As today’s Google Doodle reminds us, March 8 is International Women’s Day. In keeping with the spirit of the day and raising up female voices, there are several headlines about women in Episcopal/Anglican churches in today’s news, though not all of them are positive.
Ahead of International Women’s Day, the International Anglican Women’s Network (IAWN) has issued a statement in which it
[welcomes] its theme of gender-balance. “Gender balance is essential for all communities to thrive”, they say. “The Anglican Communion is no exception.” The subtitle for this year’s IWD celebration is #BalanceforBetter, and has been designed to promote gender balance across all of life, including boardrooms, government, media, employment, wealth distribution, and sports coverage.
This includes promoting gender justice and equality, and the participation of women in building communities of justice and peace throughout the Anglican Communion”, the IAWN Steering Group statement said. “These are among the priorities of the International Anglican Women’s Network. Collectively we can all play a part in bringing gender balance into our church communities.
The UN Commission on the Status of Women (UNSCW) will be meeting in New York March 11-22. According to the Fact Sheet put out by the Church Center, delegates from 9 U.S. dioceses, as well as larger groups from the Mothers’ Union; St. George’s Church, Fredericksburg, VA; the Diocese of New York; and the United Society Partners in the Gospel will participate in the meeting and parallel events being held at the Church Center. The three major priorities, as outlined in a statement by the Presiding Bishop, are:
- Implement gender-responsive solutions to gaps in social protection systems, public services and sustainable infrastructure
- Prioritize marginalized groups of women and girls in extending social protections, public services and sustainable infrastructure
- Promote gender equality education and practices and eradicate gender-based violence
From England comes a story of a disgruntled parishioner who claimed he was being marginalized by the Wakefield Cathedral’s failure to name publicly the celebrant ahead of a service:
Mr Belk, who described himself as a “traditional Catholic” felt the situation put him in a “compromising position” and argued he had to leave services on three occasions because a woman priest was presiding.
Conducted by Sir William Fittall, the review found cathedral bosses were unreasonable in their expectations of Mr Belk.
He said: “To expect someone whose theological conviction does not enable him to receive the sacramental ministry of women routinely to turn up to a celebration of Holy Communion when he cannot discover in advance whether he will be able to receive Holy Communion seems to me to be asking too much.”
Responding to a previous letter from Mr Belk, Dean of Wakefield Cathedral Very Rev Simon Cowling said: “Removing the names of those – male and female – who are to preside at a particular service helps to make the point that it is our offering of the Eucharist that is central, rather than the particular individual who is presiding.”
The Bishop of Wakefield, Rt Rev Tony Robinson, wrote to Mr Belk says expressing his “disappointment” at the decision. He added: “Unfortunately, the Dean and Chapter seem determined to carry on with the new practice.”
A blog posting from Forward in Faith, noting the situation at Wakefield, concludes,
As Sir William says, ‘The Church of England… has committed itself to enabling the minority to flourish within its life and structures. Denying brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ information which is not intrinsically confidential and which they need in order to act consistently with their theological conviction tends to undermine that commitment.’
A generous and Christ-like approach would be to go the extra mile and make such information available without waiting to be asked. That would help to make Wakefield Cathedral a truly inclusive church.
And, finally, from the Anglican Journal in Canada comes a lengthy story about women’s leadership in Canadian churches. Some of the challenges faced there, including the “stained glass ceiling,” are similar to ones which are well-documented in the U.S.
In 2016, after 40 years of ordination to the priesthood for women, approximately 30% of all bishops in Canada were female, according to [Canon Judy] Rois’s research. Worldwide, 6.8% of Anglican bishops were women. In 2018, Canada’s first and second female archbishops were elected.
Despite this progress, women still face disadvantages in reaching high-level positions in church leadership, says Rois.
… In the church, Rois identifies two main causes of what she terms the “stained glass ceiling.” One is “decades of social and gender norms that hinder female involvement outside the confines of their home,” says Rois. These norms can lead to beliefs that women are “too emotional” to lead, or that women won’t be dependable in their jobs because of their responsibilities as primary caregivers in the home.
Another cause, specific to the church, is the pervasiveness of certain understandings of Scripture. “For some people…there’s a belief in the headship of men, that women should be kept silent in church,” says Rois.
“People also say that Jesus chose 12 male disciples, despite the fact that there were many women in the early church [who] were very involved in discipling,” Rois says.
Addressing unconscious bias, “social stereotypes about individuals or groups…that form outside [of] conscious awareness,” is an important step to removing the stained glass ceiling, says Rois.
In her classrooms, Rois requires students to use gender-neutral language rather than words like “mankind.” Other shifts in thinking can help break down unconscious bias, such as choosing gender-neutral social activities. Men can also take on more duties in the home and speak more clearly about their work-life balance to shift the perception that these duties are solely women’s responsibility, she suggests, noting that men are increasingly taking parental leave after the birth of their children. She also says there should be less focus on what women wear and look like, both in and outside of the church.
… In any field, Rois says, “If there’s women who have gone before you, you can learn from them. There are a lot of women who paved the way well before me. Mentoring, I think, is hugely important. And we do stand on each other’s shoulders, really.”