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Seeking for truth – reflections on the ways in which the decision to ordain women changed the nature of the Church

By Hannah Phillips, New Directions

Many years ago when a vote was passed to ordain female priests, I was a teenager. The news had little impact in my convent school, except for Father wandering around muttering under his breath as to how this would change the nature of the Church. Now, I understand what that poor priest (in a school full of girls) was muttering under his breath. The nature of the Church changed on that day and continues to be manipulated by a secular philosophy.

Different and complementary

No longer is being a ‘woman’ or ‘mother’ seen as being something to desire. In fact most of the time it is portrayed as someone failing to reach their full potential. This is not the image that God desired when he sent an Angel to an innocent girl and gave her the gift of carrying the Messiah. Echoed in that acclamation from Elizabeth, ‘Hail Mary, full of Grace’, is the message that this was a great and wonderful vocation from God. Mary both chose to accept this immense gift, but also bore with strength the sacrifices that came with it.

The Holy Mother has embodied the feminine characteristics that help to make the Gospels the powerful scriptures they are. The gift of the Messiah, born of a woman, was a boy. The maleness of Christ is essential to the narratives in the Bible. The significance of the two genders being different and complementary is written throughout the Bible, first of all as the People of Israel (God’s chosen people) being portrayed as a loved wife. The imagery is then carried on as the Church itself being the Bride of Christ and is therefore evident in the writing of our Liturgy.

Stumbling block

To propose, even for a moment, that our omnipotent God had not known the implications of the impact of creating these roles, is to underestimate him. Should he have chosen to have reversed the parts of the sexes I am sure he could have done so, with success. Therefore the view of secular culture encounters a stumbling block, when advocating an apparently gender-neutral view of roles. The two genders are different and God created us to be so. It is generally considered that a female athlete would not compete against a male one, as she acknowledges she has no chance of success. This however does not in any way diminish the fact that she is a great athlete. So in the matter of Holy Orders, I believe that men and women were chosen for different roles within the Church. Saying that a woman cannot be a priest is not in any way undermining her value as a person, called to fullness of ministry in Baptism. Nor does it make her unequal in the eyes of God. ‘We are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal. 3.28), without all being/doing the same things.

Gender-neutral language

The eventual consequence of this concept of equality is actually that we should have to rewrite the entire basis on which the Church operates. The Bible and the Liturgy are all intrinsically based on Father and Son being male. Already there is a requirement in some places to replace gender-specific words. The Lord’s Prayer itself, with words given by Jesus, would need to change. Making these alterations to the language we were given by God fundamentally changes the overall message we were given. To replace every reference to man and woman with gender-neutral words would alter our perception of the narratives, therefore distorting the identity of the Holy Trinity and the message of the Gospels.

Irreversibly broken

When we admitted women into Holy Orders we began to change the course of our future as a Church. When Jesus made the decision to appoint twelve male Apostles, he established a line of apostolic succession. In admitting women to Holy Orders we interrupted this line of succession that God appointed, through Christ. However, there is a small corner of the Church that has preserved the apostolic succession. For me and others in my tradition, admitting women to the Episcopate, with no provision for extended oversight, means that our connection with the line of apostolic succession is irreversibly broken.

Completely at peace

Recently I have had suggestions that I believe the theology I do either because I am angry at them having the choice, that I am jealous of female priests, that I have been brainwashed by men, or simply that I hate women. The latter in particular would involve me hating myself, and nothing could be further from the truth. I am completely at peace with the life I have and feel called to. It does not feel like I have not reached my potential as every day I teach, make peace, nurture and bring up the future of the Church. I have the time to enjoy my children and have more than enough to do sharing my knowledge of the Church and of God with them. I had the choice to explore ordination, long before it would ever have occurred to me. I chose not to follow that path. In doing so I hope to teach my daughter that there is something to be celebrated in being a mother, that it is not something in which you can fail to reach your potential, as society seems to imply, but a mysterious and glorious gift from God.

Not a right

What I am angered by, however, is the insistence that women have a right to be bishops. No one, not even a man, has a right to it. It is a calling from God, that should be approached humbly. Those who desire the post are most obviously the ones who should not receive it. I see women in the news saying ‘I want’ with the expectation that they will just get because society in some way owes them. It concerns me that we give our daughters the idea that in order to be something you have to be like a man. It also gives them this notion that society owes them some form of automatic promotion just because they are a woman and therefore at a disadvantage.

The other result of this has been the example of democracy we have given our children. When the vote goes your way by just two votes, it is fine and the Holy Spirit is working. However, if it goes against the loudest voice by six votes, the system is broken and the Holy Spirit is not present. What kind of message does that give to the future of the Church?

A valid theology

Most of all I am frustrated at the lack of understanding of traditional Anglo-Catholic theology and the readiness of people to jump to the conclusions as to why it is practised. My beliefs have been well thought out as you have seen above. There have been many sacrifices in my life in order to follow traditional Church values, some of them on other issues than this. Still I believe those sacrifices have been worth paying. To assume I have a vendetta against women is to disregard years of discernment. All I ask is that you take time to understand what it is I and many others believe to be the truth of the Church. It is not something you need to accept, but respecting that it is a valid theology (one that is not rooted in misogyny) would be a start. 

(Reproduced with permission)

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