Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Do not call unclean

My three ordained colleagues (Assistant Curate, Non-Stipendiary Minister and Team Vicar) happen all to be female, indeed I can count a dozen priests from this parish over the years who happen to be female (the three of them, five of their predecessors, and the most recent ordinands produced by the parish the fourth of whom is due to be ordained priest this summer).

There is such a quiet normality about this that I am always surprised when I trip over the conviction / prejudice (sometimes one, sometimes the other, and sometimes a strange combination of the two which it is difficult to unravel) that their ministry is unacceptable. One of the three tells me that she has never really encountered this, but I know that another feels instances of it keenly; I did have a rare phone call this week about arranging a Funeral for a non-church attender whose family ‘wanted a man to take the service’ and I have no idea what influenced this request because we got no further than establishing that I was already booked to take another Funeral at exactly the same time this new one had been arranged.

There are those whose conviction is that the Bible sets its face against such ministry, and who will presumably be shaping their whole way of life around faithfulness to every attitude equally evidenced in the Bible. There are those whose conviction is that the long standing tradition of the church sets its face against such ministry, and who will presumably be shaping their whole discipleship in equal resistence to all present cultural norms which the church has not previously inhabited. And there are those (like ourselves) whose Christian experience of the grace made known through their ministry means we cannot ‘call unclean what God calls clean’, and who presumably need to be equally alert seeking to discern the activity of God in other unexpected places.

And (most often totally woven into all this, which is why the conviction / prejudice strands are so hard to unravel from each other) there is the influence of the cultural context in which we operate. We have had a female ordinand from South Africa staying in the parish for ten days. Her choice of parish to visit has been partly determined by her awareness of cultural resistance to her future ministry in the rural area from which she comes. We suggested she visit our female Archdeacon who began a conversation with her about the way in which the English agreement to ordain women followed years in which the secular leadership of women was very visible in society (so it felt to many like the church ‘catching up’) but the South African agreement to do so has preceded anything like this (so it feels to many like the church acting in opposition to the norms around it).

I continued this conversation by wondering why the South African church had been such an ‘early adopter’ of this idea in the first place. My guess is that the history of apartheid has made what might otherwise have been a conservative church on this issue into a strong resister to any other form of apparent discrimination. If so, this might be similar to the liberal commitment of the American Anglican church where I observed before we may under estimate the degree to which being asked to hold back from acting on an emerging conviction that faithful homosexual activity is acceptable and moral is like being held back from acting on a conviction that slavery is wrong.

We found the pelican in her piety during Half Term on a wall in Amsterdam.

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