As the days of waiting lengthened to learn the results of that application it seemed like a good idea to begin a second written response. It got interrupted by the the need to fight the late term abortion bill before state parliament with both prayer and words. But it finally got finished today.
Example of a written response to a Plenary Council Theme 6 submission (2)
Excerpt from a parishioner in Parramatta Diocese:
"The exclusion of women from ministry and leadership roles cannot be supported theologically and should be one of the first changes introduced."
Women by virtue of the gift of baptism are as much children of God and heirs to the promise of eternal life as baptised men are, and upon them the promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit applies, 'In the days to come-it is the Lord who speaks-I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind. Their sons and daughters shall prophecy, your young men shall see visions your old men shall dream dreams. Even on the slaves, men and women, in those days, I will pour out My Spirit.' Joel 3:1-2, Acts 2:17-18
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit has a double impact upon us; to make us grow in holiness that we may love God with all of our hearts, minds, soul and strength; and to make us grow in missionary service that we may love our neighbour as ourselves. The purpose of the diversity of charisms that the Holy Spirit gives for missionary service are 'so that the saints together make a unity in the work of service, building up the body of Christ' Eph 4:12
The forms that missionary service takes are full of variety, catechists, healers, hospitality, preaching, teaching, evangelising, intercession, administration, musicianship, works of mercy, service to the poor, service to the sick, discipleship, prophecy, deliverance, miracles, and many others. Of those many forms service in ordained ministry is only one, one that holds the others in unity, but only one out of a vast multiplicity.
If you walk into an average parish you are likely to see women in the music ministry as organists, cantors and choir members; women doing much of the behind the scenes sacristy work (preparing for and cleaning up after Masses, baptisms, funerals etc, ironing vestments and altar linens, flower arranging, making sure the place has enough altar wine, altar breads, charcoal, incense, toilet paper etc), women doing the 1st reading or 2nd reading at Mass, women as part of the welcoming teams, women in the piety stalls, women involved with children's liturgy of the word ;women taking Holy Communion to the sick and house-bound. In an average parish if all the women went on strike things would be very dire indeed. This doesn't even take into account all the 'non-visible-at-Mass' ways that women serve, for example in baptismal preparation classes and sacramental programs for confirmation, penance and first Holy Communion, in RCIA teams (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) and RCIC teams (Rite of Christian Initiation for Children), on parish councils, in church cleaning teams, as catechists in schools, in counting the collection teams, in folding the parish bulletin teams, in praying the Rosary in common before or after Mass, and in providing food for all the 'bring a plate to share' social events, and in various fund raising events for the upkeep of parish buses and sending the youngsters off to World Youth Day. And that is only some of the 'non-visible-at-Mass' ways that women are serving God and neighbour through their parish communities.
Is this ministry, if you define ministry as service? Yes.
Is it ordained ministry? No.
Are women leading some of these non-ordained ministries? Yes.
Have they stepped up to these roles because the blokes didn't? Probably.
Do they get any real recognition for what they do? Maybe if they have served a long time and then retire (or die) there might be a small token of appreciation given, but otherwise they only get recognition (the negative kind) when they stuff up.
Above and beyond ministry to parish, is the calling of women to minister service in families, as daughters, wives, mothers, grandmothers and aunties. The majority of this is service hidden from public view, for which the fruits take a very long time to manifest. It is as slow and imperceptible as seeds turning into plants. It is full of work that is essential, because it invests in people, but there's nothing outwardly to show for it except that those under your care are still alive, more or less clean, more or less sane, clothed and fed; which is vastly different to men who can point to objective things as the fruits of their labour (houses built, contracts exchanged, machines repaired, holes dug etc). It is as Chesterton says, the call of women to be everything to someone, which balances the call of men to be the same thing (plumber, architect, banker, telescope maker) to everyone.
We do have to ask ourselves sincerely whether our homes are the domestic churches they are called by God to be, or have they become domestic airports where travellers flit in and out on their way to other destinations? If the latter, how to we get back on God's track? How do we stop the devaluation of ministry service in the home, and start publicly valuing it and honouring the self-sacrifice that it requires again?
What did the early Church do with regard to leadership, as defined by decision making? According to Acts 15:5-6 the apostles and elders met together to determine whether it was God's will that the pagan men who became Christians were required to be circumcised. This is the same book of the Bible that specifically mentions that women disciples and the Mother of Jesus were in the upper room praying with the apostles for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This means that their non-mention in Acts 15:5-6 is significant because the writer of Acts goes to great lengths to name women as often as possible (for example Lydia, Sapphira, Tabitha/Dorcas, Mary the mother of John Mark, Rhoda, Damaris, Priscilla, Phillip's four daughters, Drusilla, Bernice). At the time of Acts 15:5-6 many of those women of the upper room would have still been alive and active in the Jerusalem community. What are we to conclude from this? That either Peter and the apostles based their leadership decision making model on the Jewish model – which was itself biblical, or Jesus had given specific post-Resurrection pre-Ascension instructions to the apostles about this, or both.
Thus the subsequent conclusion is that there is no theological basis for leadership (decision making) in the church for including women. It may offend our modern democratic sympathies, but when it comes to the kingdom of God, the will of God is supreme. We don't have to like it or understand it, but we do have to trust in it and accept it.
A very good resource for the scriptural basis of gender roles is Stephen B. Clark's 'Man and Woman in Christ: An examination of the roles of men and women in the light of Scripture and the Social Sciences'. It is expensive, but comprehensive and worth every penny
One of the points he makes is that charisms are given to all, but the size of the arena for the use of those charisms are different between men and women. For women it is more likely to be one on one, or one on few; for men it is likely to be much larger.
What matters is that we are available to God for however He wants to work through us. A story, the origins of which I have been as yet unable to remember, may make this clearer. It goes something like this: A youth minister was doing preparation for a talk he was going to give at the next youth group meeting. He was really feeling the impetus of the Holy Spirit behind the preparation. But when it came time for the youth group meeting, only one person showed up. Not wanting to waste this great material on one person, he decided to shelve the talk until next time when there should be more youngsters to give it to. However a few days later he heard from other sources a bit of the background to the life of that one person who showed up, and realised that God had prepared that talk specifically for the one youngster that had shown up. This led the youth minister into a time of repentance, and a resolution to always give the talk God had given him to give, no matter if it was only for one. He concluded, sometimes God wants to do everything just to reach the one, and none of us should stand in the way of God's plans, and that the value of what we do in His name doesn't depend on the size of the audience we see but on our obedience to His promptings.
We read in the account of the garden of Eden (Gen 3:1-7) that God had given all the fruit of the trees in the garden for Adam and Eve to eat, all except one of them, and that eating of this forbidden tree would have very bad consequences. You could see in this account an analogy, where the trees are the various ministries of service that are possible, all except the tree of ordained ministry which the woman is instructed not to eat from. As in Eden, this is still a test of trust, love and obedience, and the temptations are many to eat of the forbidden tree. Just as in Eden we have two choices, we can focus on the forbidden tree and sit and mope and complain about the forbidden tree, or we can turn around and look at all the other trees, rejoice and thank God for their goodness and His providence, and perhaps while exploring them find some amazing gifts from God among those other trees that He has hidden for us to seek and find.
St Paul tells us in 1 Cor 12:22 that it is precisely the parts of the body of Christ that seem to be the weakest which are the indispensable ones. You could make the case that the external parts of the body mirror the ministry of men, and that the internal parts of the body mirror the ministry of women, because so much of the ministry of women takes place in hiddenness; cooking, cleaning, nurturing, listening, praying, offering up suffering, consoling etc. A body can still live if it is blind, lame, dumb, hard of hearing, unable to speak or smell, taste, feel or move. But a body cannot live if any of the heart, lungs, stomach, kidneys and intestines fail. So it stands to reason that if you want to destroy the body of Christ, then you work on the women and tempt them away from living out God's plan for them (Feminism). Conversely, if you want the body of Christ to return to health, getting the internal organs to function better is the essential first step. Do this and the rest of the body will get stronger and healthier.
However lest we glorify leadership too much, let us be reminded of Jotham's fable in Judges Chapter 9 of the trees meeting together to elect a king. In that fable the olive tree, the fig tree and the grape vine all refuse the kingship when they realise that to accept leadership they will have to give up the useful things they are actually good at. In the end the thorn bush accepts leadership because it wasn’t positively productive for anything else. Even in our own day we experience that to lead means to surrender the front line work to others, in order to serve the workers in the front lines. If you love the front line work, then you resist 'promotion' to leadership. If God wants to keep His women at the front lines, in hands on personal ministry to others, because that is where they are most effective, who are we to argue?
The only leadership that matters is the leadership of saying our personal Yes to whatever God wills for us. Doing that gives others permission to say their own tentative Yes to God.
The next blog-post in this cycle will be the final one.
It seems like a good idea to spend some of tomorrow getting the promised printer friendly PDF of the whole cycle into quality shape, rather than rushing the task.
It also seems a good idea to have a single blog-post that contains the links to all the others in the cycle, and maybe a few thoughts about where to from here.