Active or Passive?

Here we go, here we go, here we go. (For those of you unfamiliar with football chants, there is a lot more of this one but you should have picked up the words by now.) Here are the calls to arms. Or more accurately, the calls to protest.

Change your avatar to wear a purple ribbon. Wear a purple ribbon. Dye your hair purple. Wear purple clothes. Wear purple nail varnish.Do nothing in church other than pray silently on 9th December if you are a woman. Wear an apron on 9th December if you are a woman. Join WATCH, join Reform, don’t join Foward in Faith by mistake. Make your voices heard.

Well, erm, actually, no. I have a voice here, and I have used it, and continue to do so. People in relationship with me, via this blog and by other means, know what I think, and how strongly I think it. I have had the opportunity to respond to an open letter from our Diocesan Officer for Women’s Ministry (sorry if I have got the title wrong) and I have taken that opportunity, in clear, frank terms. I will continue to offer my view as often as anyone will listen.

But I am a parish priest. I am here, paid by the Church of England not to work, so that I can minister here to anyone who wants me. And it is ministry that is called for, it is relationship that is called for, not overt symbols of my protests or grievances. I am called to listen, to be alongside, to articulate God in the here and now at every opportunity. I’m not called here to browbeat people about what to think on one issue. If I persuade them by my actions that the ministry of women is not something to fear, or from which to hide, then thank God for that. But how can I hope to engage with those who fear the ministry of women if I wear symbols of protest? It’s obvious enough I am a woman and that I am clergy, so for them to get within speaking/listening distance of me is hard enough already.  

I already wear quite a lot of purple. I have said for some years that I will dye my hair purple if I am ever enthroned as a bishop (yeah right – I don’t see it either!). I wear an apron when I cook or clean. I often go into churches and pray silently. I haven’t joined any church organisation (apart from the Rural Theology Association, which is ecumenical). I want to be able to minister to the people here as they deserve – as me, with my God given Claire shaped ministry. 

This of course lays me wide open to the charge of piggybacking on the efforts of others, of refusing to stand up and be counted, of taking advantage of those who protest. But I don’t think so. For some, visible mass protest is the fastest way of being heard. I am using other ways open to me, because they are what suit me. And I hope that others will benefit from my efforts, albeit on a much smaller scale. I believe that God is at work in the relationships, in the listening, that there is grace to be found in that.  

7 responses to “Active or Passive?

  1. 'God-given, Claire-shaped ministry'…absolutely! No need to storm the barricades, others not called to minister to others in the way that you are can do that. We need you to carry on with Claire-shaped ministry, and to keep right on till the end of the road too…:)

  2. Anyone who regularly reads your blog knows exactly where you stand on this, and anyone who sees you out and about in your ministry will know clearly what manner of priest you are.
    No need for public posturing. Leave that to those who have the time and the desire to be 'seen'.
    In other words be yourself. It works.

  3. I love the term 'Claire shaped ministry' perhaps we all need to develop our own shape and feel for the type of ministry we are privileged to serve in?

    I think that sometimes we get involved and we raise issues aloud, because the very real perception is that despite protestations to the contrary, the right people are not listening to us. And, the Church can seem unwilling to listen on some occasions.

    I'm happy to participate in things, to support action, because I feel that for me, standing on the side lines, waiting for things to be 'done to me' isn't what God is calling me to be. The call is to be radical, to work for change and to be part of his mission – which the church articulates, but people like you, Laura, Ray and others deliver on a daily basis. You, on a 24/7/364 basis.

    I'd love to be able to just 'be' but something inside me nags me to be more. That tiny, quiet voice which nudges us all in different ways. And, if I am uncomfortable with something,I'm afraid I find it hard to remain silent.

    All evil needs to succeed is a good man remaining silent (someone said). Obviously a different context, but there is so much that catches my attention, I find it difficult not to be involved.

    None of this is a criticism of you – I'd love to be like you, but it's not going to happen – so, I must do and offer what I can, when I can. Sad to say.

  4. I think there's room for both, Claire :)) You're already a living symbol of women's religious emancipation, but those of us who are not – like myself – also feel it's perfectly correct to wear another kind of symbol and to join appropriate organisations as stated to say: here I stand, I can do no more.

    So, definitely room for an Anne-shaped response too! :)) xxx

  5. Most definitely room for ministries which are Anne-shaped! (Not to mention Laura, Ernie and Ray-shaped too)
    I couldn't possibly lay claim to my own shape so confidently were it not for all the other shapes and approaches – they ALL have a place, and we all use those ways which fit us best – which is as it should and must be 🙂 xx

  6. This is a challenging post for me Claire.

    I’m still battling the ghost of my mother (member of MOW, Diocesan Synod member, probably failed to get on General Synod because she was very open about what she thought should happen.) Part of my current ‘struggle’ re: female bishops, is actually to be clear and coherent enough in my own thoughts so as to be able to know, and express what I think, but also to admit the part my mother unwittingly played in my own calling to the priesthood. I know that ‘joining the club’ and ‘flying the flag’ is part of that struggle; seeking the facts of what happens is just part of that. I will probably continue to veer a little towards ‘mums way of doing things’ whilst healing 16 years of trying to avoid it all costs, before finding something more truly ‘Rachel-shaped’ in the future. It is the wisdom of those around me, like your good self, that is contributing to this particular struggle and journey. Thanks for ‘keeping me honest’ on the road.

    • I think it’s challenging all of us. I’m still very conflicted between my belief that a single measure is the best way forward in the long term, and my conversation in the Cathedral with a man deeply grieved by the presence of ordained women. I don’t have a good answer, but have concluded that for me to function as a parish priest I can’t join campaigns. But I think the secret is for us all to find and follow the right route for us – having the grace to acknowledge that we are all working to the same end.

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