I WAS born and grew up in Montego Bay in Jamaica. I was very
much involved in the life of our little mission church of St
Francis, which was part of the Anglican Communion family.
As young people, we had the good fortune to be allowed to be
involved in doing the readings, leading the intercessions, and
sometimes leading the Liturgy of the Word. I even got to preach as
a teenager. Girls and boys were treated very fairly by our
Sunday-school teachers, and I think they saw the potential gifts in
all of us.
It was around the age of 14 when I had this sense that my
vocation was about being a minister of the gospel. There were women
who were Church Army Sisters, and I knew we had deaconesses, but I
also knew that they weren't fully in charge. I had the sense that I
was going to be in charge, and I was going to lead, and I never
I remember thinking, "God, I believe you called me, but I don't
see women doing that so you're going to have to work it out."
[After emigrating to Britain] I applied for the Church, but the
attitude of those when I applied - including my examining chaplain,
an older woman - was that I should be looking after my husband and
You'd think the Church would say: "We have very few
ethnic-minority clergy; so let's test her vocation;" but instead it
was: "Look after your husband and child" - a rather crazy thing to
I trained, and was ordained as a deacon in 1991 and priest in
1994. I served my curacy in Wolverhampton, but people initially
didn't want me, because they were from a particular Evangelical
tradition. I believe they asked if they could have my husband
instead of me. I went there knowing that, and the PCC, I was told,
had resigned en bloc.
[Later], I came to Hackney, in east London. A big challenge to
me was that the church was very High Church, and didn't want a
woman. I met up with one of the wardens, and I asked her to put all
her cards on the table.
"Has it got anything to do with the fact that I'm black?" And
she said,"Well, frankly, yes."
So I said to them, "Now that you've put your cards on the table,
let me put mine on the table. I have just arrived here, and I have
no intention of rushing away; so you or anyone else who doesn't
like me, either because I'm black or because I'm a woman, you're
free to go. Furthermore, I'm very content and happy in my skin, and
in my gender."
They eventually left, and I thanked God. And the church has
You have to have that call deep inside your gut to be able to
walk in that direction and to follow in the footsteps of Christ, to
be able to pray daily, and to be able to love even the prickly
people that come in your direction.
Because all those wretched folks who say no to you because
you're a woman - you've still got to love them. It is not an
option. I say to young women, "Listen to that still small voice.
And if you hear it, do not be afraid to say 'Yes'. The world may
tell you 'No', because you'rea woman, but don't forget you're not
answering to them, you're answerable to God." And so I have no
regrets that I gave my life to the Church.
I GREW up in South India. My parents were missionaries
there for the Church Mission Society, and I was born there, and
lived there until I was about eight. I'm one of five sisters; so it
was like a Jane Austen family, and I think I've always assumed that
the world was largely feminine.
Although my father was a very strong personality, it was
an overwhelmingly female household. I went to a girls' boarding
school in the hills; so I never really had that feeling of either
competition or inferiority to men as I was growing up.
But it was quite a shock when I came to read theology at
Clare College, Cambridge. It was quite unusual to be a woman in
Cambridge when I was a student here. I suppose I hadn't ever
realised before that men had brains. Even my father didn't really
count, because he was my father.
For me to realise that menare complex human beings, and
have feelings and emotions and thoughts, just the same as women do,
was really quite an eye-opener, and an intriguing insight into how
it's possible in a very male culture for men not to know that about
I always find it faintly annoying when people come up
and say, "It's so wonderful to see a woman doing that," because
what I want to know is whether I said anything that was worth
anything rather than I was noticed just because I was a
We have been banging our head against the wall on this
women-bishops issue, but I don't think we should blind ourselves to
the fact that the Church has been quite a good employer of women at
archdeacon level, deanery level, senior-incumbent
Quite a lot of the women that I know who are in higher
positions in the Church are very strong leaders from the front, and
that's how they've survived; and I think some women are very much
more likely to be collaborative. But it's hard to
I do recognise that some women look more confident than
they are, and I think nearly all the women I know would always
slightly hedge around a statement in case somebody else didn't
agree with it. I think that that is partly years of conditioning,
and how they have been treated.
I think that there is also the perception that ours is a
society that thinks equality means uniformity, and if we're not
saying exactly the same thing about everybody, and allowing
everybody to do absolutely everything just the same, then we're not
making people equal. So you could argue that we are squashing men
and women into less than themselves by saying that they have to do
everything the same.
Is there a way of saying that men and women are
interdependent? I don't like the complementarity argument, because
it's a way of stereotyping what each will do, but it seems to me
that the whole body-of-Christ imagery suggests that we are
absolutely interdependent, and it's no good all of us trying to be
a hand or a head, because then the thing doesn't
I WAS brought up in a family that was both Roman Catholic and
Socialist. And there was that combination of feeling that you were
responsible for people around you, and that, in creating a better
life, you wanted it for other people, too.
Although we were Catholics, we were affected by the Presbyterian
tradition, too, which is much less hierarchical; it's about flatter
structures, and I think that I breathed that in.
If there were women priests in the Roman Catholic Church I think
that they would be much more compassionate about the struggles that
women have around things like contraception.
I am a patron of a project in central London, Women of the Well,
that works with women that have become prostitutes, women who have
often come from abusive homes, domestic violence, sexual abuse -
horrible stuff; and have dependency then on drink and drugs.
The nuns who are at the front line working with the poorest know
sometimes that those women will make choices which their livesforce
on them. And the idea that they would be saying to them, "You're a
disgrace because you'vehad an abortion" is just impossible.
I also know from nuns who have worked in Africa, particularly in
the field of health, that they wouldn't dream of saying to people
that they can't use condoms.
I think that when women take on priestly roles, they will be as
varied as the kind of priests that we have. We have this
conversation about whether women as judges do it differently. And
the answer is that some of them do; but it also changes the nature
of the judicial discourse.
If you've got women there, then the conversations become
different, and you learn from each other. And I think that having a
woman on our Supreme Court has been hugely beneficial to women -
but we've only got one, and that makes me very cross.
When the campaign was taking place for women priests in the
Anglican Church, I actually went and demonstrated with the women.
And people said, "Are you an Anglican?" And I said, "No, but I just
feel that if this shift happens here, then it's more likely to
happen in the [Roman] Catholic Church as well."
At that time, I was doing a great deal of work on women and the
law. I had looked at the reasons that were given for keeping women
out of the legal profession - and indeed to keep them out of the
medical profession, and so on.
And the same arguments that were used to keep women outof
everything - the professions, politics, and so forth - were exactly
the same kind of arguments in the Church. . . That somehow women
are special, and their place is special, but it's over here, and it
doesn't involve being at the heart of the matter.
It was interesting to draw to people's attention the parallels,
and the way in which the arguments are made, and the way in which
male-dominated institutions reach for the same arguments when it
comes to excluding women. And, sometimes, it's by flattery, and not
just by saying that we're somehow not up to the game.
It's not about "equal opportunities", which sounds like working
in the Civil Service, or working in the corporate world. I really
think that this is about our humanity.
This is an edited extract from Women in Waiting:
Prejudice at the heart of the Church by Julia Ogilvy, published
by Bloomsbury at £12.99 (Church Times Bookshop £11.69),
and appears by permission.