Thursday, December 31, 2009

TIME: A valuable commodity...

It's been a very restful Christmas and that was the plan all along. I made a determined effort to spend as much time with family and friends as possible. I have been very aware that this would be the last Christmas for many years which would be as such. Next year (I am reliably informed by those in the job already), that I will be extremely busy and will barely have a moment to draw breath, let alone wrap a present or bake a sausage roll! To be honest though, whilst I will miss the time that I have had to prepare this year; being immersed in carol services, christmas visits, children's parties and service preparation will I think, be even more fulfilling. What I do have to guard against is being so busy that I miss the peace of ceebrating Christs birth and being so tired that I burn out before I can celebrate...However, I am also aware that burn out isn't just a pitfall linked to Christmas but to every day of the year in Ordained ministry.
So I'd like to take this opportunity of wishing you all a very happy and hopeful New Year...Thank you for commmenting on this blog, I really enjoy reading the ones I get and look forward to doing so next year as well. Despite my concerns about time, I'm DEFINITELY looking forward to 2010 and in particular my Ordination...bring it on!!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

In Old Testament Israelite society men and not women, were generally the leaders. Men were the ones who controlled the political and religious decisions and who ruled the land. However there are some exceptions to this general state of affairs. Whilst we could pick out examples of poor leadership by women in the Old Testament (Jezebel springs to mind), there are also inspiring stories of God using women to lead his people in the face of adversity.

Deborah was one such woman. A prophetess, a Judge and a military leader – an extremely powerful combination of authority and responsibility. She was chosen by God to be Israel’s leader at the time of the Judges. Moses and Samuel were the only other Old Testament characters to fulfil all of these roles.

"Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided.” Judges 4:4-5
There is no doubt that Deborah was acting within the will of God. Her prophesies were fulfilled and the writer of the book of Judges is entirely positive in his description of her. Deborah was also known as the Mother of Israel because of her successful leadership - a title which was as close to ‘Patriarch’ as a woman could get in such a male dominated society. She is impressive enough when assessed regardless of her gender, but when one considers the restrictions that culture and the society of the day put on her, her achievements can be regarded as truly groundbreaking. It would appear then, that in Deborah’s case God was very much in favour of women in authority.

Huldah the prophetess was another woman used by God in a key authoritative role.

“Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Acbor, Shaphan and Asaiah went to speak to the prophetess Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem, in the Second District. She said to them, "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Tell the man who sent you to me...” So they took her answer back to the king.” 2 Kings 22

In this extract we read that Huldah was consulted by Hilkiah and the Kings advisors on his behalf. Hilkiah was also a priest. Huldah's words were taken back to the King as authoritative and from God himself, so much so that they were immediately acted upon. It is clear then that in this instance a woman definitely had authority and was treated with respect by the leaders of the day.

Deborah and Huldah are both portrayed in the biblical accounts as explaining and proclaiming the word of the Lord to important men in an authoritative way. As authority and teaching are two of the reasons that Conservative Evangelicals often oppose women’s ordination these texts must be grappled with by those who contest it. It is not enough to find texts which appear on a first reading to be against women having authority in the church and using these to argue an opposing view. Unfortunately this is exactly what so often happens, despite there being clear texts in the Bible which describe and support women having authority over men and proclaiming the word of God to them.

Countering what I would describe as a 'plain reading' of the Deborah and Huldah accounts; some Conservative Evangelicals like Thomas Schreiner (writing for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood), draw attention to the context of both Deborah and Huldah. (Interestingly 'context' suddenly becomes much more relevant and less is said about taking scripture at face value on this occasion)...Schreiner sees their roles as complementary and supportive ministries. Further to this he argues that this ministry fostered and preserved male leadership.

“Deborah is a special case because she seems to be the only judge in Judges who has no military function... Deborah is not asserting leadership for herself; she gives priority to a man...Deborah did speak the word of God, but her attitude and demeanour were such that she was not asserting her leadership. Instead, she handed over the leadership, contrary to the pattern of all the other judges, to a man.” (Schreiner, 1997)

It is sometimes claimed that both women lived at times when Israel was short of men who were willing to step up to the mark and lead. Barak’s reluctance to go into battle without Deborah is seen by some to be an example of this. Deborah attempts to back away from the military responsibility which should have been Barak’s, but is forced by his reluctance to take on a more prominent role. This argument claims that if a man will not respond to God’s call, then God will use a woman, but only as a ‘second choice’. His ‘best’ is the leadership of a man. Indeed Schreiner differentiates between Deborah and other prophets by pointing out that she isn’t explicitly described as being raised up by God:

“But in the case of Deborah, there is no explicit statement that the Lord raised her up...I am not suggesting that the Lord did not raise her up, for He did bring evident blessing to Israel through her, but it may indicate that the nature of her role as a prophet and a judge was different from that of the other judges in that she did not exercise leadership over men as the other judges did.” (Schreiner, 1997)

The problem I have with Schreiner's argument is that nowhere in the bible is it suggested that Deborah or Huldah are anything other than God’s chosen prophets who both clearly wielded considerable authority over important men. Huldah advised the advisors of the King – a badge of authority indeed! How anyone can see Deborah as anything other than a leader I cannot tell! Both women’s evident blessing and proclamation of God’s truth are the only indications of their divinely inspired leadership and God given authority that we should need.

I have to conclude then, that if God chose two women to have authority in the Old testament, then why not today? To deny Deborah and Huldah's God given prophetic/leadership status is to twist the Biblical accounts, making them fit a predetermined theology of male only leadership. But these passages demand that we have to take biblical approval of women's leadership seriously and then ask candidly; what does this mean for God's church today?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Well it is all beginning to feel a bit real now! I had the letter yesterday from the Bishop, telling me that he was willing to ordain me as a stipendiary curate in Chester Diocese and formally offering me a Title Post.
I will be serving this in the Cheshire countryside, in a group of parishes very different from the one I am in at the moment, which is suburban.
I am looking forward to the new challenges tremendously and can't wait to get started.
The reality is though, that I still have a secular job to go to until May, several essays to hand in and a church play to direct and produce in the meantime. Add to this co-ordinating the house move that goes with the new job and that adds up to quite a lot in a few months!
Still, it will no doubt go very quickly and I am constantly amazed at how much God has seen me through so far and have no doubt that he will be beside me, holding my hand all the way to Ordination and beyond...I'm glad of that...because I need it!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Do Evangelical's emphasise the authority of leadership too much?

One of the principal reasons that some Anglicans have objected to women priests is due to their theological understanding of the functionality of the role. In the Evangelical wing of the church, Ordination is understood as a calling to leadership and authority over the people of God. Incumbents are expected to fulfil a teaching and preaching role primarily, leading the people and proclaiming God’s word from the pulpit.
The Church of England Ordinal certainly states that these roles are indeed part of priestly ministry:
“They are to proclaim the word of the Lord” and “They are to unfold the Scriptures, to preach the word in season and out of season, and to declare the mighty acts of God.”
It could also be argued that an authoritative role is hinted at when the ordinal says:
“They are to teach and to admonish” and “Formed by the word, they are to call their hearers to repentance and to declare in Christ's name the absolution and forgiveness of their sins.”
However, nowhere is the actual word ‘authority’ mentioned. Indeed the Ordinal puts far more emphasis on serving and caring for the people of God and for those who are outside the kingdom, than on anything else.
“Priests are called to be servants and shepherds among the people to whom they are sent... They are to be messengers, watchmen and stewards of the Lord; to feed and provide for his people ...and to walk with them in the way of Christ, nurturing them in the faith...They are to resist evil, support the weak, defend the poor, and intercede for all in need. They are to minister to the sick and prepare the dying for their death.”
The language above is heavy with subservient, selfless language. It echoes the words of Jesus - the Good Shepherd and also the use of the word 'diakonos' (servant) in the letters of Paul to describe the churches leaders.
A shepherd cares for the sheep and puts himself at risk for them. A steward and a messenger both serve others. Feeding, nurturing, supporting and defending are all words which suggest selfless caring and pastoral responsibility.
In the ordinal's description, as in scripture the importance of 'being in authority' seem almost entirely absent. Why then are they emphasised so much Evangelical circles?
All Anglican priests accept the Ordinal’s description when they are ordained. If they have integrity it is fair to assume that they must agree in full with the theology of the priestly statement.
With the exception of teaching and preaching most of the ordinals listed functions of a priest could and should be fulfilled by women as well as men, even allowing for the most 'complementarian' readings/interpretations of scripture. No-one would argue that a woman shouldn’t ‘defend the poor and intercede for those in need’ for example.
Is it then just the teaching and preaching role which is really the problem for those who cannot accept women's ordination? Certainly this is the area of functionality that seems to be the most debated amongst evangelicals. It is also an area where certain biblical texts are frequently cited as definitive against the idea of women fulfilling this side of the role, 1 Timothy chapter 2: 11-12 for example.
However, teaching and preaching are something of a lesser issue if we examine the problem carefully. Many evangelicals will accept woomen as deacons and assistant priests but not as incumbents or as Bishops. Thus they are ok with women preaching as long as they are under a man's authority.
It is actually ‘authority’ that is at the centre of the issue for conservatives and more specifically the idea of ‘headship’. When commenting on the evangelical view of Ordained priestly ministry, R.T. France comments:
“But the heart of the issue is elsewhere: it is a matter of authority...the specific function of priests is not primarily specific acts in the context of worship, but an overall role of leadership in the parish.” (France, 1995)
Is it possible then that the conservative evangelical emphasis placed on authoritative leadership may be at odds with the wider expectations of the ordinal? In conservative evangelical churches, many of the listed responsibilities of a priest are rarely fulfilled by the incumbent, but are usually delegated to layworkers, often ironically - women. Something doesn't add up! The Church of England has an agreed theology of priestly ministry far from the day to day reality of the evangelical model. The ordinal emphasises servant leadership not authority. At ordination we pledge pourselves to serve, nurture and pastor the people of God as well as to teach them. But for many Evangelical clergy, pastoral care clearly is only very rarely the vicar's role..he believes himself to be called primarily to teach and preach and to be in authority over the people.
Why then are so many conservative evangelicals still happy to go through an ordination ceremony which demands that they make pledges they do not intend to fulfill and to agree to a very different theology of priesthood from which they actually hold?
That doesn't seem to me to be an example of integrity at all...