Saturday, 7 June 2014

The new normality - 20 years of women and men priests together

It will probably surprise those who know me well but I represent the new normality.  I am part of the first batch of clergy who were ordained a few months after the first women’s ordinations in 1994, in the natural course of things.  I trained alongside women and so it was to be expected that we would be ordained alongside one another too, well after the vote had gone through.  I would have regarded it as being odd if this had not been the case and a number of us were not sure what we would have done if the vote had not gone through back then.  The previous ‘catch up’ ordinations were a one-off and over time normality settled in so that now 30% of the clergy in this diocese are women, it is 32% nationally.  We all know it is still a ‘work in progress’ but I feel honoured to have been part of the first group of the new normality.

Over the last twenty years I have found myself closely involved in establishing this new normality and moving it forward.  My first incumbency followed a priest who had been deeply opposed to this development and left the Church of England over it.  I worked to move the church from no women ministering to a place where two of my successors have been women.  Key to this move was an excellent curate in a neighbouring parish.  The quality of her ministry impressed people.  I heard a number say ‘I don’t agree with women priests, but Amanda is alright’.  Gradually it dawned them that Amanda was a woman priest and so perhaps they were alright after all.  As is so often the case experience changes us.

As a training officer and a training incumbent I have worked with many women curates and colleagues.  I have seen firsthand just how important it is to have men and women clergy working together.  It opens conversations and enables ministry which would otherwise be closed.  I now find all male groups strange and impoverished.  When I go to clergy meetings I expect to find men and women together.  And we should model that and see it modeled.

It was inevitable that the Church would have to make women bishops too.  The House of Bishops is impoverished without them.  We now have legislation which is clear, decisive and offers a place for dissent, which is generous, even if there is still some pain.  I am hopeful that General Synod will approve this at its July meeting; it has certainly been given a strong steer with all of the dioceses voting in favour.

There have been some hard won battles in our society over equality and each generation needs to be vigilant.  There are attitudes in Hip hop, rap and pop music, board rooms, advertising hoardings and comedy which still betray sexist assumptions.  I see little evidence that girls are finding it any easier than when I was growing up.  Trafficking and exploitation are very much a current vice.  It is therefore very important that the church is able to talk with integrity into these debates and live the equality in Christ we proclaim.

Reflection as part of Peterborough Diocesan Celebration of Ministry, marking 20 years of women's ordination as priests, Peterborough Cathedral Saturday 7th June 2014

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