Friday, April 04, 2008

Why so few women leaders in 'Yr hen fam' ?

Yesterday, the Church in Wales' Governing Body voted narrowly against ordaining women to the episcopate. The houses of Laity and the Bishops voted in favour but the House of Clergy fell just a couple of votes short of passing the measure. I seem to recall there was a similar reluctance on the part of the clergy in voting through the original measure ordaining women to the priesthood.

The measure voted upon seems to have aroused anxiety among both the pro and anti lobby, that dissenters would not be certain of the pastoral provision they seek to maintain their integrity, as believers in an all male apostolic succession. Maybe there's not yet quite enough trust and good will to inspire confidence that pastoral provision needed will be there once there is no longer the 'flying bishop', introduced as a stop gap measure eleven years ago. The clergy vote indicates that the 'problem' of all male succession belongs to some of them (though not all), but also to those who sympathise (though without agreeing with them) and do not want to see them alienated. Muddling along in living with differences is what most seem to want.

If I was a woman priest in this situation, I'd be frustrated and disappointed by the rejection of the proposal, on the point of its principal intent, as well as on the fear of practical difficulties. But I would feel a lot more frustrated hearing talk about 'glass ceilings' to womens' ministry imposed by refusal of episcopate to them, when there is no woman Archdeacon or Cathedral Dean in the Province after eleven years of ordaining women to priesthood. England has done it. Even fictional Borsetshire on 'The Archers' has a woman archdeacon.

Our church usually elects its Bishops from among its deans or Archdeacons - those who have proved, professionally speaking, that they can cope with and manage our system and its archaic constitution. It's certain to my mind that woman can and should be doing these jobs, and should have already been doing them, so that anyone wondering if the time was now right to have women bishop might be in able to look at women in senior roles, and judge on merit as well as principle whether or not the time is right to ordain one of them to the episcopate.

What difference would it make, appointing women priests to senior roles? Would that refreshing change of leadership style which women bring to pastoral ministry issue in a change of substance? Would a more 'feminine' collaborative approach to leadership influence the rest of the clergy to exercise a more collaborative approach to ministerial team work? Would it lead to changes that would facilitate a move away from the model of incumbency as proprietor of a parish and its buildings? (This may not be what's intended, but it's often what happens in fact). I wish I could believe that it would, but revolutions don't come from the top down.

Not only is our church male dominated in its leadership, it is a male hierarchical institution designed by men for men to exercise power and authority over. It is more likely to shape the woman ordained into it, than the woman will be able shape the institution. I doubt if gender and feminine pastoral style will lead to change in the way episcopé is exercised - well, not until we've lived for several generations with complete equality at all levels of role and responsibility throughout the church. And that means a lot more patience and persistence is needed, by leaders and led alike.

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