storkey, who has written the Foreword to the book, writes: 'a must-read book for anyone in leadership, including those who wonder how they got there!... It's rare to find such careful research, gripping narrative and positive mentoring all in one book. I loved it!'

I would not normally recommend a book before reading it - and it will be reviewed in my CPAS review pages - but knowing Kate a little, and having heard her and others speak, I want to be an advocate already. And I think this book will complement my own, as it takes some of the issues for women which later chapters of my book mention, and helps women to develop as leaders in those areas.

I recognise some of Kate's '7 deadlies' in myself, so I'm sure it will help me!

For more on the book and how to buy it, go to To listen to Nicky's song, 'Daughter of Destiny' which was sung at the book launch, go to the same page and scroll down for a link.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Why so few younger women clergy?

Back in January I blogged about this question, but it's still there, and still needs an answer. There's a concern in the Church at the moment about the rising average age of clergy. We have been reaping the 'wisdom' of some years past, when young Christians who felt called by God to ordained ministry were told to go and 'get a life' first.

But now we're starting to see younger people coming forward, some of us have noted that there are distinctly fewer young women in training than young men. And looking round the church, there are not many young women in stipendiary ministry.

There are a whole variety of reason:
  • women don't get as much encourament as men do
  • there are fewer young women in churches
  • some of these younger women belong to more conservative churches which don't allow women to take on preaching or leadership roles
  • some women in their 20s and 30s have a young family and have chosen to keep their sense of call on hold.
But I was disturbed by a recent letter to the Church Times (13th August), which talked of the experience of one young woman at her first selection conference.

She was told when young, as many young men also used to be told, that she was 'inexperienced'. The subtext, according to the letter was 'go away, get a job, have babies, then come back.' This she did, and was finally accepted many years later.

The letter goes on to highlight other concerns which I've also noticed recently. When it came to a title parish, 'Ever present was the unspoken hint that a mature woman might be threatening to her training incumbent. And she had a family, all of whom had well-established ties to people and places,, which made things more "complicated" for the diocese. Would they have either of these concerns about a man?'

Some might, others would not. It is so hard to prove that anything like this is gender discrimination. The writer of the letter wonders why the Church seems so much more nervous about accepting inexperienced young women, when there are plenty of such men in training. A fair point. And then if those women return a few years later, they have other hurdles to overcome.

I believe that the discernment process is a good one, and that when the writer of the letter calls it 'secretive' and by implication, biassed, this is unfair. But that does not mean that it's not harder, often, for women than for men.

The Church of England needs more young women to offer themselves for a lifetime of ministry. I know some great young women who have been accepted for training at recent panels. But I think there is still more progress to be made in nurturing the vocations of women in their 20s.

And what is true for the Church of England is probably just as true in other denominations. I've read research which points to subtle or less subtle forms of discrimination in a variety of denominations. Where we are aware of barriers which make the selection process more difficult for women than for men, we need to keep raising concerns, until the process is truly equal for all.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Reclaiming the F Word

It's funny how times change!

That's a terrrible cliche, I know. But when I recieved an email telling me about the publication of a new book, Reclaiming the F Word: The New Feminist Movement, I realised how I don't really use the word 'feminist' much any more. It took me back to the 1980s.

Then, I remember addressing 'The feminist case against God' at student missions - following the example of Kathy Keay, whom I mentioned in a previous blog. And talking with Christian friends who'd been asked questions like, 'How can you be a Christian, when God thinks that women are second class people?'

Now, do 'feminists' even care about God, or the church, enough to bother with such a discussion? I suspect not. While some Christians (in my view) allowed their feminist viewpoint to replace a Christian one, many saw everything associated with 'feminism' as a threat, and others ignored it.

Just another example of how the gap between the church and everyone else has got wider and wider.

I used to like the definition of feminism, 'Anyone who thinks that women are people.' Most people do think that these days - with the possible exception, sadly, of some inside the church.

So, having indulged in a little nostalgia, I'm looking forward to my copy of Reclaiming the F Word reaching my desk. I'm looking forward to seeing what Kristin Aune and Catherine Redfern have to say.

If you're intrigued, you can read more for yourself here. And I'll be reviewing the book when I've read it.

What has happened to feminism? What is the new feminist movement? And where is God in it all?

Friday, 16 July 2010

Women bishops and all that

All eyes were on General Synod (of the Church of England) last weekend as they met in York to discuss women bishops.

As the dust begins to settle, arguments abound as to whether the archbishops' amendment should have been passed, or whether what was passed was the best possible outcome.

And while some are saying, 'full steam ahead for women bishops' - it only has to go to dioceses and parishes and come back to Synod, and go before Parliament! - some of those opposed are warning that by not producing legislation with the protection they desire, General Synod is heading for a train crash.

I have deep sympathies with those who feel marginalised, particularly those who are evangelicals. It's their church which is changing, just as it is also my church which, in my view, is moving in a particular direction. I really liked a sentence in the pastoral letter written on 14th July by the Bishops of Oxford, as he reflects on the fact that the Body of Christ is both hurting and rejoicing: women priests should not feel blame, 'women priests have borne their cross of ambivalence and prejudice very graciously for a long time'. I can still remember back in 1992 when we were not allowed to rejoice too much over the vote for women priests.

What I find really frustrating is the way those on the side of 'bible' or 'tradition' treat their 'opponents', people like me. Beyond Equal Rights is a recently published booklet from the Reform stable. Well, some people might argue that this debate is about 'equal rights', but many would not.

According to the author, egalitarians stress Galatians 3:28 'and largely ignore the other passages or write them off as cultural'. So why do my bookshelves groan with scholarly egalitarian books which seek to understand those passages often called 'difficult'; they conclude that the evangelical scholarly consensus is that the Bible endorses the equal participation of men and women in leadership. I would not be writing this if that were not the case!

Nor do I think this debate about 'innovation'. I was equally frustrated by someone I was in conversation with recently who claimed that having women bishops (and priests) was a complete novelty in the church, an innovation after 2000 years of male-only leaders.

Is this true? There are plenty who see current moves as an attempt to restore the Church of England to the position of the early church. I remember writing an essay at theological college about the decline of women leaders in the first centuries of the Church. The recent work of Dorothy Irvin and others has uncovered archaelogical material including frescoes and tomb inscriptions attesting to women as prophets, stewards, deacons, presbyters and overseers, and other research points in a similar direction.

Let's keep the lines of communication open, and be accurate in the way we represent those who disagree. Then, perhaps, the train won't crash, but will take us into a better future.

Friday, 18 June 2010

The stories of our lives

A couple of days ago I had one of those serendipitous moments. I was talking to someone about one thing, and then the conversation turned:

'I'm writing a series of songs based on the women's stories in the Bible.' That's certainly not something I hear every day, so I wanted to know more.

Charity Quin is a singer/songwriter based in Suffolk. She's writing these songs, which focus in particular on the meetings with Jesus, where he interacts with women across religious, cultural and racial divides....

He seemed to come from nowhere
He seems to fill this space
Now he's asking me to draw him water
He walks across the lines -
of gender and of race...

There are other songs too, about women's lives now, and a take on the prodigal son - who is a daughter.

I know from talking to many women that some of the great stories in the Bible which are about women are not that well known. I have more books on my shelves than most about women in the Bible. But this sounds like a great idea, and I hope the songs will be heard.

Charity Quin's latest album is called 'The Patience of the Fisherman', and clips can be heard at and

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Empowering Relationships

I've just returned from an Arrow residential. One subject we covered was 'empowering relationships'. That can mean mentoring, coaching, spiritual direction - or just a friendship which has been empowering.

When I got back to my desk, there waiting for me was a biography of Kathy Keay. Kathy died of cancer at the age of only 40 in 1994. Flicking through the book has reminded me already how 'empowering' she was for me.

To some extent she was a friend of a friend, someone whose lectures I listened to, whose books I read, and who came to meals occasionally. But as with all those people who are passionate about a cause, there was more to it than that.

Kathy was the founder of Men Women and God, a group promoting biblical equality, and which itself stimulated the founding of the much larger group in the US, Christians for Biblical Equality. I joined the steering group of MWG as a theological student in 1992, and have remained with it ever since, being both inspired by its work and its members, and in turn trying to inspire and inform others. That connection has probably formed my life and career more than I realise.

I'll be reviewing Whatever Happened to Kathy Keay as soon as I've read it. But to whet your appetite, here's a short extract from the promotional material:

For nearly twenty years until her tragic death in 1994, Kathy Keay engaged, challenged and inspired the Christian world, speaking, writing and debating on a myriad of subjects. Using Kathy's own writing, including personal diaries and letters, and interviews with those closest to her, Marion Osgood reveals the intense inner struggles that accompanied her achievements as she endeavoured to follow her calling in the midst of human frailty.

You can find out more on the author's website.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Of Deans and Dignitaries

I was very excited to hear a few days ago that a third woman has been appointed to the position of dean.

Canon Catherine Ogle has been appointed as the next Dean of Birmingham Cathedral. Catherine is currently vicar of Huddersfield, and has previously been vicar of three parishes outside Barnsley, and also religious affiars editor for BBC Radio Leeds.

This brings the number of women deans to three: the other two are Vivienne Faull, Dean of Leicester, and June Osborne, Dean of Salisbury.

It's not hard to count to three! It's not so hard to count to 15 (the number of women archdeacons). It is, however, difficult to keep track of how many women hold other posts which are regarded as 'dignitories', or as 'senior posts' in the Church of England.

This is a sad state of affairs. The statistics are hard to find; and there seem to be few people who are interested enough in the progress of women in the Church to keep up with noting who is appointed. The Revd Dr Sr Teresa CSA is a notable exception, but (in the very valuable Distinctive News of Women in Ministry) she notes appointments rather than numbers.

So let me recap on the latest stats I've got. in 2007, or a total of 359 dignitaries, 31 were women. The percentage of women who are stipendiary clergy has grown to 19%, and the percentage of women when NSM and OLM are included is 28%.

Going back to deans and other dignitaries, not all women (any more than all men) would want to be a dean or any other kind of dignitary. Most clergy are inevitably going to be in parish ministry, perhaps including some kind of specialist role as part of this. But in my view, the Church of England will only look like a whole church when the proportion of women and men in any particular kind of post looks much more equal.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Discerning Leadership

Discerning Leadership: co-operating with the Spirit of God.

This is the title of the first booklet in a new series being launched by Grove Books in June. It's a series on leadership! And for the series, Grove is in partnership with CPAS.

I'm excited by this first title by Bishop Graham Cray, who recently moved from being Bishop of Maidstone to heading up Fresh Expressions.

All too often, he argues, the 'vision process' in a church can involve the 'hero' leader 'going up the mountain' like Moses, and coming back with his vision. Cray proposes a different model, one which involves more consciously listening to the Spirit of God and a more consultative process, but which is also more flexible, and open to the awareness that maybe a clear vision is not God's agenda at the moment when we think we need one! I'd like to think that women tend to use a more 'post-heroic' leadership style - but then I don't believe in gender stereotypes, do I?!

Perhaps it's fair to say that most women are less likely to adopt a 'heroic' model of leadership, but we need as much as men do to listen to God and be sensitive to his spirit. A consultation process approach could be just as detached from God's agenda as a 'God has given me the vision' approach.

You can hear Graham Cray talking about this subject on one of CPAS' podcasts. And you can hear him talk about 'discerning leadership' at the Leadership series launch event at LICC in London on Tuesday 8th June, 6.15-8.30. More information is available on the LICC website (scroll through 'events' to June).

Monday, 12 April 2010

Bringing Hope

It seems strange to me that it took a message from the US to tell me about a conference taking place in Colchester! But such is life.

The conference is called 'Bringing Hope', and aims to help Christians understand more about domestic violence and support those who are experiencing it. It's long amazed me that much of the church seems oblivious of something which affects one in four women during their lifetime - and which is as common inside the church as outside it.

This important subject has long been one of my passions, and after working as a volunteer on Women's Aid's national helpline and researching the subject, I wrote a Grove booklet in 1994, entitled Home is Where the Hurt is. The booklet went out of print several years ago, but the text is available on CPAS' website here.

According to the conference literature, Bringing Hope aims to launch a new alliance called Restored. (What it's an alliance of, I'm not entirely clear.)

Over the last 15 or so years there have been a number of church initiatives, but none seem to have brought this subject to wide attention. The Church of England debate and report were excellent - but probably not widely read. The Baptists and some other denominations are well served with information, yet this does not appear to have influenced the agenda of most churches.

Perhaps this will make a difference, to a new generation of Christians.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Half the Sky

The new book Half the Sky seems to be making waves already.

I have not read it, but I've read about it, and I'm looking forward to August, when the paperback version comes out. In the meantime, it's already caught my attention, and that of many other Christians who are concerned about how women are viewed.

We've often been told that 'women hold up half the sky'. At birth, the male/female ration is close to 50:50. But apparently, when govenments count the relative numbers of males and females later on, some of the women have disappeared. Where have they gone?

Half the Sky, which has become a New York Times bestseller, seeks to explore what it sees as our era's most pervasive human rights violation - the oppression of women. The authors, Nicholas Kristof and Sherl WuDunn (who are married to each other) explore how believing that women are inferior to men is causing women to disappear. It's already created a movement.

We all know that women are disproportionately impacted by poverty. But the claims are scary. Will they also be the catalyst for greater awareness and action? What I've read so far certainly suggests this.

In different cultures the customs, religious beliefs and prejuduces work diffferently: women are less likely to get medical help, less likely to be educated, and more likely to be trafficked, more likely to be raped and rejected, more likely to be killed because of 'honour'.

The good news story in the book is about organisations around the world which are helping to empower women.

Where is God in all this? The book is not a Christian one, but Christians have cause to be concerned about such abuses. But for some Christians, the disturbing question is: are some Christians actually contributing to such abuses? Are we part of the problem - or part of the answer?

Thursday, 25 February 2010

The Stained Glass Ceiling

I've just been reading a great article by Michele Guinness in the March issue of Christianity Magazine.

It's the cover article, and the subtitle on the cover reads, 'Why women leaders are still trapped.' You can read the opening paragraphs by following the link to the magazine here.

The article explores the 'mixed picture' in the Christian world: some progress, with young women moving into signficant leadership roles and several women leading large Anglican churches. On the other hand, evangelical Anglican colleges are finding it harder to place women as curates in evangelical churches, and some women find the situation no better, and sometimes worse, than it was 30 years ago. One consequence of all this that women seem to be leaving the church.

Guinness suggests four reasons why women don't feel able to live out their calling: male leadership models, lack of knowledge of women speakers, lack of visible role models, and work and family life. I agree - but behind the first three, there is the influence of particular theologies which overtly exclude women and more subtly sap women's confidence.

The final part of the article looks at what can be done, and suggests some ways forward: all the usual things, such as role models, mentors, acknowledging the problem... Yes, but we know this already, and change is happening only slowly.
I hope this article may be read by those who might be part of the solution, and that women would be increasingly accepted as leaders alongside men. Otherwise, as Jo Saxton, a Methodist minister, concludes: 'We need to ask ourselves what not raising up a generation of women is costing us, and will cost us.'

Friday, 12 February 2010

Why I don't iron

Well, not quite. Actually I do iron. But I started an article on 'Gender, communication and leadership style' with a reflection on the fact that my husband is much better at ironing than I am. He spent his working life in the RAF, so ironing perfect creases came with the territory.

So I was delighted when the latest issue of Mutuality , containing my article, came winging its way from America. The Winter 09 theme is 'Leadership Development' and as well as my contribution, it includes a fascinating article called 'The View from the Pulpit', addressing various issues women face:

'Some of my parishioners think my leadership style is too 'feminine' while others think it is too 'masculine'. 'My church congregation questions if I can be both a good mother and an effective minister.' There's also an study on Esther, and other briefer articles.

I'm not sure if it's encouraging or discouraging to see that many of our sisters across the pond face similar challenges as women leaders in the Church, but I certainly benefit from the material.
The latest Priscilla Papers, the theological journal of CBE, arrived in the same envelope and also looks like a good read as usual - the best source I know for current theological thinking on biblical equality. There's an article on women in the earliest house churches, and another on Incarnation, Trinity and the ordination of women, among other things.

There's no free access to these articles - though mine will appear on the CPAS site in due course. But if you are looking for good resources on women's ministry, there's a selection of free resources to download, or you can buy single magazines and downloads.

It's good to keep thinking, reading and learning...

And what do you think about communication style: do men and women communicate differently, and how does that affect our working together in teams?

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Why are so few women ordained young?

Why is it that so few women are ordained in their 20s?

OK, so the age of ordinands in the Church of England, both men and women, had been going up and up until recently. But there are still more young male ordinands than young female ordinands. And I suspect the pattern is similar in other denominations.

Few women are ordained in their 20s, and not that many in their 30s. The latest (2008) stats for the Church of England show that there are only 15 (women) parochial clergy under the age of 30 (13 of them curates), and only another 167 under the age of 40 (68 incumbent/incumbent status and 99 curates).

This has all sort of implications. The needs of women ordained in their 20s are different from those ordained later. And the dearth of women ordained at this age may partly account for the lack of women in senior posts or leading larger churches. Even if they come to ordination with leadership experience, clergy need a measure of experience within the Church before taking on a more demanding senior post.

I can understand both the issue and the concerns. I was ordained at age 37. It had taken me quite a while to even consider it (confidence was one issue). And then there were those who said that women could not be ordained (or could not be leaders) because the Bible said so; it took me quite a long time to get my head around that, especially in the light of so few resources from an egalitarian perspective.

I wonder what others think (and if you've accessed this through the CPAS website, and can't comment, you can email me direct, or find the blog independently, until we fix the problem!)...

If you're reading this thinking, 'I wonder if God is calling me to be ordained?' there are a variety of events which can help. If you're between the ages of 16-30 you may be interested in 'Step Forward', an event at Cranmer Hall, Durham on 6th February; Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham is speaking and there will be various workshops during the day. If you can't get to Durham, CPAS run regular 'You and Ministry' weekends for anyone who is exploring vocation; I'm also available to give vocations advice to women.

We all have a part to play in encouraging younger women to think about ordination (or leadership in our own denomination): as role models, as mentors, by giving them opportunities to develop as leaders, or with a tap on the shoulder.

Friday, 8 January 2010

New year reading resolutions

Are you reading this because you're like me, stuck at home in the snow?

Then maybe it's also a good time to reflect on your leadership development needs for the coming year.

I'm firmly convinced that good leaders need to be leaders who continue to grow and learn. Going to conferences, listening to sermons, talks and podcasts. And that traditional way, using old-fashioned printed paper: through reading!

To get you started, there's a new book review for January on the main CPAS site (click here for a link). Bill Hybels needs no introduction for most Christian leaders. I found his book Axiom fascinating, and full of wisdom to apply to all aspects of leadership.

Or if that title does not grab you, there are lots of 'back copies' of reviews. I recently went to a meeting where we were discussing the biblical case for women in leadership. Maybe that's a subject you need to get to wrestle with this year, and several books (including mine) will get you started. Or maybe it's about whether men and women lead differently: again, look at some back reviews. Order a book, and by the time it's come, maybe the post can get through to deliver it!

So, if you're snowbound, redeem the time and keep learning!