Edited by Christina Rees
Priesthood and Womanhood: Questions and Answers
by Una Kroll
from Voices of this Calling, pp. 33-35.
by Christina Reesand published by Canterbury Press 2003.
on our website with the necessary permissions
Una Kroll felt called to priestly ministry when she was 19 years old. She spent a long period as a medical doctor, missionary, deaconess, deacon, Christian feminist, author and broadcaster, before becoming a priest when she was 71 years old. Most of her lifes work has related to the plight of disadvantaged women in her own and other countries and she believes that her spiritual life has been enhanced by her work for women in society. She now lives a life of prayer as a solitary in life vows in the border town of Monmouth in Wales. (Post script: Una Kroll died on Jan. 6th 2017 aged 91. )
By the time I became a priest in January 1997, I had passed the retiring age for clergy in the Church in Wales to which I then belonged. Ordination was the culmination of a 50-year struggle to admit to myself that women could become priests in the Anglican Church, then, with others, to work to convince the Church that they would be an asset to the ordained ministry. By the time it became possible for women in the Church in Wales to be ordained, I knew many women bishops and priests from overseas, and women priests from England, and I had seen many of them in action.
At the time I was perplexed by the English and Welsh churches insistence on restricting womens ministry, so perplexed that I seriously considered not offering for ordination myself. However, I wanted to know how female priests could make positive contributions to a Church that had been dominated by male ministry for nearly 2000 years. I knew that I wanted to explore that potential from inside the ordained ministry rather than from outside; so I agreed to go ahead.
On the day of ordination I was happy, more happy than I could show at the time. I was also anxious. I had previously spent years and years in the company of Anglican and Roman Catholic women debating the wisdom of our joining a mens club and getting caught into existing institutional norms of behaviour. Would we be swamped, coerced into acting according to male tradition rather than according to our female nature? Would we become clericalized and dominate the laity in authoritarian ways? Would we be able to complement male styles of authority in new and different ways? How would the image of priesthood be changed by the inclusion of women in its ranks?
Now, five years on, I am still asking these questions. A few of my women friends seem to think that the struggle is over, we should just get on with the job and wait to be assimilated into the structures. Some, however, still feel that they cannot truly be themselves, or be valued as they deserve, within a predominantly male institution where there are no women bishops. Others, having worked in the prevalent culture of male ministry, are disillusioned and are seriously considering leaving an organization which still oppresses women, denies them effective voices in the government of the Church, misuses their talents and makes no adequate provision for their childbearing and rearing roles in families.
Nevertheless, I am happy to be a priest who is a woman. I continue to try to understand how and what my womanhood contributes to my own parish ministry. I am, however, deeply saddened by the apparent loss of the precious solidarity I had with other women - and some men - during the years of struggle and waiting.
I came into the priesthood hoping for, and expecting, change. I hoped that the coming of women would end the male clergys preoccupation with justifying their existence by overwork and multiplication of committees and structures. So far, I have seen no essential change in male attitudes towards ministry; moreover, some of the women who are now priests have assimilated an attitude of justification by works. I thought that womens delight in worshipping God in and through prayer of various kinds would change our public acts of worship - without loss of their essential form. I think this has happened to a limited extent but sometimes against fierce resistance. I expected a greater appreciation of lay talents and gifts, as well as of clergy gifts; I know that many people in the Church are working towards this end. Nevertheless, those who make decisions about ministry still seem to tolerate many situations in which lay people and clergy, stipendiary and self supporting, are being burnt out by overwork, underuse of the talents of women priests and the laity and inadequate consideration for their human needs.
I believe that women priests will contribute to the fulfilment of my hopes through effecting these and other positive changes in church structure and life. Personally, I want to spend my remaining years encouraging younger women priests, and others whom I admire and cherish, to celebrate the advent of women into the ranks of the ordained clergy and to make the fullest possible use of their gifts. Before that can happen, however, there need to be widespread changes in attitudes towards women priests whose talents and ways of working are often seen as threatening. There needs to be much more opportunity in all churches for listening to womens points of view. Nothing much will change in England and Wales until we admit women into the episcopate and wholeheartedly begin to celebrate the equal and complementary nature of men and women in the Church and society.
For myself, becoming a priest has been like coming home; for the first time in my life, I know myself to be the person who God created me to be. Priesthood has enlarged my love of my own womanhood, enabled me to appreciate and celebrate the Godgiven differences between men and women and, above all, to feel responsible to God for the gifts God has given me and which now can be used in a way that was formerly unknown to me. I thank God for all that.
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