Friday, 5 October 2012

Who wears the cassock around here?


Who the Church of England chooses to be its clergy is really none of my business. In the Adur Valley most of the Anglican clergy are now women, and they seem to be very good at their job. From an ecumenical perspective, I will deal with whomever they choose to lead them, man or woman, and have always found them all affable and friendly, and spoken well of by their congregations.

On the other hand, I do regret that the ecumenical movement has been reduced to polite co-operation by the C of E's decision to move further away from the formerly agreed position on those deemed licit subjects for Orders (and I resent being harangued by members of the Established Church who accuse us of having set back ecumenism by adopting our new liturgical translation), but maybe the whole subject has simply illustrated the hopeless nature of the ecumenical project, given the very fundamental differences at the level of principle, and how doctrine is to be decided.

However, I do think one can make some practical observations. It has often been noticed in Catholic sacristies that when girl servers predominate, soon one will have no boys at all. Several years ago I was present at the plumbing-in of a new vicar, a very dynamic and personable lady, in the (Anglican) Chichester diocese. The bishop doing the job was, and is, well known for his opposition to women's orders; indeed, I believe (perhaps erroneously) that he adheres to the 'impossibilist' position. This did not prevent him licensing her for the work of a priest, entrusting her with the cure of souls and using all the language of priesthood in his address. He refused to let her concelebrate with him, however. Now, setting aside the mental gymnastics required to justify all this, it was plain that, apart from the bishop, every person—cleric or server—on the sanctuary was female. Not one male.

Yesterday, being in the locality, I visited an Anglican parish church that I used to know rather well: I used to play the organ there in the late 1970s and 1980s. In those days, though the vicar and all but one of the servers was male, there was a good distribution of the other functions between the sexes. Yesterday I read the list of parish officials, and also the current bulletin. A lady was appointed vicar some months ago, and already:
Vicar: a woman.
Churchwarden A: a woman
Churchwarden B: a woman
Parish Secretary/Church Council: a woman
Church hall information and bookings: a woman
There are no other officials listed.

according to the bulletin for last Sunday:
Sidesperson (sic) 1: a woman
Sidesperson 2: a woman
Sidesperson 3: a woman
Sidesperson 4: a woman
Refreshments: a woman
Intercessions to be led by— a man.

The week's activities seemed to be focussed around things women find interesting: coffee mornings, mothers' and toddlers' groups, handicraft circles, that sort of thing.

This is not an attack on women's orders or ministry in the Church of England. As I mentioned earlier, I have no dog in this race. But having fought so hard to be inclusive, they seen now to be so inclusive that they have almost no men at all! Is this really what they want? Is this healthy?

No doubt they would argue that men are perfectly free to participate if they want to—they just don't want to. Being their (men's) decision, does this absolve those in authority (all ladies) from having to do anything about it, or is the Church of England now becoming a sort of religious version of the Women's Institute? And is it sexist to have a problem with that?

14 comments:

gemoftheocean said...

I expect that those in the CofE who do not believe in priesthood for women have swum the Tiber or largely left the faith entirely.

In general, the UK seems an unchurched lot to me - actual practitioners in any faith seem to me to be less a percentage of the whole than in the US. Certainly from those of Christian heritage if not practice. Also the men in the UK seem to have much more of a 'lad' culture than in the US.

Younger males in the UK seem more socially awkward than their counterparts in the US vis-a-vis females.

And belief in God, period, to a lot of them is showing a sign of weakness.

So perhaps the 'WI' comment is quite understandable.

OTOH, I know an Anglican priest who does not believe in women priests, but has no problem with them being Wardens, etc.

The few times I've attended functions there he has a healthy ratio of male/female of about 55% female to 45% male for church attendees -- which I expect is about the same for Catholics in their churches -- women are almost always more religious as a group than men I think.

gemoftheocean said...

Oh, and something else -- I gather the state is no longer paying the salaries of Anglican priests? I think that might have a lot to do with it as a lot must be also gainfully employed in another occupation as well to make a living -- especially if they have a family to support -- what males can afford to be priests -- particularly if they have a family?

Whereas if a female Anglican priest is married, her husband may well work a conventional job which puts the bulk of the bread on the table and pays for the children's upbringing, while her income is largely 'extra.'

So this may have something to do with it as well -- but I'd agree that the men would need looking after too as far as groups that would interest them would go. That doesn't seem to be any healthier than things were when the men got all the attention and the women got stuck doing the washing up and the ironing.

AndrewWS said...

The state has never paid the salaries of Anglican clergy. They are paid, as they have been for hundreds of years, by the Church Commissioners, on the basis of the income from its own investments. Taaxpayers' money does not come into it. It does, of course, reduce the Commissioners' bill if priest has an affluent spouse and is willing to do the job unpaid or is unperturbed by the low level of the stipend. That is, of course, the case in lots of other professions.

Fr William R Young said...

Surely the state has never paid the salaries of ordinary Anglican clergy! Nor has the state paid anything towards the upkeep of "plant" (churches and cathedrals. That is why so many of the ancient, formerly Catholic cathedrals of England are now de facto museums charging entry fees.

john-of-hayling said...

Isn't it the case that as the diocese has taken more and more, there is less and less to fund the parishes in respect of clergy stipends. Thus more parishes become the domain of the NSM (Non Stipendary Minister) and for reasons mentioned above it is more likely that those able to do the 'job' for expenses only will be women.

UrbanX said...

The feminization of the Catholic Church was something Cardinal Heenan feared as a result of the Novus Ordo mass, and his fears have largely been realized. The process has gone further and faster in the Church of England, and it is a clear warning of the inevitable outcome of liberal theology.

Fr William said...

I don't know if you happened to take a look at the "Who's Who" section of their website, Father (and like you I shan't name the parish, as that would be unfair, since it is just a symptom of a more general problem). It shows that the composition of their Parish Council (PCC) is 13:3 female:male. If my PCC had such a skewed representation of the sexes but in the opposite direction, there'd be talk of "tokenism", people in the Deanery would be falling over themselves to call it "hideously male", and the Archdeacon would probably have been on the phone to give me a theological lecture about "the radical inclusiveness of the Gospel".

Catholic thoughts blogger said...

If I remember my history-reading correctly, the "feminization of religion" (eg women outnumbering men in churches, if not in authority positions) is something that's been going on since at least the 19th century, and probably from before that. (See Callum Brown's "The Death of Christian Britain".)

This isn't to say that the gender imbalance you talk about isn't a problem, but it's something with roots much deeper than the introduction of women priests.

Mark said...

You have 3 members of staff on your own website - both of the people concerned with the outward facing aspects of the church are female. I don't know who runs your First Holy Communion preparation or Baptism group but I imagine you'd be hard pressed to do it without women.
In the UK Parliament it was pointed out that whenever women took up more than 30% of the debating time the accusation was made that 'women were taking over'. Perhaps, in these days of declining religious practise, women are stepping into a breach prepared by hundreds of years of sermons extolling the place of Mary as the pre-eminent Christian?

Pastor in Valle said...

Mark: it's all pretty even, really, in our parish. In most walks of life women tend to do secretarial work; in parishes I think that it is mostly because the hours can be so flexible, which dovetails well with having a family. I suspect that this is the same reason ministry is so popular with Anglican women.

Fr William said...

Mark: As I pointed out, in the CofE parish in question the Parish Council is over 80% female. Whatever the underlying reasons, is that not a problem? Would it not be regarded as unhealthy if the PCC were over 80% male?

Pastor in Valle said...

Via email, 'Mike' comments:

“No doubt they would argue that men are perfectly free to participate if they want to—they just don't want to.”

Anybody suggesting out that the higher proportion of men in certain positions such as secondary headteachers, judges, senior executives, MPs, etc might possibly be due to a lack of interest among women would soon get short shrift from the equality brigade.
In the case of MPs, the Labour Government amended the equality legislation to allow ‘positive discrimination’: political parties giving women an advantage over men in getting selected as candidates. In every case where a group is under-represented (except males) there has to be some sort of policy to boost the number of people from that group. The police do it, the banks do it, the civil service do it, even educated fleas do it…..

John Ross Martyn said...

"The week's activities seemed to be focussed around things women find interesting: coffee mornings, mothers' and toddlers' groups, handicraft circles, that sort of thing." I wonder what the women doctors in the GP practice where I am registered would think of this. Or the women lawyers who are my professional colleagues. Or my wife!

Pastor in Valle said...

Point taken, and yet there are very many who do like that sort of thing. Which is why I likened it to a Women's Institute.