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Letter to Women

Anne Brown

My Call to Ministry and Prophecy

I am making a prophetic stand.

I have been invited to share my story as a Roman Catholic woman who feels called to ordained ministry - to be a priest in our catholic tradition.

In 1987 I was in Taizé, France, with an ecumenical group of pilgrims from Kendal. On 22 July, the feast of Mary Magdalene, at the end of a concelebrated Mass in the crypt of the church, I looked at that international group of RC priests and saw that women were meant to be included in that priesthood - and that I was one of them. It was a mind-blowing moment of enlightenment which has never left me, and it has encouraged me to explore who I am before God.

Looking back I could see that a sense of calling as a young person was to this ordained ministry (not to “religious” life) and it helped to explain a feeling of something central missing from my life, in spite of a happy marriage, children and an interesting job.

Moving forward was a great struggle. It seemed that God had put me in an impossible - and very painful -position. I shared my story with a number of people, many of whom were supportive, even though initially they may have been as bemused as I was. Spiritual direction came to be invaluable for me on my journey - and in recent years it is a ministry which I have been able to offer.

I also thank God that I was put in touch with others who have a similar calling - first a German woman whom I met soon after that Taizé experience, and a few years later a group of women in this country: New Wine. We meet four times a year and share our joys, our sorrows and our hopes.

For three years, as an individual Roman Catholic, I followed an ordination training course organised by the local dioceses of the Church of England, including a pastoral placement. At the end I didn’t have hands laid on me, but I did get an MA in Practical Theology. Among Anglicans I found much support, but I did not feel I should move to their church in the hope of being accepted for ordination. A calling comes in a context; it is from God and community, and some of us need to stay around in the RC church, however marginalised we feel. Whether we are seen as prophets or as irritants our presence, acknowledging our calling, is part of the picture as more and more people in the church see the need for a wider ordained ministry in which women and men, married and single, are included.

As a member of New Wine I was privileged recently to join a committee meeting of Women’s Ordination Worldwide (WOW) at Niagara Falls, Canada. One of the tasks of this group of nine women and three men was preparing for the next conference of WOW in Ottawa in July 2005, to follow the successful first conference in Dublin in 2001. I have also had contact with a new course in York on women’s ministry, sponsored by Catholic Women’s Ordination (CWO) which campaigns in Britain for the ordination of women in the RC church. So the issue is being taken forward at many levels.

As I have explored what this calling to ordained ministry means, I have become even more sure of the importance of the ministry of all the baptised, the people of God (Lumen Gentium, Vatican II). Those ordained are first of all baptised, and their being part of the people of God is a more basic truth than their being set apart. Can a majority of this people be excluded from even the possibility of ordination by their gender? If anyone wishes to look at arguments about the issue, I suggest you explore the web site set up by John Wijngaards - who left his ministry as a priest because women are excluded. Www. womenpriests. org also has stories of individual women who feel called to ordained ministry.

I did not seek the situation in which I find myself, but it is an integral part of who I am. While I would rather put my energy into campaigning for a more just and peaceful world, I find that God is also inviting me to stand for justice and a renewed ministry within the church. The “official” RC church often speaks out for justice and peace in the world, but does not always demonstrate these qualities to its own people. Christ calls us all to be a sign to the world of God’s kingdom of justice, love and peace and I believe the Spirit is drawing us into a great renewal in which women’s ministry, including ordained ministry, will be fully recognised.

April 2006 ---- Anne Brown

Overview Signs of a Vocation A woman's journey Steps to take Answering critics Writing your story
Six options for Catholic women who feel called to the priesthood?

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