Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Are you an influential woman?

I'm reading a great book at the moment: Influential, by Jo Saxton.

The subtitle is 'Women in Leadership at church, work and beyond. Starting to read with high expectaions, I was encouraged by some words in the Foreword by Michelle Guinness, who expresses what I think many Christian women feel:

'How do we stay on the see-saw, balancing feisty, outspoken leadership with Christian grace and love?' It's a challenge, when the assumptions about what 'leaders' are like can often conflict with stereotypes of how women are supposed to behave.

Jo comes from the rising generation of women leaders, who speak at festivals such as Soul Survivor and Momentum. She seems to have left the UK and is living in the US but I hope that this book will speak to the new generation of women who see gender equality all around them but then find that in the church it is somewhat different.

Written in an accessible style, Saxton explores biblical role models such as Miriam and Deborah, New Testament women, and what the difficult passages in Paul's writings are getting at. 'What did women do?' She asks.So what should women be doing today?

I've been enjoying the book, and though I have read a few on this subject before, this is a fresh approach, Saxton quotes a number of women leaders in the church today, and there are plenty of action points and good advice woven into the chapters.

If you want an all-encompassing book which will encourage you in your leadership in the church - and beyond - this is definitely worth reading.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

How gender makes a difference

How does gender make a difference in Church leadership?
That was the question I was invited to address for the October issue of FutureFirst, a news digest for church leaders: 'providing facts for forward planning'. So how does gender make a difference?
Well, it does and it doesn't. I'm increasingly convinced that the 'men are from Mars' version of difference may have a few elements of truth - but that's all. Research suggests that women and men doing the same leadership task tend to do it in similar ways.
The differences are all about women's different experiences. For starters, it's still difficult for women to be seen as leaders in some contexts, even when the theology allows them to be. A double whammy, if you like.
The most obvious difference is that just being born female means you may not be able to be a Christian leader at all - depending on your theology or that of your church. So it's not surprising that there are fewer young women than young men in Christian leadership. So for young women, it can be a lonely place.
Then there are worrying patterns of deployment. Women are more likely to be leading rural or urban churches and less likely to be leading suburban ones. I wonder why...? OK, I do have a few ideas why that might be.
So it follows that they are less likely than men to be leading larger churches, especially evangelical ones. And also less likely to be in senior posts, though this is changing more quickly than the larger churches situation, where at my last count, there were only 4 women out of about 172 larger churches led by women.
I suppose one could also suggest that the experience of being a clergy husband is quite different from being a clergy wife. If you are anywhere near Durham on 24th Novemember, there is an event that evening on clergy spouses, led by Dr Sarah-Jane Page. See the Durham website for details: and you need to email in advance if you want to go. Sounds fascinating!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Transformations at Lambeth Palace

Well, Lambeth was not transformed on Monday!

But around 50 people attended a conference entitled Transformations: Theology and Experience of Women's Ministry.

It was a great day, with introductory addresses by Lucy Winkett, Sarah Coakley, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, time to reflect, group discussions, a keynote address by Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves (from California), and concluding comments by the Archbishop.

There were a number of highlights for me, including the address by Sarah Coakley (Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity at Cambridge). She reminded us that in the 1970s it was argued that the church would be transformed when women were ordained, because women were different.

Yes, the church has been transformed, by the 'cosmological disturbance' of women at the altar.

No, in the way expected - and I was glad to hear her knock essentialism on the head; there is still too much of it around.

She also highlighted some remaining problems, including the theological inconsistency of considering women in the episcopate separately from priesthood, as if the two can be separated, and what she called 'bureacratization', the busyness which women have to take part in to prove they can do the job as well as men. It was good to have this challenged, again from a theological perspective. Where, she asked, is prayer, presence and rest?

Groups explored a whole variety of subjects, drawing on thoughts from ordained women which had been submitted in advance. Patterns of appointment, scripture, different patterns of ministry available to women, the ordinal, liturgy and language, issues for clergy couples...

I could go on. Watch out for the production of some of the materials from the conference in due course.

Yes, it's been a while since the last blog. I'm leaving CPAS as of tomorrow, but this blog will continue...

Monday, 18 July 2011

Keeping the debate on the agenda

I've just come back from holiday to find the usual box-full of emails!

Nothing new there, but I was encouraged to find that among the boring ones were one telling me that Kate Coleman (pic above) is speaking at a LICC event in September, and one from a woman saying how helpful she'd found my book, amid the continuing confusion and controversy within the Anglican church.

First, LICC (the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity). On Monday 26th September, at 6.30pm Kate Coleman and others from her team, are leading an event: 7 Deadly Sins of Women in Leadership - an overview of the seven and an introduction to the first 'sin', 'Limiting Self-Perceptions'. You can find more about the event here.

Now to the email. The fact that all the dioceses which have voted regarding women as bishops have seen fit to vote in favour of moving ahead shows how much weight there is in support of women's leadership. But the debate continues in certain quarters of the church.

The idea that so-called subordination in the Trinity has a bearing on the leadership of women continues to be brought out as an argument against women's leadership - as if the relative positions or relationships of three persons of the godhead can say anything about the relations between men and women, or about women as leaders.

I do respect those who wish to be true to scripture, but I find it really hard to see how this obscure view of Trinitiarian doctrine can be thought clearer than all of Paul's practice and teaching.

So let's keep reading and thinking and talking: to overcome internal barriers such as 'limiting self-perception', and external barriers which continue to keep women safely in 'submission' on the sidelines rather than serving God in the spiritual battle!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

In the image of God

In the Image of God is the title of a booklet recently published by the Sophia Network.

It's an 8-week course exploring what the Bible says about men and women, and is based on the course run by email last autumn. A booklet of 52 pages clearly can't go into a huge amount of detail, but I was impressed with the range and scope of the studies, and I hope it's widely read and used - see the Sophia site for details of how to buy a copy.

This resource was launched at the Sophia Network's excellent day conference last month, where Maggi Dawn, Howard Worsley and Lis Goddard spoke on different aspects of the debate about women. Lis had some extremely helpful and striking things to say about 'how to disagree agreeably', as well as providing some useful insights into the texts so often under discussion.

We need to keep discussing, and where we disagree, to do it agreeably!

At the conference I also found out more about the resources being produced by Restored, to help churches to understand more about domestic violence, and to help young people avoid getting into abusive relationships. I'm impressed that they are not just dealing with the results of violence but trying to stimulate wider thinking about relationships generally. It's also got an international dimension. Take a look!

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Changing Minds

How do people change their minds? It's an interesting question. When people hold particular views, often for a long time, what prompts them to reconsider?

I've been thinking about this in the light of a recent book called How I Changed my Mind about Women in Leadership, where 27 people who have changed their minds explain why they've done so.

I guess I've always thought that those who argue that the Bible prevents women from holding certain leadership roles in the Church do so out of theological conviction. If others could put a sufficiently good theological argument, they'd change their minds. And that is what they say, too.

But I suspect it's a little more complex than that. While we think that our positions on all sorts of issues are well thought out and rational, we are complex beings, and experience has to play a part as well.

Non-theological reasons for the positions people hold include the 'fear' factor that keeps people from thinking outside the box, and male leaders who assert their views as if they are the word of God. It's not all about objective biblical interpretation.

When it comes to experience, the Bible shows that the Apostle Peter needed the experience of a dream to realise that the gospel was for Gentiles as well as for Jews. Moses needed to experience God's power before he was willing to carry out the task God had given him. We are whole people, with minds, bodies and emotions. In my experience (!), it has often been the experience of women leaders, or the realisation that the practical outworking of their position is so arbitrary, that has prompted people to reconsider their interpretation of Scripture.

You can read a review of How I Changed my Mind about Women in Leadership on the Sophia Network website.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Is there a connection?

Is there a connection between male authority and domestic violence?

I was reminded of this question in a recent email from CBE but it's long been in my mind. When I was researching for a booklet on a Christian response to domestic violence, one of the few publications on the subject was entitled Battered into Submission - which I suppose says it all.

It's a disturbing but important question. I'm sure that those who defend the idea today that God has established different 'roles' for men and women would not condone male violence against women, but it's a connection that has often been made.

Last year there was a conference in the USA aimed at addressing the problem of male violence in Christian homes. It took place on the 162nd anniversary of a conference held in same place, Seneca Falls, where a group of men and women met to demand equality as a way of protecting women and children from abuse in the home and society. So much for those who see 'feminism' and the need to solve the problem of domestic violence as modern issues!

The recent convention continued to draw a direct link between male authority and domestic violence. Women are told to be 'submissive', but for some men are never submissive enough - and this is held to justify their violence.

I'm still shocked just reading about this, despite having worked on the Women's Aid helpline and heard women screaming and crying into the telephone. That was bad enough, but the idea that God's demanding of different 'roles' for men and women can for some justify violence I find horrifying.

It was good to be reminded that back in the nineteenth century it was Christian women like Josephine Butler and Katherine Bushnell who were at the forefront of addressing social issues faced by women and children, and making people aware that it was the social devaluing of women led to male dominance and female submission - which in turn led to both prostitution and the abuse of women.

Bushnell, who was a scholar and missionary, wrote regarding abuse that 'the social evil would never be got rid of so long as the subordination of woman to man was taught within the body of Christians...'

Her book God's Word to Women, one hundred Bible studies on 'women's place in the divine economy', was published in 1921 - and the reprint (available online) is still worth reading!

We need such courageous people in our own day (women and men) who will make this connection, and help Christians once again to be at the forefront of countering social evils and ending the great 'battle of the sexes', to restore the harmony and partnership which we see in Eden.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Women in Mind

I have an almost constant sense of deja vu.

That is to say, I have been here before. The Church has been here before.

Whether it is the latest speaker who thinks women should stick to homemaking and having babies, men and women who think women are differently constituted and therefore can't or should not be leaders, or Christians who believe that arguments for women's leadership are new, when one can document them from the time of the early Church, and campaigning and debate started in the Anglican Church in 1930: we have been here before!

Because we have been here before, I become frustrated when it seems that the same arguments seem to go round and round, while all the while there is an increasing amount of scholarship - on both 'sides' of the biblical argument, it must be said, but most of the weight of argument, including a number of scholars who have changed their minds, on the side of those who believe that the biblical case for women leaders in the Church is very strong.

There is debate among younger Christians, influenced by certain US speakers.

There is debate among Anglican women wondering if God is calling them to ordination or to another form of authorised leadership.

There is debate for Anglicans on General Synod because there are decisions to be made about women in the episcopate (women bishops).

And there is debate in many parishes, certainly in every diocese, because those making the decision want to know what is the mind of the wider Church.

So because we are here again, a reminder about useful resources.

The biblical issues about women as leaders are addressed in the book Growing Women Leaders. This book also looks at women leaders in the Bible and through 2000 years of Church history. To buy a copy, click here.

And if you want a good discussion in your church about what the Bible says, why not download the Women in Mind resource: 3-session courses for groups who want to look at what the Bible says about women in ministry. These are FREE to download from the CPAS website: just click here.

I've been encouraged that nearly 1500 people have downloaded one or other of these courses over the past year. If you've used one of them, please let me know, as I would love to refine the courses further, and to encourage others. You can email me at rward@cpas.org.uk.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

We will speak out

Violence against women and girls: it's still a shocking problem.

I've long been passionate that the church should lead the way in trying to change our culture and address this issue, rather than lagging behind others or ignoring it altogether.

I was pleased to hear today about a new Anglican initiative to 'speak out'. Not sure why I heard in an email from a Canadian friend, but maybe that says something about the level of awareness (or lack of it) in the UK!

The Archbishop of Canterbury recently welcomed senior church leaders and international development agencies to Lambeth Palace to pledge that the church will play a part in ending sexual violence, and to launch a Tearfund report, 'Silent No More' (see photo).

Read more about this here, and you can download the 'Silent no more' report and pledge your commitment to it here.

While at theological college I helped out on a domestic violence helpline, and chose to do some research on Christian responses to domestic violence for a theological college essay. That was eventually published as a Grove booklet for Home is Where the Hurt is. The booklet is out of print, but the text is still available, for download: click here (scroll to the bottom of the lists of articles).

In whatever way, we will, we must, 'speak out', to see an end to the sexual violence which blights the lives of so many women and girls all over the world.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

100 Most Inspiring Women

Today is International Women's Day!

It's a day to celebrate the achievements of women, and one of my colleagues handed me a copy of today's Guardian supplement: 100 most inspiring women.

The list of women has been drawn up from a list of more than 3,000 suggestions from readers. I wonder if there were any leaders from the churches in that original list, because there aren't any in the remaining 100.

But there are some women who have inspired me: Aung San Suu Kyi, Ellen MacArthur, Germaine Greer, Tanni Grey-Thompson. And there are plenty of women I've never heard of, whose stories I've been reading and whom I want to find out more about.

There's no doubt about it: the stories of other women can inspire us. And as I think I have written before in a blog, research suggests that for women, role models are particularly important. Inspiring Women, by Ruth Perrin, explores this and highlights some women in the Bible who might be models.

But this list of 100 women has got me thinking: who are my top 10 Inspiring Women? If I'm allowed to include biblical women, I'd say Mary Magdalene, Priscilla and Junia; then from church history I'd pick some more: there were some remarkable women who went to preach the gospel in America, and from the nineteenth century one of my favourites is Geraldine Hooper, a remarkable evangelist from Bath whom no-one has ever heard of! And from those alive today: the Ranger Guide leader whose Christian faith shone out when I was a teenager; Valerie Griffiths (former OMF missionary, and energetic advocate for women's equality) Jessica Jackley (co-founder of Kiva), Kate Coleman (Baptist minister), and others who are pioneering in various ways in the church...

Wouldn't it be great is the next list like this had some women who were noted for their Christian faith?

Who is in your top 10?

Friday, 4 March 2011

The New NIV

I baulked when my devotional reading a couple of days ago invited me to pray: 'let me be a "man of peace".'

OK, so she (it is a woman!) used inverted commas, but one of her texts is Psalm 37:37: 'Consider the blameless, observe the upright; there is a future for the man of peace'' Has she never realised that there are more inclusive Bible versions?

Back in the bad old days I often used to challenge speakers or write to publishers to lament their lack of inclusion, with a variety of responses. A well-known evangelist went straight to the college book room to buy a new Bible; others were uncomprehending. But I may not have to get so exasperated for much longer. The new NIV has arrived!

Revising the NIV has been a difficult business. I can remember a meeting at Hodders back in the 1990s, which resulted in the 'NIVI' (1996) - the 'I' standing for 'inclusive' . It was intended as a revision, but became an addition to the 1984 NIV, because a conservative N American lobby was strongly opposed to it. Then in 2002/2005 we got the TNIV, again meant to be a revision, but becoming yet another addition to the 'original' NIV, which held its place in the popularity stakes and pew version.

Now, the 2011 NIV is the NIV! It's published this month, but is already available at http://www.biblegateway.com/

It's reassuring to read that the Committee on Bible Translation worked with Collins Dictionaries to look at changes in gender language. As a result, many of the gender language changes introduced in the TNIV were verified and retained, some revert back to the 1984 edition, and some have been handled differently.

To give some clues, plural is used to avoid use of 'he' or 'him'; 'mankind' is used, not 'humankind'; 'God and man' as a pair appears, but human beings collectively are 'people' , not 'men'; Junia is female and an apostle, and Phoebe a deacon.

So now scholars are eagerly assessing whether the new NIV is a success - and that will depend on one's starting point!

In a recent post for CBE, John Kohlenberger reckoned this is a major improvement to the 1978/1984 NIV. A review in Priscilla Papers is pleased too, though slightly worried that it could have been better. I think that in the current climate, the Committee have done well, and that we will be well served by this new edition of what has become such a popular translation in evangelical circles.

To look at test case passages try: Psalm 68:11; Romans 16:1-2; Romans 16:7; 1 Corinthians 11:2-12; 1 Timothy 2:5; 1 Timothy 2:11-12; 1 Timothy 3:11.

For more technical info go to BibleGateway for a link to the note from the Committee with more examples; or Robert Slowley has a site with full texts of the 1984 NIV, 2005 TNIV and 2011 NIV book by book and verse by verse.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

How Jesus developed women as leaders

I don't really like blowing my own trumpet. But I was quite chuffed when the post delivered a book which includes one chapter by me: 'How did Jesus develop women as leaders?'

Depending on your perspective, that might seem like a really odd question. Or it may be that you've already read my article on it on the web - in which case you might like to read the new, more full version here.

The book is called Apostolic Women, Apostolic Authority: Transfiguring Leadership in Today's Church, edited by Martyn Percy and Christina Rees, published by Canterbury Press in December last year. The book was designed to collect up papers from a pre-Lambeth conference held at Cuddesdon in 2008, but these were supplemented by a number of other papers written (or edited) for the book, and mine is one of those.

I've just finished reading the book and it will be reviewed soon; there's plenty of varied material in it and I found many of the chapters very valuable. There is lots throughout about 'power'; a great chapter on women in the Bible and church history; a perspective from the US on the deployment of women, which raises issues I've been contemplating, about lack of women called to larger churches; Jane Hedges' research findings on whether women are up for senior posts; 'size matters', a piece of research on the lack of women leading larger churches; a good chapter on spirituality; and an excellent piece by Lis Goddard on the need to transfigure episcopal ministry into something more collegial and collaborative, and how this might also benefit women who currently feel marginalised.

My article - well, you can read it! It might not appear at first that there is anything to write about how Jesus developed women as leaders. But read the biblical text more closely and there's lots going on. The women who were 'with Jesus'. Mary and Martha, the woman at the well, Mary Magdalene, the women leaders emerging as leaders in the early church. And how women were included alongside men - not in the 'twelve', but very close to them, and certainly included in both learning experiences and commissions to ministry.

It's very apparent to me in the current climate, where some women are facing a backlash (?) of teaching that says we should not be leading in the Church, that we need to read what the Bible is actually saying rather than reaching for those old 'proof' texts (without looking at translation, context and recent interpretaion), and lobbing them over the parapet at women.

Funny too how men can lob stuff at women (why do they make up the rules?), but if we respond we're being over-sensitive, ambitious or 'aggressive'!

Monday, 24 January 2011

Yes you can

Leadership is hard work. There's no doubt about that. But good leadership can achieve amazing things.

I know we're now into 2011, but I was recently inspired by reading the story about one of the Woman of the Year awards 2010.

The Sainsbury's 'You Can' award was given to Shara Brice, who leads the Ascension Eagles, a cheerleading team which is now recognised as one of the best in the world.

Shara moved to the Ascension parish in East London in 1996. It was tough. But she decided to bring to the young people the skills of cheer leading, and gradually the group of young people, their confidence, and their acheivements, grew. The 130-strong team have won more than 250 trophies.

Through the Eagles, the young people experience positive role models and learn new life-skills and skills which will later help them to find employment.

Shara was awarded an MBE for her work, which has changed the lives of thousands of young people in east London. She's also an Arrow graduate.

Inspiring, or what?

Monday, 10 January 2011

New year, new women leaders

2011 is off to an interesting start, with news that Dilma Rousseff has been elected President of Brazil.

The 63-year-old is the first woman president of this huge country (200 million people), with its growing economy yet dramatic contrast between rich and poor.

I was particuarly intrigued that a woman could be elected to lead such a relatively macho country (or is that my prejudiced viewpoint?). Or is it true that women really are becoming more readily accepted as leaders?

Dilma 's background is as the former leader of a resistance movement, who then moved into mainstream politics. She held the position of energy minister, and then served as chief of staff of President Lula from 2005-2010. Apparently nine of her 37 ministers will be women, a record for Brazil.
So what of the Church? Unlike progress in politics, theological issues are primary (or should be) in the debate about whether women should be bishops. Who knows what will happen in the Church of England?
The next stage is for discussion and decision at local and diocesan level, and discussions continue as to what provision should be made for those who feel disenfranchised.
I was personally encouraged today to hear of a 15th woman archdeacon being appointed. Christine Froude, whom I've known for some years, and who has done a great job as an incumbent and as dean of women's ministry in Bristol diocese, has been appointed Archdeacon of Malmesbury.
What else will 2011 bring in terms of women's leadership?