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The spiritual irony of the pinafore protest

By Julian Mann

The pinafore protest launched by Anglican women in Hereford Diocese is supposedly an ironic statement against the General Synod's failure to approve women bishops. But one wonders at whom the finger of irony is really pointing.

The Times reported Christine Walters, a lay person from Stoke Lacy in Herefordshire, as saying: “The idea is that women in the pews wear an apron or pinafore on top of their clothes as a mockery of the idea that they are fit only for tea-making. We all know that women contribute so much to the Church and especially our women priests, who need our support at the moment. We are asking men to wear a purple ribbon.”

Two initial points need to be made about this attempt at sartorial satire. First, it seriously misrepresents the thinking of Anglican opponents of women bishops. Whether conservative evangelical or Anglo-Catholic, they do not think women are only fit for tea-making.

The Proper Provision movement, which campaigned against the women bishops' measure, was led by women, such as Mrs Susie Leafe of Fowey Parish Church in Truro Diocese, who are of high intellectual calibre. It misrepresents them to suggest that, because they hold to the New Testament's teaching on male headship in marriage and in the church, they want to restrict women's contribution in the church and in society.

Secondly, the pinafore mockery demeans those church volunteers – women and men – who do make the tea and a lot else besides. Without the cooking and baking these unsung heroines and heroes of the pews do, the tables and chairs they put out, the toilets they unblock, the church buildings and halls they clean and myriad other practical jobs, local churches of all shapes and sizes in the United Kingdom would not be able to function.

Furthermore, local churches that are looking to grow younger by reaching out with hospitality to families with children are heavily reliant on women prepared to do traditional feminine tasks such as cooking and baking. Those churches would not be able to reach families without such servant-hearted women who are prepared to do the unglamorous jobs. I recall one vicar's wife describing these practical tasks as the 'Jesus jobs'. Is it not ironic that churches that want to impact on society with the gospel are reliant on these traditional feminine skills?

Those donning these ironic pinafores for church might find it sobering to remember what the Lord Jesus wore on the night that he was betrayed: "The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel round his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped round him" (John 13v2-5 – NIV).

The spiritual irony here in relation to the pinafore protest is that the Servant King did not put on a costume in the cause of church politics. The towel he wore served a real practical purpose in the expression of his love for those he had come to redeem at such immeasurable cost.

Julian Mann is vicar of the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge, South Yorkshire – 

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