on Church and Mission
Kwok Pui-lan, Judith A. Berling and Jenny Plane Te Paa,
Canterbury Press £19.99
Church Times Bookshop £18 (Use code
WHAT is the distinctive
calling of the worldwide Anglican Communion in the 21st
Emerging directly from a
consultation of Anglican women theological educators in Canterbury
in 2009, this book offers a radical response to this underlying
question, which, in the editors' opinion, is faced by a Communion
As the title suggests, all
the contributors are women, who represent a diversity of churches
and contexts from across the Communion. Since women are in the
majority in terms of Anglican church membership, but are vastly
underrepresented in the Communion's decision-making processes, the
authors bring a particular commitment to raising awareness of the
experiences and contributions that women make, and have made, to
But they do this by no means
exclusively. At the heart of the book is a call to value and
respect the marginalised, and to listen to the voices of those all
those whose opinions are not enough heard, and whose faith, wisdom,
and service are not valued as highly as they should be.
This book is an invitation
to conversation and reflection - to re-visioning - by which the
authors hope to promote further dialogue and scholarship. This does
not mean that they do not want change, but their hope is for
informed change from a renewed and transformed Communion. The book
models a practical theological approach that values the voices
brought to the conversation by the tradition, the insights of other
disciplines and faith traditions, and, most significantly, the
realities of lived experiences in specific contexts.
The first part of the book
contains contributions exploring issues of leadership, power,
authority, gender, and sexuality, from historical and theological
perspectives; the second, "Anglican Women and God's Mission",
explores the call to the Church to share in mission from a
perspective that sees the whole world as the arena of God's loving
activity. All contributions reflect a deep respect for the
significance of local churches in this calling.
For me, two important
emphases emerge from within the volume. First, the call to live as
a Communion that does not submerge diversity in the search for a
common mind, but that learns to find strength in living with
difference. For a number of contributors, this includes the
difference that comes to us from the past - from the contexts in
which traditions are formed; we are called always to be in
conversation with our past, and to allow it to furnish a critique
of our present. This is powerfully illustrated in a chapter on the
Mothers' Union, which, in its encounter with diversity,
reprioritised values and principles (for example, on divorce), with
the result that security of identity became less important than its
calling to mission.
Second, the book calls on
the Communion to refocus its identity as the community of the
baptised rather than "primarily as a hierarchy of ordained orders".
For example, an exploration of authority in the second chapter
highlights the way in which discussions on priests and deacons
often focus on their relationships to the episcopate "rather than .
. . their relationship to the company of the baptized, or their
importance in the ministry of reconciliation that the church has in
the world". This is an argument for a change in emphasis, not one
designed to question the importance of the orders of ministry in
the Anglican Churches.
Entering into the dialogues
in this book is challenging. It challenges readers to a broader
vision, to look again at the light of others' experience, and to be
aware of the historical, theological, and cultural forces that
shape us all. This is not because the issues discussed are new, but
because the focus on women's opinions and perspectives which it
brings has the potential to challenge inherited patterns and "open
up conversations to include a diversity of voices".
I recommend this book, above
all, because it has integrity; in its generosity, openness, and
embrace of diversity, it mirrors something of the quality of
communion to which we are called.
Canon Christine Worsley is the Kingdom People Development
Officer, in the diocese of Worcester.