Unless you’ve had your head in the Sunday school sand pit, there may have been some church related news over the last week, in that the Church of England synod debated changing the rules over the question of Women Bishops… and decided not to.
Well in the light of this, I’m please to present an open letter from Lorraine, to female clergy in the Church of England
I have spent most of my life very confused about who I am. You see, my natural talents,
giftings you might call them, do not conform to what others believe they should be.
At the age of seven, when one of my classmates answered a question wrongly during an
assembly, the headmaster remarked that “Girls are not very good at maths”, allowing about
200 boys to laugh at her. The remark was puzzling, because I knew maths was my strongest
and favourite subject. Was I not really a girl then? By the age of eleven, that same man had
included me in the handful of pupils he considered gifted enough to have extra lessons in
mental arithmetic techniques, because “they would have fun doing it”! Had I changed? No.
In the intervening time, he had recognised those talents, and sought to nurture them,
despite my being “just a girl”.By the time I left secondary education I had four good A levels
Maths, Further Maths, Physics, and Chemistry – oh, and S level Maths too.
At the age of eighteen, my father told me that he didn’t understand why I was applying for
university, because: it would be a waste as I would get married and stay at home; and, girls
that did degrees couldn’t cope and burnt out. I worshipped the ground my father stood on,
so was dismayed. Did I really have no other future? I had no idea what I wanted to do, but
knew I hadn’t reached my potential yet. Choosing what to study and where was tricky;
there was no-one in my family with experience to advise me, and it was made all the harder
by the nagging doubt that my father might be right. Possibly the most poignant memory I
have of my father is his tears of pride at my Graduation.
At the age of seventeen, careers advisers dismissed engineering as an option, despite my
skill-set, “because it’s dirty, and un-ladylike, dear, and you will find it hard to get a job”, i.e.
nice girls don’t do engineering, and even if they do, no-one will take them seriously. So
what was it to be: Maths or Physics? I liked both. Astronomy/Astrophysics used both, but
the post-grad job market was extremely small and very competitive. Engineering used both,
and appeared to have good job prospects, questions of gender aside. So could I be an
Engineer and female? At the age of twenty-five, having graduated with an upper-second in
Engineering, and having been employed nearly four years at an industry’s research centre
learning my profession, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers saw fit to make me a
Corporate Member, and consequently I became Chartered.
While people were telling me what I could and could not be, to the point that I didn’t know
who I was, I was slowly developing according to my talents – despite what other people
thought, said and did. Sometimes, they changed their minds as a result.What if my natural talents,
“God-given” you might say, had lain in helping people to discover that there is a God who loves them?
What if I were a good listener, and that same God of love had a habit of working through me
to heal their inmost hurts? What if I could explain the Christian faith to people in a language
they could understand? What if I had a knack of keeping people of different viewpoints together,
encouraging them when times got tough, restoring them when they strayed? At the same time that
I was being told I was “just a girl”, that “girls can’t do maths”, that “girls burn out if they
have higher education”, that “women in engineering are only good enough to make the tea and look
pretty on recruitment brochures”, other girls who felt called to the Ministry were being
laughed at “because only men can be ordained”. Those just a few years older than me, if
they pushed (because they had no choice – it was after all who they were), became deaconesses
– to be shunted off with the laity while the Clergy considered what was best for them. In
part, this has been remedied – many now serve the church as priests…
Today I cried for my sisters-in-Christ.
However, it is my strongly held view that the God of Love, who sent his Son to redeem a
fallen world, and who works mightily by His Spirit through the hearts and hands of those
who love Him, will not let today be the end of the story, any more than Good Friday was.
That same God has a habit of changing people from the inside, restoring them to His
likeness, conforming them to His plan – frequently through their own actions to the contrary
(eg. Jonah and Paul)! My sisters, please hold on to who you are in Him; no-one can take
that away from you, even if they deny you the means to express it. Allow Him to continue
to nurture you. Continue to do things His way. The miracle will happen.
In any case, Synod have only said “Not this way”. Who is to say that God does not have
better in store?
But then, what do I know? I’m an Engineer, not a Theologian; and when all’s said and done,
I’m “just a girl”.