Having read Bread and Pomegranates‘ discussion of the recently trending twitter tag #thingsonlychristianwomenhear, I started to respond to her, and discovered I had a rant on my hands. Fortunately, here’s a blog-site I prepared earlier!
I grew up in Baptist and Open Brethren churches, and I guess I hadn’t really realised how much of a difference there was between them, until I had been leading a young people’s bible study in the Open Brethren church for a while, and one of the elders came to visit it. The next thing I heard was that our bible study had been closed down, and there was to be no more available for the 18-25+ group. And I still don’t know why. (Possibly the fact I was leading a guided meditation with candles. That smacks of Popishness. Goodness, even then I was heading to hell with the Anglicans!)
After “serving” at that church for a while – and as you say, young, unmarried women are expected to do a lot, because they don’t have other commitments (and possibly to keep them out of trouble) – I got married and dropped church. It wasn’t quite that deliberate and causal, but there wasn’t a church in our area which we liked, and weekends were precious. But I still had this idea that married => kids. I had no real idea that I could do anything interesting in my own life, but the more time I spent away from church, the more I discovered I could do my own thing, and be my own person. I didn’t have to keep saying the right things (and at the back of my mind, all the time, I knew I was “saying” the right things, performing correctly, more than deeply believing) or filling out my life the way it was expected of me.
My husband, when we got married, was doing his masters, and having so much fun that, once he finished, I did mine. Then we went and taught in China for a year, and that was the final nail in the coffin of wanting kids – the pollution was so scary, I’m worried that the next generation, or the one after that, won’t have a recognisable world to live in. (And that’s a topic for another post.) But still, the most common question I get, on people learning I’m married, is “When will you start a family?”. (And that’s another topic for another post – 17 years and no kids, folks. You might want to think before you ask!). When I went to my niece’s first birthday party, and the adults there could only discuss the sermon from the week before, and ask me that question about kids, and have no other outside interests, I realised I was in a better place, even without a church.
Part of realising I was my own person was the realisation I could, and wanted to, start a PhD, and maybe even finish it! And that took another 5+ years of my life, but during the course of it, I started to come around to the idea of church again. I was studying female saints’ lives, and discovering how much women had been an active part of the church in the past, and I wanted something like that. Also, medieval studies was largely run by older women who had been at the forefront of early feminism, and at the same time, the older version of Christianity made me want to be part of a church which was connected to the past. We seriously considered becoming Catholic for a while, until the lack of female roles meant we couldn’t, in good conscience, sign up to that. (Also, the Pope was a sticking issue.)
After looking at various churches and faith groups, and what they said about women and their role in the church (and remembering my distant childhood when I went to an Anglican church), one year we went to the Anglican cathedral at the beginning of the year, and that was that. Women were up the front. Not long after we started, a new Dean was appointed for the cathedral, and she was a woman. There was a young woman, newly-frocked, who was a keen and active member of the cathedral ministry team. Here was a church actively using women in its hierarchy, even though it had a very strict hierarchy. There was a great sense of freedom and relief (and even toying with the idea of becoming a priest) because there were opportunities at all levels. Okay, maybe not Archbishop of Canterbury, yet. But this belief that women were equal, or were worth fighting for, gave me a reason to become part of a church again. I had never stopped believing in a God of love, but I had lost my faith in structured religion for a long time.
Things aren’t perfect in the Anglican Communion, yet. We’re still working on inclusivity – on allowing same-sex-attracted people to marry with the church’s blessing, or to become priests – but there is movement on that front, and that’s one of the things which makes me want to remain active in the community, because there are people to fight for.
Equality means equality for all, regardless of sex, gender, colour, race, or who you love.