1st International Conference
Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin
This is, indeed, an historic gathering and an historic moment. It reminds me of another historic moment nine years ago. Only then, I was standing in Dean's yard - November 11, 1992, Westminster, carrying a poster with the words, Women, beautifully and wonderfully made in the image of God, words I adapted from Psalm 139 which I had read that week, reaffirming for me that I was created in the image of God. That both male and female was part of that special creation and that we were all called to 'represent' Christ.
Let me share something of my journey with you: born and grew up in Montego Bay, Jamaica and baptised as an infant within what was known as the 'Church of England' in Jamaica - later one of our bishops determined 'How can it be the Church of England in Jamaica'. With legislation it became, 'The Anglican/Episcopal Church in Jamaica'. I attended a little mission Church, attached to the St. James Parish Church, Montego Bay. As my faith deepened as a young Christian, I became more and more involved in the life of the church through the Anglican Youth Fellowship - AYF.
At approximately age 14 I had a real sense of being called but had no real way of knowing how this was to be expressed as there were no immediate female models of ordained ministry. Yes there were women - after all isn't the church full of women - if the women stayed away from the church internationally, the church would be in real crisis. I offered myself to be trained for the Church Army. In 1979 I began that training and returned to Jamaica to work. While there I became more acutely aware of the importance of the Sacraments in the life of the Church. But in the very next breath we were told that we could not receive the sacraments because we had no one with male genitalia - my choice of words, not theirs - to consecrate the elements. The city churches were well serviced, but many rural churches were starved of the very elements which were supposed to bring them new life.
That was when I really began to engage with the issue provoking others to think and to ask themselves questions about women's ministry in all its forms. On returning to live in England, I offered myself for the diaconate. Those in the system wanted to know why I wasn't caring for my husband and one child - so far. It was not a ' Here is someone offering themselves for God's ministry and Yes! she is a she!!' That was hard to swallow. I persevered and nearly two years later I was accepted in another diocese, no one questioning my legitimacy as a woman - and a black woman - to offer myself to God for that which He has called me.
Today, I am the Vicar of two congregations in the East end of London. Along the journey, I have faced rejections along with the welcomes. It's been a double whammy - woman - and black! But what do I do? First, I own the fact that it hurts like hell - no woman for my funeral; they would not want someone black conducting this service; after all it is not really normal to have a black woman. So how do I deal with it? Do I bury my head, get depressed, or worse yet, stay depressed about it? No. After acknowledging my pain, I remind myself that they are the ones missing out - ultimately, it is their loss! - and friends, I do believe this.
At my ordination to the priesthood, I described the experience as that of being pregnant and giving birth. First, there is all that waiting - it is not a passive wait; although the waters burst on that momentous evening in November, it took nearly a year and a half later for the child to be delivered. And it was no easy birth. It was a mixture of pain and joy. Pain because of what we collectively have been through - the women who never made it, who will never become an incumbent, who will be barred from a parish or a particular event, those who will never make it as bishops. Pain for those of us who are constantly told that because of your birth designation you are consigned to a particular place. Pain because of the inability of the whole church to rejoice with us but instead seem to focus on those who are unhappy about this new position.
I am delighted that this is an ecumenical gathering. It reassures me that we are on this journey together. In every denomination there are women who know deep in their hearts that they are being called before God to live out their baptismal call. Yet there are those in authority who are apparently safe-guarding the faith - so called gate keepers - who know more than God and who dare to say that they know the will of God - and women play no significant part in that! They fail to remember our Lord calling Martha away from the expected domestic role, to sit, listen and learn, thus being better equipped for the real task of living the faith.
There are those who, with reluctance, say - 'Well, I do believe in the ordination of women, but what I can't stand are those women who are strident'. Strident! what do they mean by this? If by 'strident' they mean articulate women who believe and feel passionately and will express their points of view, then, women be strident. Dean Matthews, a member of the Archbishops' Commission in 1935 was in no doubt when he said 'The arguments which have been brought against the eligibility of women to the priesthood are without value' [The Ministry of Women: Report of the Archbishops' Commission - Church House 1935]. Those who still try to find theological arguments to use are being dishonest. We may be told that we are strident for pressing the Church to keep this issue on its agenda, but we have been the ones who are the true guardians of the faith. We have taught it to our children in the homes, in Sunday schools, in our worshipping together and by being living examples. We have not picked up our marbles and left; we did not threaten the Church with schism; we did not threaten to stay home and worship. Instead, we have made the ultimate and painful sacrifice to stay. All of those great women who have gone before us and who were never given the opportunity to 'serve' as priests with the Church, we salute them and we thank them for blazing a trail for us to follow.
Against them at the time was not just a conservative Church and an old boys network, but a world that had not yet come into its own in receiving the skills of its women. It took a war to help society realise that women can do more than cook, clean and look after the children but that God had endowed them too with brains, gifts and skills so that they could be a real partnership to their male counterparts. Today we have the best of secular culture as an example. We are encouraged that in all walks of life women are quietly forging ahead and making their mark in places where once the old boys network would have stayed firmly closed. I am not saying that they have gotten it totally right - look at the outcry during the recent campaigning for the General Election in England re. the silent voices of women.
Other churches have come to the conviction that ordaining women into the full ministry of the Church is the right way to go. They have gone ahead with the ordination of women, and they are still learning to live together along that journey. Not so in the Church of England. We have enshrined in law a division which we may never be able to change. Delegates, I struggle and perhaps we all must struggle as to whether we should have accepted ordination with this condition attached to it. Somewhere deep in my heart I believe the church has begrudgingly obliged us by giving us only part of the carrot - the end bit - instead of the whole carrot. What this means is that some people may never have the privilege of experiencing the gifts of a woman priest. What a loss!!
Women, when we get there, we are not going to be the clones of male priests. We are going to be ourselves and we are going to make our offering according to the gifts that God has given to us. What has caused me some pain as well is to see intelligent women buying into the myth that women cannot be priests because of some 'accident of birth' - even those themselves who hold high office or are in one of the many professions which once barred them from that position. If we are saying it, then why do we expect the men to be different?
'Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, talented, fabulous'. Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others'. [Often attributed to Nelson Mandela, but actually by Marianne Williamson