Women Clergy – Victims or Victors
Prejudice and discrimination is alive and well in our society. Unfortunately, it also flourishes in the Church where it makes many people, especially women priests, into victims. In my mind, this is the one institution where we should be able to operate freely without prejudice and discrimination. It is the one place where ministers of the Gospel should be victors instead of victims. We should enjoy acceptance in the Church just as Jesus accepted all people, especially women, during his earthly ministry.
In my positions as a municipal employee, I encountered some initial hostility by the men I worked with until I proved myself worthy. Serving in these positions, I was holding jobs for which I had no previous experience and for which I had received no formal training. In one case my job was unique placing me in a pay grade that had always paid men in a highly technical position. So, some skepticism was understandable. In both cases, once I showed I was capable and more than willing to learn and to pull my weight, these men accepted and respected me.
My experience as an ordained woman in the Episcopal Church was similar. I found such acceptance to be spotty at best, mostly conditional, and at the worst, just the opposite. Generally speaking, I found neither total acceptance nor respect by the majority of people I worked with or the members to whom I ministered.
In the ordination process, there were people in authority over me and my standing within the process. Along with them, there were also people in the pews who fell into five general categories:
Totally accepting and supportive – These were few and far between. They tended to be people who blindly supported the equality of women in every facet of life. Also, there were those who had thoughtfully and prayerfully considered the ordination of women. They had come to the conclusion that it was part of God’s plan for the Church. Many times they also tended to be vocal in their acceptance and in their support of individual women whom they thought were suitable for ordination.
Accepted the idea but with reservations – There were many good church people who wouldn’t dream of being prejudiced against women or any other group. They called themselves supporters of women’s ordination. These people were inwardly unsure of the wisdom of upsetting the Church’s traditional hierarchy. They were also somewhat protective of their own comfort zone with women functioning in a traditional male role on a spiritual level.
Accepted the person’s qualifications but not the concept of women in ordained ministry – Many were often heard to say, after an encounter with an ordained woman, “I don’t think much of the ordination of women, but Xxxxx Xxxxx is OK.”
Rejected the idea of women’s ordination, but were open to change – These were also thoughtful and prayerful church people who just were not able to accept a female in spiritual authority. They usually were uncomfortable with women functioning as priests (celebrating the Eucharist, absolving sins, and pronouncing God’s blessing). Most were willing to discuss it rationally.
Totally rejected the possibility that women could function as priests – Many in this category were hostile, either openly or passive-aggressively. Most refused to accept a woman’s ordination as valid. Interestingly, there were many clergy in this category. There still are a good number of Episcopal clergy who will refuse to accept communion from a woman.
During my journey through the ordination process, I encountered people in some or all of the above categories. The most difficult to deal with were the people who had no rational reason for rejecting women as priests. They just couldn’t “deal with it.” I found many women in this category. Their questions were many times strident and pointed: “Why can’t you do ministry in the church as a lay person like I do?” “Why do you feel like you have to be ordained?” “Who will take care of your child while you’re in seminary or running out in the middle of the night for pastoral emergencies?”
Have you encountered these folks in your own journey? Did you ever feel personal pain from such words, even when uttered by a friend or family member? Have you experienced this as you dealt with clergy and bishops who could not accept your call or your ordained status? Write to me with your experiences – I’ve found some healing in sharing such moments with others. I have also found ways to co-exist with the prejudice and discrimination of women clergy in the church.
Also, I hope you enjoy my memoir entitled “Lady Father,” in which I detail my experiences, good and bad, as a priest of the Church. It’s my journey of how I moved from “Victim” to “Victor.” “Lady Father” is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other distributors.
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Susan Bowman, is an ordained Episcopal Priest, a Grandmother, and a Professional Writer. She was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1986. Her memoir is a story that will speak to all women who are functioning in a traditionally male role. She has written a book about her experiences of discrimination within the church’s ordination process and in the parishes she served. It is now available for purchase on Amazon.com. Fill out the form below to enter contact information securely and check out her Facebook page at https://facebook.com/ladyfather.
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