Gathering Women

Just as the world is divided along gender lines; so the Christian world is divided as to whether single-sex gatherings are a good idea. Some men might scorn a curry and football night, while many women would run in the opposite direction from a women’s prayer breakfast hosted by someone clad in a twinset and pearls. [In fact, there was an interesting debate to this effect on Dave Walker’s blog some time ago.] 
Personally, I love a good women’s gathering (it’ll be that single-sex education/Guide career kicking in again). I like being in a safe-space to discuss issues relating to women (no, I don’t mean Mooncups) and being amongst women who are facing similar questions and dilemmas in life. At my last church, I liked that they weren’t pink and fluffy (both the event and the women) and that it was a rare chance to be lead in worship by someone who sang in a key I could sing in too. However, I draw the line at female events where there is a plethora of pink, pearls and pashminas and where I’ll learn how to support my husband in his ministry. Ergh. 
Fortunately, the women’s gathering for which I gave up my Saturday involved no pink fluffiness. (There were pashminas, but only because the church was so flipping cold!) It brought together Christian women in leadership – it wasn’t just vicars (in fact they were in the minority), or even those in leadership of churches – all sorts of women in leadership roles were there. We weren’t there to men bash, or to stir up a feminist revolution; it was simply about networking, discussing what works against women in the world (including women themselves), the theology of women in leadership and being in solidarity with one another. 
During the day, I found myself re-telling the story I told in a blogpost written nearly a year ago, about how I was increasingly having to label myself and act more like a feminist – particularly since starting ordination training in the Church of England. Little has changed since that post was written. I still find myself banging the drum for women at college and in the CofE and just yesterday, I had to point out to a colleague that the ‘girls’ on staff were just as capable of moving chairs as the ‘boys’ on the team he’d asked to help (clearly I need to show him photos of me building scaffolding). Certain male colleagues have also worked out that ironic sexist comments are a sure fire way of winding me up – and thus make them on a regular basis. I ask the questions that enable men in leadership to realise that a simple tradition (like men serving the bread and women serving the wine at communion in our church) actually appears to undermine women in leadership (as a result,  last week’s female servers were specifically asked to do it). Most of all, I’m intentionally seeking out women who are also fighting their corner who I can learn from and be in solidarity with – so this gathering was ideal. 
I met some fabulous women who are already friends and made some new ones too. I made a connection with a fellow vicar-in-training who’s training with a good chum of mine. Tweeters were identified and inspiring stories heard – oh, and the sauna dilemma was discussed with amusement. Most of all, I realised yet again that I’m not alone in a world that can often seem entirely dominated by men. I could wax lyrical about the specific nature of the discussions and presentations (which were great) but the best thing about the day was the people, their stories and their willingness to share them. Whether these women would have been happy to share them in a mixed context is an interesting question – I suspect some would have been reticent – which is why such gatherings are really important.
It struck me at the end of the day that my feminist rant of a post last year was inspired by something Jenny Baker had written, so it seems only appropriate that she – along with Wendy Beech-Ward – were to thank for getting these women together. If you’re a woman in leadership and want to get involved in the next gathering, let me know…

Comments

  1. When at a cafe a few months ago I overheard a fascinating conversation between some kind of church elder and a (female) vicar-in-training about potential parishes for her. It was really interesting to hear how they were both aware that some parishes wouldn’t welcome a female vicar (and she was also black, which apparently made her doubly shocking) and whether it was a good idea to send her to one of those parishes anyway, to open up their minds, or to send her somewhere more…welcoming. I’m curious what they decided in the end.

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