Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Women Bishop's 2


In yesterday's post I raised the issue of women bishop's in the CofI, promising to return to the topic today. I'd like to begin by saying that I think the issue is one that requires proper study - a blog post is not going to provide any real answers, either in terms of understanding why it is that more than 20 years after enacting legislation we do not have any women bishops, or what it is that we might do to change things. The best it can hope to do is stimulate discussion - and perhaps provide a forum in the comments box for that discussion to begin. What is really needed, of course, is a proper academic study of the matter ... do I hear anyone volunteering to do the article for Search?!!

The small amount of comment generated by the previous post has thrown out a few thoughts. One that it is all too pc to worry about & we should be concerned only that the best person gets the job each time and not be looking to set gender quotas. Indeed. But I believe that the fact that we have currently no women bishops and almost none with the kind of profile that normally leads to a purple shirt is something that should concern us. Surely it is not to be suggested that in over 20 years we have never ordained a single woman who would have been capable of being the best person for the job?

Another suggested innate misogyny. Tempting. But that would be to suggest that the CofI wanted to have its cake and eat it - to show the world it was up-to-date enough to legislate for women bishop's but with no real intention of acting on it. Hypocritical, in other words. Call me biased, but that is not my experience of the CofI. Another said it was something to do with the CofI not being able to think outside the box. That, I think, may be closer to what the problem is.

First, let us consider the current state of play with regard to women priests in the CofI (& I'll have to warn you, as this is not an academic study, I'm speaking anecdotal in respect of the figures). We've achieved reasonable gender balance over the years, and I think each years crop of ordinations produces a good gender balance. However, I think that admirable picture hides something important. The first is that a disproportionate amount of women go into non-stipendiary ministry (NSM). The second is that far more women go forward for ordination in their late 30s & 40s, or even older, than in their 20s.

The first calls into question our model of ministry. What is it about the full time ministry that dissuades a lot of women from entering into it? Does it demand more hours than a woman with family responsibilities can reasonably give? Whatever the reason, the NSM route has rarely been the path to high-office in the church. So the women in this ministry are all but automatically excluded from ever ending up in the House of Bishops.

The second is the age profile of women going forward. Actually, most ordinands tend to be older these days. But when I was in the Theological College there was a little acronym for such students - TOTWP: Too Old To Wear Purple. The point was that once a person was in their 40s, by the time they had built up the years to be in a position to be considered episcopal material they would be too old to be considered a suitable candidate. Leaving aside the implied ageism of this attitude - why should a person in their 60s not be given the same consideration as someone in their 40s or 50s? - it does show the CofI to be stuck in a certain mindset. Only life experience in ordained ministry counts towards preferment in the church. No account is taken of the transferable skills a person might have earned in the 20 or 30 years or more in their work (or indeed ministry) prior to being ordained. Which is odd, because at the parish level, this doesn't seem to apply. Parishes seem very glad to get an incumbent who has some life experience outside the church under his/her belt.

Perhaps I am wrong about this. As I have said, I am operating anecdotally. So maybe someone will be able to point me to the dozens of cases where people's many years of work experience prior to ordination has been taken into account when it comes to appointing clergy as deans, archdeacons, or to other posts that usually make up the portfolio of episcopal candidates. In the meantime, it seems to me that as a greater proportion of women enter the ordained ministry as 'late vocations' then clearly such a model for preferment is naturally going to lead for a situation where very few women end up in senior positions in the church.

What I've written above is purely my own opinion based on my own experience. As I said, it can't hope to porvide any real answers, but it would be good to think it might generate some discussion. Now, I'm off on a wee holiday, so I won't be able to engage with any comments you might make over the next few days. I would encourage you to comment though. I think this is an important issue, worthy of discussion, & what you have to say could well provide important clues as to why things are as they are. Also, to those of you linking in through my facebook page, could I ask you to cut & paste your comments here also, so that everyone who wants to take part has the full picture of where the discussion is? Thanks.

today's Gospel reading

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