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Catholic College to give eucharistic women a network

02 June 2023


The Revd Arwen Folkes presides at the eucharist for a live-streamed service

The Revd Arwen Folkes presides at the eucharist for a live-streamed service

A NEW College of Catholic Anglican Women has tapped into a desire for mutual support and learning from women who often feel isolated, its founder has said.

“I think Catholic women often find themselves ministering in a place where they can be quite on their own,” the Rector of East Blatchington and Bishopstone, the Revd Arwen Folkes, said last week. “You can go to a deanery chapter and meet with the rest of the clergy from across the deanery, but for women there is always that constant question: who in here recognises my validity? Who in here believes in my priesthood? And it’s a really damaging little thing.

“I think that the answer to that is to grow in our confidence of who we are and who we are called to be, and our hope is that the College will do that, so that women can enter back into those spaces and be less distracted by such questions.”

Since expressions of interest were first invited online in March, the College has gathered 225 members. Some felt “not sure if they are Catholic enough” for other groups, she said. The College’s definition of “Catholic” was deliberately broad: “This isn’t about being a sort of gnostic little group. Our hope is that we will help to revitalise the Catholic faith . . . We want to say, ‘If you have a eucharistic heart and that’s at the centre of your faith, then let’s explore that together.’”

The membership is drawn from around the world, is lay and ordained, and includes theology students, academics, and women serving in TEIs, cathedrals, and as archdeacons. Some are retired female clergy, and some are Religious. It includes ten members of the General Synod.

While initially unsure about creating a gender-specific group, Mthr Folkes observed that “it has become clear that, when the votes for women bishops went through and mutual flourishing was put in place as a way of accommodating both, I think there were lots of resources for the male groups, the traditionalist groups, to cope with this situation — not so much for women.”

While describing her own “wonderful flourishing relationships with people of different traditions” in the diocese of Chichester, she said that challenges for Catholic women included people online “telling us that we are a heresy or imaginary and a fiction. . . However, what we all have realised — and maybe this is because we stand on the shoulders of women who went before us — is that our ministries are fruitful, and that, actually, our congregations, they don’t have that question. They see us serving and ministering to them, and they receive that wholeheartedly, and we have to draw from the grass roots, really, in terms of questions around validity.”

She had drawn inspiration for the College from a term spent studying at the Margaret Beaufort Institute, Cambridge: “an entirely female space” where theology was “collaborative, collegiate. . . there was a collective pursuit of the truth through the sharing of each other’s experiences. . . I think there could be something just really powerful about pulling us together and seeing what comes of it gathering in a space in fellowship, but also in pursuit of learning and growing in our identity in Christ.”

A common feeling in the Catholic wing of the Church of England was that the Catholic tradition was “not represented or encouraged” through the NCIs, “or it’s piecemeal”, she said. “The eucharist doesn’t seem to be at the heart of thinking. . . One of the conversations we are having in the College at the moment is how we can produce resources that equip priests to invite abundantly into the eucharist; how to offer really good catechesis that is warm and welcoming and joyful.

“We really hope and pray that the College will be part of the revitalisation of the Catholic faith in the Church of England — or, at least, falling in love again with this incredible gift of the sacrament that we have been given and finding our source of life and joy from that.”

A GoFundMe website has been set up to raise money to help fund the work of the College, and a website has now been established: thecollegecaw.org.uk

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