Ruth Gledhill: General Synod Day 2
General Synod Day Two
Canon Jane Hedges, the first woman to serve as a residentiary canon at Britain’s best known former Benedictine enclave, Westminster Abbey, is one of 20 female cathedral canons in England. There are a further nine female archdeacons and two women deans. There are also dozens of able women serving as Team Rectors, Vicars and curates, in total 2,000 parish priests. Considering it is just 12 years since Jane was among the first women ordained in 1994, this is not bad progress. But it will start to look bad if they cannot go any further. Jane spoke to me yesterday about her work, which is as Canon Steward. This is a pastoral role dating from the Abbey’s time as a monastery, when the monk steward would look after visitors and ensure they received spiritual and nutritional sustenance. No-one in the Church likes being highlighted by us in the media as potential bishop material, but with her pastoral, admin and leadership experience, Jane has got to be up there with June Osborne and Vivienne Faull, Deans of Salisbury and Leicester. She is also a role model for women in other ways. Her husband Chris was an engineer but became a house-husband when their two sons were little. When they began a school, he became a teaching assistant and enjoyed it so much he retrained as a teacher. He is about to start work next term as the new science teacher at Westminster choir school.
As Christina Rees, chair of Women and the Church, says: “Although bishops are appointed from priests, and most Anglicans would see the role of bishop as being an extension of the role of priest, it has taken until now for the matter to be decided.
“It’s not as if there are no women who could do the job. Of the 2000 clergywomen currently ministering in the Church, a number have been appointed to senior positions, with many having previously occupied senior positions in other fields such as law, education, business and science. So what has held them back? Or, more to the point, what has held the Church back from reaching this moment only now?
“Reflecting back on the resistance encountered to women’s ordination in the early 1970’s, Monica Furlong, a leading campaigner, wrote in ‘A Dangerous Delight, “Attempting modestly to catch a small fish – that is, to get women ordained – we were astounded to discover that we had got Leviathan at the end of the line, that unwittingly we had reached into the very depths of the malaise not merely of the Church but of society itself.” The murky Leviathan is visible as the largely unacknowledged sexism in our society and in the Church.
“Some good churchmen (and women) from the tiny minority that still believe God has a special relationship with men, will insist that their convictions have nothing to do with sexism, and that their arguments are drawn from the classic three-legged stool of Scripture, Tradition and Reason.
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