Saturday, March 21, 2009

Women in Religious Leadership


I had remarked to someone a couple of weeks ago that the Reformed faith seems so ~ masculine ~ to me ~ so male-oriented in language, liturgy, experience ~ and that it had occurred to me that the Roman Catholic church, despite its rejection of women in the roles of priests and deacons, has a strong sense of female spirituality, fostered no doubt by the attentiveness paid to Mary and by the prominence of women saints, many of whom were emphatically determined administrators, scholars, healers, and educators.

As I spend this week-end co-directing a retreat at which I am the only Protestant on the premises (one of the reasons I was asked to come was that last year about 25% of the retreatants were Protestant -- but apparently they didn't return!), the reality of the official Catholic take on women is painfully apparent. Several of the women have asked me about the ordination of women in the Presbyterian church -- they are accustomed to and expect limitations. A couple of stories have surfaced about women doing parish work equivalent to that of men on parish staffs, but being refused appropriate titles and acknowledgment. And as it was announced that there would be a mass this afternoon, I was reminded of the words of a Jesuit in a book on spiritual direction, describing women with whom he meets who are called to the priesthood but precluded due to their gender -- how, for instance, they run retreats and then have to invite a priest to drop by to say mass, a priest who has no connection to the experience or community of the reteatants.

I was reminded of reading of a new priest's excitement about saying mass for a community of nuns and thinking: they could say their own mass, couldn't they?


Sophia said...

Oh, yeah, that's reality. Import-a-priest was what my nun friends in grad school called it.

Itw was mine for years, and still, in a way, since converts are suspect in diocesan ordination processes and I was recently told to maybe ask again in ten years. The retreat this morning was fantastic (thanks for the prayers and good wishes btw). But it would have been even better with a closing Eucharist, and being able to offer confession as well as spiritual direction and healing prayer. No clergy were available, and even though the BCP allows for lay confessors with a different prayer in place of absolution, my rector isn't comfortable with my doing that.

I have often talked about the catch 22 of female centered spirituality without ministry opportunities with one of my ordinands. She sometimes attends a TEC parish and more often, quietly, the local RC one. I'd be thrilled if she could go TEC or UCC or something and get a paying and socially accepted ministry job-- but she also has a strong divine feminine orientation, which is just too starved in those contexts.

Betsy said...

Quite a few years ago I led a retreat of women from my Episcopal parish. We went to an Episcopal convent where the sacramental ministry of ordained women was not welcome. So, on Sunday morning, the nuns arranged for an imported priest, a man who could barely keep his eyes open and appeared hardly aware of his surroundings...instead of my being able to celebrate with the women who knew me and whom I loved. I was struck at the time that this must be how some of my Roman Catholic friends felt.