From the Revd Rosemary Lain-Priestley
Sir, - Canon Roger Hill (Letters, 6
March) is, I believe, delighted that all three orders of
ordained ministry are now open to women. His genuine support has
been appreciated. But his suggestion that the post of dean of
women's ministry is now obsolete implies that the Church of England
has addressed every gender-related factor that might discourage or
disable female clergy from exercising their gifts to the full.
Unsurprisingly, at this early stage, the evidence suggests that
this is not the case.
The Transformations Agenda is a national initiative that
identifies those continuing cultural habits and institutional
practices that delay the full integration of female clergy in the
life of the Church.
The Agenda highlights, among other things, the shockingly low
number of young female vocations (two female to every seven male in
2012 and again in 2013); the disparity in methods of training for
ordination (in 2012, only 28 per cent of women training for
stipendiary ministry were doing so at college, compared with 57 per
cent of men); the disparity between the percentage of men and women
who are self-supporting (18 to 47 per cent) - some freely choosing
this ministry, but some not; maternity- and paternity-leave
provision that varies considerably between dioceses, and is less
than generous in some; the low proportion of female area/rural
deans (15 per cent nationally, far fewer in some dioceses); the
propensity of churches with large electoral rolls to appoint male
incumbents; and the overwhelming proportion of male incumbents in
the Greater Churches Network (one female to 30 male in 2013).
The Transformations Agenda has also begun to highlight the
possibility of liturgical renewal and refreshed theological
exploration of what it means to be fully human.
These issues, embedded as they are in cultural assumptions and
institutional bias, will not simply resolve themselves over time.
Careful and intentional work is necessary, and this is the work in
which the deans of women, along with others, have always been
engaged. It was never all about women bishops. The opening of the
episcopate to women is iconic, because the Church has at last
removed its question mark over the ministries of all ordained women
and, indeed, over woman per se.
But most clergy will not become bishops, and it will require
more than a "Yes, you can" to enable women, ordained and lay, to
offer their gifts and experience to the full in a clerical culture
shaped solely, for many centuries, by men.
Dean of Women's Ministry, Two Cities Area, diocese of
London, and Chair of the National Association of Diocesan
Advisers in Women's Ministry
13D Hyde Park Mansions
Cabbell Street, London NW1 5BD