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Plenty of work for deans of women still to do

13 March 2015


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

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