The Numbers Game

All statistics are as I recall them, I haven’t looked any up, sorry, sloppy research, but I won’t be extrapolating any conclusions off these numbers.  Just don’t go quoting them anywhere.  My own numbers however are accurate, and relate to one year as a Priest.

Numbers either matter or they don’t.  Church attendance down by xx% since 1950, cathedral attendance up by z% in five years, 37 weddings this year compared to 30 last year, and so on.  We are expected to take our numbers seriously in the Church of England.  Including the 3% or so who have asked for alternative Episcopal oversight under the current rules. 

I’m a number too.  I’m one of the female priests in the Church of England.  And I’d like to quote a couple of my numbers at you.

People who walked out of the first service of Holy Communion I presided at (my First Presidency) – one.
People who stay in the pew when I preside at Holy Communion – three.
People to whom I do not take Holy Communion at home, because they do not accept the ministry of women – four.
Number of conversations when a funeral director phones while with the family “oh, Claire, right, can [insert name of male priest here] take a funeral on ….oh, he can’t, no no, don’t you worry about it it’s fine. Um no, really, don’t worry about it” – three

Amount of pain when I try to model the hospitality of God, and that hospitality is rejected – sorry, numbers don’t describe it.

Pain felt by someone who tries to accept the hospitality of God and then can’t?  Oddly enough I do understand something of that, from attending RC Mass fairly regularly as a known Anglican in years past.  It’s horrible, like watching a great family meal through a window.  So I do get something of the pain of those who cannot accept the priesthood of women.  But not properly.  Having hospitality withheld from you is different from having it offered and being unable to accept.  So I can’t quite make the final empathetic leap.

But either way, numbers don’t measure hurt and pain.  And the only possible healing comes not from solving an equation, but flows from God’s love.

This comes with prayers for everyone at General Synod this July.  


11 responses to “The Numbers Game

  1. It's a long hard road, but big hugs from me … BTW I only ever walk out of services run by men – they say such ridiculous things!!


  2. I'm shocked how deep seated is our culture that colludes with, if not stoking up, disrespect for women as full human beings. If the Church nationally just rolls over and joins in, whilst covering its traces with a few thin figleaves, it's hardly surprising people don't receive us as good news.

  3. Thanks so much for your comment, Bishop Alan. I agree, and am (with an awful lot of people) praying for you and all synod members this week.

  4. Claire – this is a beautifully expressed post, which is rather like being punched in the solar plexus. The contrast between dry statistics and real pain is so marked.

    I am beginning to see that even the lesser degree of pain that I suffered when I was leading worship (as a lay person), which I had assumed was because of my personal failings, probably was also a reflection of the larger difficulties that all women face in such a position. I salute your courage and pray that, with the leadership of bishops like Bishop Alan, the Church may yet set in motion what is needed to put things right.

  5. I wasn't trying to punch you Laura! Thank you.
    It is very easy to assume that people do as they do because of “me”, whereas reality is I think different. It is also difficult when people experience the ministry of just one person – someone could easily meet me, detest my style, and use that experience to explain why they “don't do women priests” whereas if they meet a male priest who doesn't suit them, they don't jump to the similar conclusion.

    You are one of the brave who stand up to be counted – don't sit down!

  6. What interesting statistics. The pain is shared by laity also! I have many scars to prove it! The joy in the journey is the challenge of every Christian, to show the love of Christ daily in my walk and interaction with others. Personality issues are of course, part of the package. In my interaction with male and female priests there are examples of both gender who did not “suit” and some I have definitely walked away from. As a lay minister there are situations where I preach and can sense the tension in the congregation (because it's a woman leading) so far no tomatoes thrown yet! It's ultimately a walk of integrity to answer God's call and courage to face those who may not like it. Let's face it, Jesus met many of those, I suppose why should we expect any thing different? Except we have a comfort “In this world you will have many troubles, but take courage I have overcome the world!” Jn 16:33

  7. Perhaps, Claire – but when (admittedly they were a new vicar but even so …) they start saying that people aren't healed because we don't pray enough or those who are sick aren't good enough to be healed – and in front of our saint-like organist whose wife died very painfully from cancer the year before – then I'm afraid all my sympathies rather suddenly disappear …


  8. I have horrid scars from “so sorry your Mum died, what a pity you didn't pray harder”, even after 23 years; would never wish to imply that prayer makes everything “right” or “better”, just that it's better to pray than not pray. What to pray is of course a different question. Xxx

  9. I wanted to punch the LIKE button but there wasn't one. So I'll just have to post a 'hear here' (sic) here. Don't you love the phrase 'I feel your pain'? (not). Interestingly, I feel that most opposition (to any change) comes from those who have not experienced it 'done well' – even by traditional means (i.e. they are often already dissatisfied by what they have but afraid to change) – but my field is Diversity in welfare/wellbeing, not theology so I'm (also as a man) well unqualified to comment.

    Mark (J)

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