Sunday, May 28, 2006

A Woman's Experiences of Episcopacy

was the title of an evening organised by the Gloucester branch of WATCH on Friday. Our speaker was Bishop Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island, ECUSA an engaging and entertaining speaker, whose very presence was a sign of hope and encouragement at this time when the Church of England’s debates on the ordination of women bishops have reopened all sorts of wounds that had never healed a decade after the ordination of the first women priests here.
I really enjoyed hearing her, - but I came home more troubled than ever about the model of ministry that still seems to be seen as most effective. +Geralyn had clearly had a rough ride in the early days of her episcopacy,- and beyond. That she is still in post and able to show such warmth and humanity is impressive in itself, but it seemed to me that the price of her survival has been her agreement to meet the men on their own turf in their own way. The seventy hour week seems to be an inescapable part of the deal, as does a hefty suit of emotional armour,- neither of which sounds specially attractive.
The familiar clergy problem of dealing with the projections of others is, not surprisingly, doubled in spades for a Bishop…she and our own +Michael talked about the need to be a “parent in God”,- while not actually taking on the emotional role of mother or father,- and this seems to be more of an issue for +G. Indeed, mothering came up in several ways, as she spoke of her anxiety about the number of part time women clergy in her diocese. She seemed to be implying that, in opting to combine ministry and motherhood these women were effectively limiting the scope of their vocation to either, and announced regretfully that “part-time women” (an intriguing concept, to my mind!) would be doomed to live out their ministry “on the edge”, instead of in successful mainstream parishes that could afford to employ a full-time vicar. Here, we’ve been positively campaigning for more flexible patterns of ministry, that allow part-time possibilities…and hencity voiced the thoughts of many there when she asked what was the problem with being “on the edge”. After all, a certain carpenter from Nazareth seemed to spend most of his time there…+Geralyn’s point was, I think, that clergywomen are already marginalised enough by virtue of gender, without finding themselves spending their working lives among the marginalised as well…but I’d want to say that this is very much my dream, and would be something I would choose over almost any other type of ministry, as things stand now.
At the end of the evening, I was full of admiration for Bishop Geralyn, but less sure than ever why any sane woman would ever consider episcopacy. But then, as someone pointed out, you would never do any of these mad mad jobs if you didn’t feel called by God…so I can just thank him from the bottom of my heart that this is not my calling!


hencity said...

not your calling for now... love your passion and questions!

Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree absolutely that the "male" model of ministry is being emulated far too often by women in positions of authority, and unfortunately, +Geralyn has developed a reputation as a consummate rough-and-tumble, one-of-the-guys power broker who is consistently hierarchical and imperious with her priests. I will be heading to a cure in a diocese headed by a female bishop, and fortunately +Katharine Jefferts Schori has been consistently breaking through the problems you bring up and has brought a new way of doing ministry to Nevada. Thanks be to God for trailblazing sisters!

- Karen (sorry, Blogger login is misbehaving)

fiona said...

"“part-time women” (an intriguing concept, to my mind!) would be doomed to live out their ministry “on the edge”" MUCH the same debate going on among those women whose vocation is in medicine - thank God for them all

revabi said...

Wow, 70 hour week. Too much. I think you are right that the male view of clergy even effects us women. I think sometimes we are expected to give 200% to be okay. I felt that way as a Baptist, and sometimes I find myself still giving the 200% There is a female Methodist Bishop in California, if she is still there, she takes a sabbath plus a day off to do her other things. I like that a sabbath day and a regular day off. I sure don't want to be a Bishop, I enjoy being on the edge and not successful like the men if it is successful. I have a friend who is an Episcopal Priest in NY who only does interim pastoring. Yet, she is very gifted and well respected, and a mommy. It is crazy to just answer God's call.

Sally said...

I understand the pressure to work long hours, I am in a staff team of 4 all men but me, it seems to be an ego contest sometimes on who worked the longet- they must be the most committed- that is quite simply noit biblical- I can't and won't compete!