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>Ministry and Theological Education. From 'Daughters of Dissent', by Elaine Kaye, Janet Lees and Kirsty Thorpe

Ministry and Theological Education

From Daughters of Dissent, by Elaine Kaye, Janet Lees and Kirsty Thorpe, Ch. 4.

Published by The United Reformed Church 2004

The Dissenting tradition has generally valued 'a learned ministry', and expected church members to be informed and articulate about their faith, yet the public role expected of women church members was, until the twentieth century, a subordinate and practical one. That did not prevent some women from reading theology or learning biblical languages, and hymns, prayers and devotional works written by women were acceptable and often popular.

It was inevitable that the growth of higher education for women would eventually lead to an interest in studying theology at university level. One of the great changes in the study of theology in the twentieth century has been the number of women now choosing to study it at university, and time has shown that women can make a significant contribution to its development, not only through the new discipline of feminist theology, but through a different understanding of the whole field. Feminist theology is not simply an extra option added on to the existing curriculum; it is a challenge to the nature of the whole subject.

Carey Hall had already opened in 1912 as a training college for women missionaries (mostly from Nonconformist traditions), and it continued for this purpose in Selly Oak, Birmingham until its amalgamation with St Andrew's Hall in the 1960s. At Carey Hall women could take a three-year course which included biblical studies, sociology, education and applied theology, in preparation for service with the London Missionary Society, the Baptist Missionary Society or the Presbyterian Church of England Overseas Missions. The Hall had a series of distinguished principals, Presbyterian and Baptist.(1)

At the beginning of the twentieth century, university degree courses in theology were regarded primarily as preparation for ordination, usually in the Anglican Church, and therefore in practice taken almost exclusively by men.(2) For Nonconformists this was often a second degree, especially in cases where ministerial students were expected to have an arts degree before beginning concentrated study of theology.

Congregationalists

Constance Todd (later Coltman) had already taken a degree course in history at Oxford (not a degree, as women were still excluded from degrees at Oxford and Cambridge despite having taken all the necessary examinations) before she approached Principal Selbie at Mansfield College in 1913. She was admitted in the October of that year and took thestandard course. She achieved some distinction, winning the Fairbairn Memorial Essay Prize and showing a particular aptitude for Hebrew.(3) As London University already granted degrees to women, she took the London BD degree.

Mansfield was not at that stage a residential college, and so the problems of residence which worried the staff and councils of certain other colleges did not arise. Mansfield was not yet a part of the University of Oxford (though all staff and students were individually matriculated members) and so was not subject to the rules of residence and common room life which complicated the college's situation after 1955 (when it became a Permanent Private Hall). The members of the Junior Common Room (JCR) seem to have been comparatively enlightened for the time, for on 17 October 1913, after 'prolonged discussion' they 'invited Miss Todd to make use of the JCR at any time (except during House meetings) and to attend conferences'. Somewhat patronisingly they also informed the principal that they had no objection to Miss Todd's attendance at sermon classes. Principal Selbie proved to be a firm supporter of women's ordination and was later a Vice-President of the Society for the Ministry for Women. One of his early students wrote at the time of his retirement that 'to his women students he was so kind and fair and wise; never hiding from them the fact that life for a woman minister is as yet bound to be difficult, but also making clear his conviction that God can speak through a woman as well as through a man ...'.(4)

It seems that Constance Todd took an active part in JCR life. For example, in 1915 she was responsible for inviting Maude Royden to address one of the regular college conferences, which she herself chaired. During her course she became engaged to a fellow student, Claud Coltman. They were both ordained on the eve of their marriage, and throughout their ministerial life enjoyed joint pastorates.(5) They divided the work between them by agreement with the church concerned; in practice Claud did most of the preaching and chairing of meetings, Constance did most of the baptisms and weddings, and was particularly active in visiting mothers and children.

One of the greatest influences on Constance Colt man's life was the minister of the King's Weigh House, W E Orchard. She and her husband-to-be had started attending his church during vacations from the Mansfield course, and were deeply influenced both by his pacifism and by his sacramental theology. It was Orchard who presided at their ordination; despite his eventual conversion to Roman Catholicism and his subsequent ordination to the Catholic priesthood, he was a lifelong supporter of women's political and religious equality. In 1920 he was one of the leaders of a movement known as the Society of Free Catholics, and a frequent contributor to its journal, The Free Catholic. The Coltmans too were sympathetic to this movement and in October 1920 Constance Coltman contributed an article on 'Women and the Priesthood' in response to the pronouncements of the recent Lambeth Conference, which had rejected a recommendation that ordained deaconesses should be able to administer the sacrament to the sick. 'Whence comes the widespread shrinking among men and women alike from a woman having aught to do with the Blessed Sacrament?'

She continued to contribute to the ecumenical debate concerning the ministry of women. In an article in the following year she wrote on "The need for women confessors', arguing that many women preferred to consult a member of their own sex about pastoral problems; it was 'even possible' that some men might prefer a woman confessor about pastoral problems. Yet in churches which offered formal confession, this possibility was being denied. The Lambeth Conference had just specifically rejected such a role for deaconesses.

In later sermons and addresses Constance Coltrnan proposed that women would in the future have a particular contribution to make both to the understanding of ministry and to the understanding of God's relation to humanity. She and other pioneers of her generation 'had perforce to be trained at exclusively masculine theological colleges and our minds were moulded by a masculine curriculum, imparted by men professors'. But that phase would pass (though it probably took longer than she envisaged). She believed that women were peculiarly qualified to interpret the Passion as 'the gateway through which life and immortality were brought to light'.(6) She predicted correctly that in the future there would be more ministerial teams, and hoped that they would always include both men and women.

Constance Coltman was a close friend of Maude Royden (who remained an Anglican until her death in 1955, and was therefore never ordained). When Maude Royden wrote a book entitled The Church and Woman in 1924 she invited Constance Coltman to contribute a chapter on the Free Churches. Later the two of them were among the most active members of the inter-denominational Society for the Ministry of Women, which arose out of a conference of women ministers in 1926.

There was no great rush of women seeking admission to Mansfield College; only a handful of women took the full ministerial course in the 1920s and 1930s, though a few came for shorter courses in preparation for other forms of church service. One of the most able was Dorothy Wilson (1893-1956). Like Constance Todd she was brought up in the Presbyterian Church of England, and served her denomination as Young People's secretary from 1914 until 1918. In 1924 the Presbyterian Assembly was entirely unsympathetic to her application to train for ordination, but she readily found acceptance at Mansfield. Had she not had to wage a constant battle against ill-health almost all her life she would have made an outstanding contribution to Congregational life. As it was she had a series of short ministries, and was able to publish a number of works on religious education. Mary Darlaston (later Osborn),(7) who entered the college in 1934, was the daughter of one of the ministers who had officiated at the ordination of Constance Todd at the King's Weigh House in 1917. She married a fellow student, Reginald Osborn (who later became an Anglican) and assisted her husband at Abney Park Congregational Church.

Meanwhile other colleges had to decide on a response to potential women applicants. Attitudes towards women and their social and political aspirations were undergoing a change after 1914, Highly-educated women with determination and the advantage of some private means now had new opportunities. The vote was extended towomen (provided they were over 30 and householders) in 1918, and in 1920 the University of Oxford finally opened its degrees to women. In April 1918 the Colleges Board of the Congregational Union had already suggested that women should be admitted to the theological colleges on the same terms as men.

In November 1918, just after the Armistice, Dr F J Powicke's proposal to the Committee of the Lancashire Independent College that they should be prepared to accept women students was agreed, though it was not put to the test until six years later, when an application was received from Margaret Hardy. Margaret Hardy (later Margaret Fullerton, 1890-1980} was 33 when she applied to the College in 1924. At school in Bournemouth she had come under the influence of the minister of Richmond Hill Congregational Church, J D Jones. Later as a journalist in London she was much influenced by Maude Royden, then assistant minister at the City Temple. More recently she had spent 18 months in pastoral charge of Milton Congregational Church, Hanley, and was currently full-time assistant to the minister of Hanley Tabernacle. She greatly impressed the interviewing committee as 'an able and consecrated woman', and was accepted unanimously. A year later, two younger women, Constance Clark (1902-69) and Kathleen Hall (later Kathleen Hendry, 1906-) were also accepted. Kathleen Hendry has written an account of those early years in Don't Ask Me Why: Sixty Years a Woman Minister (London: United Reformed Church, 1991). She relates how as a Methodist (her father was a Methodist minister) in north Manchester she met Margaret Hardy and heard about the opportunity for a woman to train for the Congregational ministry. A meeting with Dr Alexander Grieve, the principal of the Lancashire Independent College, was encouraging, and she was readily accepted by the interviewing committee. Constance Clark had spent her early life in Fleetwood and Southport, where she was encouraged in her wish to seek a form of full-time service to the church by the minister of Birkdale Congregational Church, Norman Popplewell. When she was accepted by the college, he coached her in Latin before the term began.

Unlike Mansfield College, the Lancashire Independent College was a residential college. The College Committee could not contemplate the idea of mixed residence, so the three female students had to live out. They were not allowed to become members of the common room, but were able to attend the weekly meetings of the Literary and Debating Society. The Assembly Hall had been adapted so that it could also be used as a badminton court, leading one wag to write in the College Newsletter (April 1925) that 'the flutter of the shuttlecock mingles sweetly with the flutter of the petticoats, and all is joyance within'.

These three women students achieved considerable academic distinction. Kathleen Hall, like Constance Todd, particularly enjoyed Hebrew, and won prizes not only in Hebrew but also in Greek, and was only the second woman to gain the Manchester BD degree. Although Kathleen Hall may have benefited from the fact that her father was a well-known local Methodist minister, it was remarkable that all three were called to pastorates immediately at the end of their training - a tribute both to them and to the churches concerned at a time when there was plenty of prejudice against the idea of women ministers in practice.

In 1938 Kathleen Hall married James Hendry, a doctor. At this time middle class professional women, however valuable their skills, were expected to resign upon marriage. The Congregational Union's Commission on the Ministry of Women had upheld this view when it reported in 1936, stating that 'it does not seem desirable for a woman to continue in a pastorate after marriage'.(8) After the death of her husband she returned to pastoral charge, and continued to preach regularly until she was in her eighties. Margaret Hardy spent all her ministerial life in Leeds, as did Constance Clark, and they exercised a notable joint ministry there at Marshall Street Congregational Church from 1930 until 1937. When Margaret Hardy married Andrew Fuller ton she gave up pastoral ministry for hospital chaplaincy and Constance Clark continued alone. Both took a full part in wider church life, national and international; Constance Clark was only the second woman to be elected chairman of the Yorkshire Congregational Union,(9) and made a deep impression on the life of the city of Leeds.

Another woman admitted to the Lancashire college in the 1920s was Eva Gibbons (1902-75, later Eva Lazenby, always known as Mrs Walter Lazenby). Like Kathleen Hall she began life as a Methodist, and had originally planned a career in music. In order to support herself during training she acted as secretary to Dr Grieve, the principal. She was ordained in 1931 to the pastorate at Irwell Bank, Kearsley, but after her marriage to Walter Lazenby, another former Lancashire student, she continued her ministry in unofficial ways.

The Lancashire college committee of the 1920s displayed a more sympathetic attitude towards women students than most other college committees, and was probably helped by the presence of the first woman committee member, Constance Pilkington, elected in 1925. But by 1930 the college was adopting a more conservative attitude, and the admission of women was suspended from 1931 on three grounds: the small number of churches thought to be willing to call a woman minister, the alleged need for 'specialised training' for which there was as yet no provision, and the perceived unsuitability of the college's traditions and accommodation for co-education. There had not been a sufficient number of women students to cause any serious impulse for change - the women had to conform to the male norm. The Lancashire Independent College took no more women students in the next 20 years.

Meanwhile the Western College in Bristol admitted its first woman student in 1927. Ellen (Nellie) Leaton (1888-1964) was 39; she had already worked as a deaconess in the United Methodist Church for some time. She took the full course of five years and then had 24 years in pastoral ministry in different parts of the country. But a year after she left, the college committee voted to discontinue receiving applications from women students on the grounds that 'this College has not the facilities for the training of women students.' No more women studied at Western until the late 1940s. It is not clear what lay behind this. The principal at the time, R S Franks, was certainly a supporter of women's education in general. But it was to be his successor, H Lovell Cocks, who was positively welcoming again to women students. In 1949 he told the subscribers that 'our women students are among our best preachers, as they are among our best in the examination lists.' He advised the churches that they should overcome prejudice against women 'in their own highest interest'; 'it will be a happy day for the churches when they recognise it.'

The only other Congregational theological college to accept women students before the Second World War was New College, London. Mary Collins (1874-1945) was accepted in 1919, when she was 45. Until the previous year she had been an Anglican. She had considerable experience in journalism, having worked for the British Weekly since 1895, latterly as editor of the 'News of the Churches' section. After finishing her course she had a ministry of ten years in North Bow in the east end of London, struggling to reduce the church's mortgage and to keep the congregation alive to the needs of the neighbourhood. Evelyn Maitland entered the college a few years later, and was ordained in 1933 at the conclusion of her course for service with the London Missionary Society in China. There was also a short-lived attempt to offer a part-time training course for home missionaries and deaconesses in the 1920s. But the college then became almost as nervous as the Lancashire and Western colleges, and in 1939 laid down that no woman would in future be accepted unless she was at least 28 and was already a graduate or had private means; in other words, if she could support herself should she not receive a call to a church. Earlier in the decade Elsie Chamberlain had been discouraged from applying to New College by the principal, Sydney Cave, on the grounds that he was unable to reprimand women in the ways that students sometimes needed. Her response to this is not recorded. In the end she got round this by taking a theology degree at King's College, London and then persuading the denomination to accept her period of assisting Muriel Paulden in Liverpool in lieu of attendance at a theological college.

All this reflects the fact that most churches were unwilling even to consider a woman candidate for ministry, unless the salary they were able to offer was too small to support a man with family responsibilities. This was the finding of the commission on the ministry of women which the Congregational Union appointed in 1934. While they affirmed their support for women's ordained ministry in their report of 1936, they also reported 'a widespread and strong unwillingness among the churches to consider a woman as candidate in a vacancy,' and there is a clear implication in their report that women were being offered smaller salaries than their male counterparts. It noted that 17 women had been ordained since 1917, 13 of them currently in pastoral charge, adding that 'it is only as women are able to prove their distinctive worth that any change of attitude and action by the church can be expected.'(10) An illustration of this point is the fact that when the minister of Stanley Congregational Church in Liverpool, died in 1924 his widow, Edith Pickles, already a graduate and well known as a preacher in the area, was called to be his successor. The same thing happened in 1941, when Eleanor Shakeshaft was called to succeed her husband at Herne Bay Congregational Church. She then proceeded to take the required training by correspondence and private tuition in order to gain acceptance on the roll of ministers.

This route, which by-passed college training, usually led first to admission to 'List B' (a list of 'evangelists' authorised by the Congregational Union, a category which had been abolished by 1968), but could lead eventually, via a Congregational Union examination, to acceptance onto 'List A'. A considerable proportion of early women ministers entered ministry by this route. Later it was replaced by the Roll of Ministers (ROM) examination.

By the beginning of the Second World War women had made only slow progress in being actually accepted by the churches of the Congregational denomination. Constance Coltman had pointed out the peculiar difficulty faced by women in the Free Churches when she spoke to the Society for the Ministry of Women's conference in January 1939: 'Our democratic constitution makes it easy for a very small minority to thwart the desire, even of a majority of the congregation, to call a woman to their pulpit. This system of choosing a minister bears hardly upon the woman pioneer.'(11) It has to be said that this situation is still not entirely a thing of the past.

The Second World War was a further catalyst in opening new opportunities for women. The Yorkshire United Independent College in Bradford accepted its first woman student, Daisy Beryl Russell in 1943; 'apparently no one thought they would accept me. I had had no doubt that they would/ she later recalled. Originally she planned to be a missionary, but instead she married a fellow student, Harold Bennett. Subsequently she recalled discrimination: 'no one seemed able to grasp that a minister's wife could also be a minister in her own right and should be treated as such'.(12) Doreen Speck followed Beryl Russell in 1946 and Cynthia Brook in 1947.(13) But here as elsewhere, the college was cautious, and in 1947 resolved that women should only be admitted 'for strong reasons and under proper safeguards' (these were not elaborated). No further female students were admitted before the college closed in 1958.

Florence Frost-Mee, then a widow of 30, achieved a breakthrough at New College towards the end of the war. Her application was initially refused on the grounds that her certificate from the Brighton Diocesan Training College was not a degree, and therefore the college's rules made her ineligible. A person of great determination and spirit, she wrote to the chairman of the governors and asked for an interview with the principal. She reports that it took one hour and forty minutes of furious argument before he finally agreed to accept her. The rules were then changed. At the end of her course she was called to Charlton Congregational Church in south London, and saw its membership grow from 20 to 130 during the course of her 16-year ministry. She was the first woman to be appointed as a governor of the College.(14)

Janet Webber was the first woman student to be accepted by Cheshunt College in Cambridge, and the youngest to be accepted for ministerial training after the war. She was just 22 when she moved to Cambridge in 1954. She later reflected that the male studentsfelt threatened by having a woman student on the same terms as themselves. The older women who came could be seen as mother figures, they were different, but I was one of the gang, and yet I wasn't. I had problems with this because I wasn't perceiving myself as a woman, I was perceiving myself as a student in training for the ministry.'(15)

The first woman to be ordained in Wales was Susannah Ellis (1897-1989), the daughter of a Welsh platelayer on the Great Western Railway. Through determination and private study she managed to win a bursary to study at Bangor University College, becoming the first woman to take the Welsh BD. She was ordained in 1925 at her home church, Pendref Chapel, Llanfyllin for service in Papua with the London Missionary Society, After six years she married Robert Rankin, and together they worked at the Chalmers Theological College in Papua; her husband was principal while she was a professor. She was a skilled linguist and published grammar books and story books in Papuan languages. Her experience as a child in Wales being taught in English gave had given her an understanding of the problems of learning in more than one language. After her husband's death in 1960 she herself became principal for the next four years. She retired to Australia where she worked on translations of the Bible. In 1972 she was awarded the MBE. She paid a visit to Wales in 1973 to receive an honorary degree from the University of Wales, but returned to Australia, where she died in 1989.(16)

It was not until much later, in 1954, that Jean Wilkinson was the first woman to enter Brecon Memorial College in Wales. She became the first woman Congregational minister in Wales when she was ordained at Providence, Mountain Ash in 1957. She continued in pastoral ministry, mostly in Essex, until her retirement in 1993.

In the 1950s and 1960s the numbers of women in ministerial training remained small.(17) At Mansfield College their position even deteriorated for a time after 1955, when the College became a Permanent Private Hall and began taking undergraduates; it was then subject to the rules of the University, whose colleges were all single-sex. Women students were excluded from dining rights, though a concession was made in allowing them to dine on their own in the Senior Common Room on occasions when evening events were held. George Caird, who became principal in 1970, was particularly sympathetic to women students, and encouraged Kate Chegwin (later Compston) to move from St Hugh's to Mansfield in 1971 atter Mansfield had won the right to present its own ordination candidates for graduation. When Oxford, in its own cautious way, allowed a restricted number of undergraduate colleges to become co-educational in 1974, the situation improved greatly. Meanwhile New College made it possible in the 1960s for women to be resident (in part of a corridor re-named 'The Nunnery'} and thus share more fully in college social life. Northern College also had a 'Nunnery' above the principal's lodgings.

St Paul's House

During these years there was a significant but comparatively short-lived experiment in training women for work as home missionaries. It was to be something of a parallel to Carey Hall, which had been training women missionaries for most of the century. St Paul's House was the vision and inspiration of one woman, Muriel Paulden (1892-1975).(18) Muriel Paulden had gone to Carey Hall in 1915, hoping to train as an overseas missionary. Here she benefited from hearing outside lecturers not only from the Quaker Woodbrooke College, but also from the Presbyterian Westminster College which was evacuated to Selly Oak from Cambridge. At the end of her course she was declared unfit for overseas service and so moved to Merseyside, where she took charge of the Berkley Street Training Centre for Sunday School teachers and youth leaders, a new initiative sponsored by the Merseyside Congregational Council. When the local church was reestablished in 1922, Muriel Paulden was called to be minister; this call and its acceptance were generally understood to constitute ordination. The church flourished in the inter-war years, but had to be closed during the war because of bomb damage.

In 1945, Muriel Paulden, then chairman of the Lancashire Congregational Union, recognised the need for the church to be involved in the re-building of society after the war, and conceived the idea of a scheme for training women home missionaries. She wrote a letter to The Christian World in 1945 outlining her scheme:

It is intended for women who want to devote their lives to the building up of the home Church as our missionaries give themselves to the Church abroad. ... After training they will be at the service of the Congregational Churches as they may be needed - to open up new work in a district - to initiate or develop some special piece of work in a church - to take charge of small country churches.

Potential candidates were to be between 20 and 40, and 'ready to take all the risks which a pioneering movement entails'. The example of Paul and the very first missionaries led to the enterprise being named 'St Paul's House'.(19)

A house which had been occupied by the army was rented in Sunnyside, Liverpool 8, and the first two students took up residence in October 1945, undeterred by the dry rot and decay then prevalent in the house. Within six months improvements were sufficient to hold an official opening. Local ministers were enrolled as tutors alongside Muriel Paulden, who was Warden, and the principal of Lancashire Independent College acted as chairman.

Admission to St Paul's involved becoming a member of a community as well as undertaking a two or three year training course. The course itself was divided equally between academic work and practical experience, and there was the opportunity to take

certificate, diploma or degree in theology. When a student had finished her course she was commissioned as a home missionary in an area of need, usually for about three years; she was given full pastoral charge, including the administration of the sacraments. During this time she was kept in close touch with the House and paid regular visits. At the end of three years she returned to St Paul's to await a new call, often to be succeeded by a full-time stipendiary minister with a much larger salary. Reflecting in 1995 on her experience as a member of St Paul's, Margaret Laurie wrote: 'There was an unwritten rule at St Paul's House about marriage. It almost went on the lines that marriage is a waste of a woman's training and against the vocation to serve as a home missionary'. Such an idea was commonly held at the time.

Muriel Paulden retired in 1957 and her place as Warden was taken Alice Platts, one of the first two students. Those trained at St Paul's during the years 1945-65 gave sacrificial service in difficult areas throughout the country.(20) But the enterprise was never wholeheartedly supported by the denomination (though there was much support from Merseyside), and by 1965 there was a feeling that as women could more readily find acceptance at the traditional theological colleges, that was where they should go. Many felt that the work of St Paul's was now done, though there was much sadness, for the House had been an inspiration to its students, many of whom would never have contemplated applying to a college. Mary Evans, a student at St Paul's 1954-7, later reflected that 'because of my background, I would never have considered applying to Brecon College through the usual channels of that time. ... I found it all very exciting and the three years went very quickly'. The house was closed, but the fellowship continued, and many of the former students were subsequently 'properly' ordained as ministers and continued to serve the church with more adequate recognition.

Presbyterians

So far this account has referred only to Congregationalists. Presbyterians were much more cautious in accepting any woman candidates into theological colleges and for ordination, despite the fact that the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of England had passed a resolution in 1921 affirming that there was no barrier in principle to the admission of women to the ordained ministry. However the Presbyterians had instituted the office of church sister (later deaconess) after the first world war, and training for this office included one year's study at Carey Hall, and one year's practical experience at the Presbyterian Settlement in Poplar. In 1934 a question was raised as to the effect the admission of women students would have on the status of Westminster College; the Senatus found 'insuperable difficulties' in the idea.(21) The first woman to be ordained by the Presbyterian Church of England was Ella Gordon (see chapter three), in 1956, but as she already had much experience and a degree in theology, the question of training did not arise. Once that barrier had been broken, it was less difficult to persuade Westminster

College (which, unlike Congregational theological colleges, belonged to the denomination) to accept a woman student. Margaret Taylor was accepted for training in 1959/1960, and recalls that she was readily accepted by the other students. She won the doctrine prize, and felt welcomed by local churches as a student preacher. At the end of her course she was called to pastoral ministry in Nunthorpe. She was followed by Doris Mix (22) in 1964 and then by Elizabeth Eriebach in 1967. The latter became Elizabeth Nash the following year after marrying a fellow student. However, by the time of the union of Presbyterians and Congregationalists in the United Reformed Church in 1972, there were still only four women Presbyterian ministers.(23)

Churches of Christ

The Churches of Christ had only just begun to ordain women to the full-time stipendiary ministry when their union with the United Reformed Church took place in 1981. It has to be remembered, however, that according to the Churches of Christ's tradition, elders could also preside at Communion, and women had been appointed as elders in the 1970s. In 1973 the Annual Conference agreed to accept the full-time ministry of women. Three years later Rowena Gates was the first woman candidate to be accepted for training for the stipendiary ministry in the Churches of Christ. Overdale College, Selly Oak (which since its foundation in 1920 had always taken women students preparing for missionary service or community work) was about to close, but its principal, John Francis, became a tutor at the Northern College in Manchester, with special responsibility for any Churches of Christ students. Rowena Gates therefore studied at the Congregational College, Manchester, and was followed the next year by Daphne Garrow. They took the course alongside United Reformed Church students. It was actually Daphne Garrow, later Daphne Jones (she married the Revd Dafydd Jones in 1978) who was the first woman to be ordained at the Annual Conference of the Churches of Christ at Swanwick in 1980. Both Daphne Jones and Rowena Gates (later Francis) became United Reformed Church ministers. Daphne Jones was tragically killed in 1984 in a car accident with her young daughter.

United Reformed Church

Since 3972 four colleges have provided training for ministry for the United Reformed Church, (and in some cases for Congregational ministry) -Northern College, Manchester (in effect an amalgamation of the Lancashire and Yorkshire colleges, the Western College and Paton College), Westminster College, Cambridge, Mansfield College, Oxford and the ecumenical Queen's College in Birmingham. All these colleges became more hospitable to women in the 1970s, and the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 reflected a change of attitude in society as a whole (though churches were actually exempt from its requirements). At the same time the proportion of women candidates rapidly increased, sometimes forming half of the student body. Another development has been the proliferation of ecumenical part-time courses, particularly for non-stipendiary ministry, and many women with family responsibilities have found this a more feasible method of training.

It was another big step forward when Justine Wyatt was appointed assistant chaplain, with teaching responsibilities, at Mansfield College, Oxford in 1980. She combined this work with part-time ministry for the following 11 years. Yvonne Workman's tutorship at Mansfield a few years later was tragically cut short by her premature death in 1991. In 1985 Jean Forster was appointed to the staff of Northern College; subsequently several women have joined the teaching staff. Susan Durber was elected Mona Powell Research Fellow at Northern College in 1989, and wrote a doctoral thesis applying the literary theory of Derrida to parable criticism. Janet Tollington was appointed Director of Old Testament Studies at Westminster College in 1993. A further step was taken in 1998 when Catherine Middleton, who was already Associate Director, became Acting Director of Ordination Training and Chaplain at Mansfield College, Oxford, a post she held for a year before resigning because of ill-health, depriving the United Reformed Church of one its most able ministers. She died in May 2000 at the early age of 42.

Women are now fully accepted as staff and students in the United Reformed Church colleges, and feminist theology is taken seriously. But many issues relating to ministry and training remain to be faced in the new century. In her article published in 1990, based on questionnaires sent out in 1985, Helen Ashton reflected that the entry of women had so far had little impact on college courses.(24) This is probably less true in 2004 than it was in 1990, but there is still much to be done in building up the confidence of women as they seek to reach their full potential in church and society.


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