Women’s World Day of Prayer – Updated

I’m off to the Churches Together Service for the Women’s World Day of Prayer in a few minutes.  And I feel really ambivalent about it.  Part of me feels very strongly that we shouldn’t need services like this.  Women are 50 % (ish) of the world population, we are part of normal life, we shouldn’t have to devote one particular day to praying with and for each other.  By having this day, does it in some way emphasise our difference rather than our common humanity? (huwomanity??)

I know that many women are not heard, in church and outside.  I know that women are attacked physically and verbally by their families and by their cultures – wherever they live.  I know that equality is an ideal for which to strive, not a living reality.  I know that this inequality needs to be prayed about.  But you could substitute so many labels for “women”.  What about LGBT?  Disabled?  Mentally Ill?  Old?  Young?  Dare I say it, men?

The other reasons I am uneasy are more to do with our service locally.  There will be very few men present, if any.  A couple of local church leaders may attend.  So this service will serve to remind women of other women, but it isn’t going to bring any issues or prayer to the other 50% of the population.  The service is “always done like this” even though it happens in different churches each year.  So the same people always attend.  I will probably be one of the youngest people there (and I was born before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, so outside church I don’t qualify as young).  We aren’t even reaching our young women who need to hear and share their stories. We aren’t even getting to a representative sample of our 50%.  

The last reason is personal to me and has to do with the actual service.  As a Church of England priest, I lead services regularly.  I write them now and again.  I’ve been taught quite a lot about how to do this in a way with is theologically acceptable to my church, and accessible to people.  So it comes hard to be handed a booklet, to be told to lead, but to have to make sure I actually read what is written, without omission, addition, repetition, deviation.  I recognise that having a prepared service is a wonderful gift, and I am thankful that I don’t have to prepare one from scratch with the aid of some research materials.  But it’s stressful to know I have to present word for word what is on the sheet.

On the other hand, it’s lovely to be working with people from other church traditions.  Having trained ecumenically, I miss the other rich strands of Christianity – and this afternoon I look forward to embracing those strands with my sisters.

I’ll let you know how it went – but am I the only one thinking these things?    


Well, I’m back now, and the service was what it was.  We had over 30 women, and 1 man, my age prediction was correct, but those present seemed to get something from it.  And while they do, I guess it will continue.  I agree with Sheena’s word “anachronistic” – so is there any way we should try to do something similar/different for our own generation?  Given it felt more like an awareness raising session than a service, should we be doing the equivalent at all, or do we already get plenty of opportunities to participate in social justice work?  Social justice, cases of injustice, are hard to avoid in these days of SocMed and 24 hour news.  Does it matter if we respond individually, or as individual groups of people?  

8 responses to “Women’s World Day of Prayer – Updated

  1. Hah! I am so with you, sister! And I was going to blog this but you have said everything I was going to say, so I won't bother! It feels a bit anachronistic and a bit like women are ghettoised in this service. Shouldn't men also want to pray about things that concern women?
    We had two men there and a few women younger than me (shock, horror!), but the congregation was, by and large the same as last year, and judging by the conversation before and after, it was the same people as had attended for many years.
    I can't decide whether I want to take charge of this and shake it up or not. Ambivalence is the order of the day here too!

  2. I'm with you!

    I thought about to my local one, but it was done in the afternoon when I was at work… I would've lowered the age range. But, I'm also beginning to feel as a single, middle aged woman, who isn't around during the working week, very invisible in church.

  3. This is the second year that I have attended the Women's World Day of Prayer service, this year from choice. Last year it was held at the church I attend so the congregation was asked to support the service.

    The service started at 10.30, finished at 11.45 which I felt was a bit long. The choice of hymns was good, but there were too many. It did seem odd to be singing “The day thou gavest Lord is ended” at 11.30 in the morning although I can see why it was chosen as somewhere the day was ending.

    I didn't see why 'Stories from our society' were included when the focus was on Malaysia, nor why the Suffragette movement and the Ford strike were used as examples. About ten years ago a young girl in the company where I worked went on 'holiday' to Bangladesh, returned married but without husband who joined her here once the documentation was arranged. She had no choice, accepted this was how life was for her, and was so glad her first child was a boy. These are the women for whom justice needs to prevail.

    I hadn't realised it was an ecumenical service until I was chatting with some one who said she belonged to our local Baptist church. We have a strong Churches Together movement in this urban village, there have been joint Lent courses in the past too so no one is always sure who worships where. (Hope that makes sense) Today's was an older congregation, many of whom I recognised but that may have been because I used to accompany my husband to Deanery Synod.

    As some one who is struggling with worship at my local church I found some areas of the service thought provoking, the experience left me feeling spiritually refreshed for the rest of the day.

    On a very frivolous note, the cakes were yummy and the Fairtrade coffee was excellent.

  4. Thanks very much to Sheena, Moyra and PixieMum for comments – much appreciated.

    Moyra – I agree that the timing of the service automatically excludes many people who might otherwise attend. I'd also love to know how we can make sure you aren't invisible. As someone who spent a long time on the edge of church, I am wary of asking those who work to do much, because time is so precious – would it help to be asked to be involved more?

    PixieMum, thanks for your thoughtful reflection – I agree with you so much about the length of the service, and the examples from our society. Your story about arranged marriage has more relevance today than the suffragettes – however much we appreciate what they did for us. I'm glad that you were able to take spiritual refreshment (and physical refreshment too!). Are you able to say any more about which bits of the service were particularly helpful? it would be useful to know – especially if I get bolshie and suggest some variations!

    I've been doing a bit of reading about the history of WWDOP, and it really took off in the 1930's. Catholic involvement became more viable after Vatican II. And I can't find any evidence of substantial change since the 1980's. That last point might be the issue.

  5. I've already explained to my clergy why I can't be any more involved than Sunday attendance for now, so no, being asked would be supremely unhelpful.

    I am quite bothered by how activism has taken over in churches, and we're only valid members of the church when we're “involved” and “doing”. Right now, I want to go to church to pray..

  6. @ Moyra, sorry, was thinking generally – obviously if I know what people want already because they've told me, I shouldn't be asking 🙂
    Praying is the most important doing that there is, and people who “only” pray are the bedrock of church. However, they are often not the most visible people, because they aren't bounding about going to meetings, being on display doing stuff. It makes it even more important that we cherish our pray-ers. Finding the right way of cherishing each one is the tricky bit – one person's lovely chat is another's intrusive grilling…

  7. Claire, I think it was not just the content of the service but its unfamiliarity so that concentration was required. The Voices seeking justice in Malaysia on page 7 emphasized to me that women, and indeed all Christians have the same concerns.

    Today, at a monthly prayer and meditation service I concentrated on the words and the symbolism that was explained by our Reader, but when I attend Holy Communion (Mass at our Anglican church) for me there is no longer spirituality. It is a ceremony yes, familiar, yet no joyfulness (leaving aside the seasons of Advent & Lent), a feeling that many attend because it is their turn on the rota for Intercessions, coffee, sidesman etc. or they wish their children to obtain a place at the primary or secondary C of E schools.

    When I don't attend on a Sunday it is because I just don't feel like going, nor do I regret staying away, yet services like last Friday's, today's quiet meditations and prayer and sometimes at Home Group, (even with York courses!) help my struggle as a Christian.

    Maybe it is me, older, more time to reflect, who is having more doubts, especially about the man made church with its myriad rules and regulations, cliques and the concern about buildings, finance, committees and hierarchies that are in the way of worship and practical Christianity.

    Maybe I should go to another Quaker meeting for worship again.

    Sorry if this is personal so not a good feedback on the WWDOP. Next year, slightly shorter service so fewer hymns and all the life experiences just from France.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s