Daring Greatly through women... with the courage to be real
David Mayne writes:
Occasionally I am asked if I have any idea what my daughter might do when she grows up. She is only three, so there is plenty of time. At the moment a firefighter is top of the list, but I’m sure that will change soon enough. Sometimes I reply, in jest, that the plan is for her to become the first female Archbishop of Canterbury in a dis-established Church of England. I suspect it far more likely she will be a firefighter, but as things have progressed for our Anglican sisters and brothers in recent years it feels like it is a little bit more possible that there might be a female occupant of the See of Canterbury. It has been a real cause for celebration to see a number of female Bishops appointed in recent months. Long may it continue.
Our own journey as a Union has not been one of a consistent trajectory. Indeed, there are times when, having made significant progress in embracing the ministry of women, we have seen the forces of patriarchy reassert themselves in a variety of ways. Even now we may insist that women are welcome, but this is not the same as embracing the ministry of women. And to be clear, this is not fundamentally a ‘women’s issue’. Treating it as such has only led to its marginalisation in our corporate discourse. It is something that has a significant impact on us all. The experiences of centuries of misogyny, domination and ignorance are not easily vanquished, and their legacy deeply embedded. The gifts of women have been stifled by the traditions of the church. There are still too many no-go areas for too many women in our life together. Merely hoping that a couple of turns of the generational cycle will bring sufficient change is really not enough.
I’m not exactly sure when I became aware of the amount of pain that many of my colleagues in ministry had suffered as a result of simply being themselves, of being women. Yet, I do know that since I began my theological training just over ten years ago I have heard too many stories of pain and marginalisation from my sisters in Christ. I know that the creative, intelligent, articulate, gifted women that I am blessed to know don’t need me to speak on their behalf; they are more than capable of speaking for themselves. Yet, there would be something profoundly troubling if on hearing their stories we are not compelled to ask serious questions of our life together, of ourselves, and seek to work with them to bring change. It is my contention that, on the whole, men have not done enough to publicly take a stand alongside our female colleagues. It is an odd dynamic to be speaking out for change that would directly benefit yourself, at the very least it can be mis-heard as being self-serving, which makes it all the most important that others speak out too.
This is not a secondary issue. It is a primary issue. It’s damaging for women, and for men, and for the Kingdom of God.
I think that we run the risk of thinking that this is an issue that we have already dealt with. The experiences of too many excluded and patronised friends would suggest otherwise. Over half the people who make up our Baptist movement are women, and a great deal of the ministry in our churches is undertaken by women.
In my own church community I am blessed to serve with a great number of talented and dedicated women. I am pleased that we have now commended four women in three years for theological training and full-time service overseas, that most of our Elders are female, and that I serve alongside two gifted female ministerial colleagues. Yet, I wonder how easy it would be for a female minister to be called to serve as Lead Pastor here…
I wonder how we can work to see that more of our Regional Ministers and College Tutors are female…
I wonder how we create pathways to ministry for women who God calls who find themselves in churches that won’t recognise that call…
I wonder how we can further develop the language we use when we gather together to be more gender inclusive, including how we talk about God…
I wonder what it might take for my children to not see women in ministry as ‘other’ but something totally normal…
I am hopeful, but we still have a lot of work to do.
is Lead Pastor of Shoeburyness and Thorpe Bay Baptist Church. He is also currently Moderator of Baptist Union Council and Moderator of the Eastern Baptist Association.
Born and bred in Essex, David is married to Anna and they have two young children. He is a big fan of The West Wing
, is gripped by the US Presidential Primaries, and is looking forward to spending six days in Washington DC whilst on sabbatical later this year.