Saturday, October 04, 2008

Women, the Conscience of the Church?

This morning I drove north about an hour to attend the Diocesan Convention for the Episcopal Church Women (ECW). Our Bishop and his wife were scheduled to speak about the recent Lambeth Conference. (Lambeth is a conference held every 10 years, convened by the Archbishop of Canterbury and held in England. Lambeth Conference is non-governing entity, intended for study and fellowship). This was the second time I have heard the Bishop speak about his experience there and I am getting the impression that it was, perhaps, a real eye-opener for him.

The Bishop and his wife spoke of their experience of the small group work, a Bible study held every morning of those three weeks, except Sunday. After the Bible study (done Lectio Divina method) the small groups would talk and share stories. One of the things that made this year different is that the Bishop spouses, 98% of whom are women, were also invited into Bible study. It seems the Janie Williams, wife of the current Archbishop of Canterbury (Rowan Williams) wanted the women, the spouses, to do more than the usual shopping trips and visits to gardens. She wanted the women to participate in Lambeth. And so they did.

The remarkable thing that came out of this, and the message the Bishop gave to the ECW was this: he came to believe that the women at Lambeth were the conscience of the conference, the conscience of the church. The presence of women, studying and sharing stories, prevented the men from wandering off into intellectual arenas of theory, doctrine, and dogma. The women kept the men connected to the real world and the real problems. It was a call to realize that human sexuality issues are taking way too much time while human tragedies of poverty, hunger, and violence are being ignored.

At one point in the conference the two groups, the men and the women, gathered in one large Bible study to consider the issue of "Power." The used the scripture reading from 2 Samuel on the rape of Tamar. To do this study the group was organized with women on one side of the room and men on the other. It was done this way so that the women could speak freely and safely. Some of the women in that Bible study are in marital relationships of abuse. They would not speak freely if they were at a table with men. It seems this Bible study was very powerful in the context of human sharing.

It also seems that some folks couldn't take it. For one reason or another 120 male Bishops left that tent and Bible study. Not a single woman left. This count was verified by the people who "guarded" the doors.

Who knows why the men left...perhaps they were bored. Perhaps they did not see the value in this kind of conversation. Perhaps some of them are the abusers.

From this the Bishop asked the ECW to go back to their churches and become the conscience of the church. To speak up and keep us focused on relationships not dogma, on real people not hypothetical idea, and on the "heart" of compassion in such a way as to keep us from being lost in the "head" by over-intellectualizing real life issues.

I've been writing a lot about leadership. I haven't said much about women's leadership, although being a woman, I have done a lot to understand how it is that women lead differently than (most) men. I've had to do this kind of work in order to understand who I am and why I do things one way, even when common business practice might point to another way.


Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

120 men walked out. That statistic saddens me so much. Gender differences aside, until we come to a place in which those with status and power are willing to hear the pain of those who are abused or oppressed or just plain shout out of power, we will have a hard time building any communion worth the name.

Rev SS said...

Amen RHC!

RevDrKate said...

Interesting. Heard a lot about the GBD at Lambeth from our Bp...but not about this. Thanks for sharing it.

Real Live Preacher said...

This has been true for so long. Women have made up a huge part of the emotional and physical energy of the church. Even in denominations that do not allow them formal positions of ministry. In the Baptist world, about the time the professors and leaders were asking if women should pursue seminary degrees and what jobs would they find if they did, the numbers of men applying dropped. and the numbers of women applying shot up. Women, throwing themselves into the degree with no guarantee of employment, just for the desire of it.

You can't stop that kind of thing, which makes me believe it is a movement of God.

Homily for the Festive Eucharist at the closing of the Episcopal Women's Caucus

The readings that we chose for the service tonight were all picked specifically for this service because they lift up the role of women ...