Sunday, 14 June 2015

Reinforcing the Stained Glass Ceiling

I am a member of RevGalBlogPals, a supportive network for women clergy. I discovered this ministry some ten years into my own ordained ministry in the Church. Enduring the isolation of a solo pastorate and being surrounded by male colleagues, I experienced the need to reach out to other women who were juggling the tasks of ministry with all sorts of other roles in life. I immediately found kindred spirits who, quite simply,"got it", women who knew how challenging it is to balance all the different tasks assigned uniquely to women in Ministry. RevGalBlogPals remains a life line for me. I serve on the Board and I participate in their Continuing Ed events. Recently, some of my colleagues have been questioning the gender exclusivity of these events. This is my response:
When I began the process toward ordination over twenty five years ago, I had barely heard of the Stained Glass Ceiling. My denomination had been ordaining women to the ministry of word and sacrament for over twenty years and I had experienced some impressive role models of women in leadership along the way.
After training, experiencing a call to Hospital Chaplaincy rather than Parish Ministry saved me from some of the pain other women colleagues were encountering.when they applied for parishes and were rejected on the basis of gender. And each of my appointments since have been based on reputation and recommendation. Along the way,I have had occasion to challenge discrimination against women as I've encountered it. And, for a time, I was confident that there were cracks appearing in the Stained glass ceiling of the church. But, more recently, as my denomination grapples with issues of inclusion based on sexuality, it seems that, for some, re-establishing the church's historically narrow, male-dominated, conservative leadership is a priority.
Twenty years post ordination, my fear is that the Stained glass ceiling was too fragile for many and so now, it has been reinforced in all sorts of obvious and insidious ways. And, while the most effective way to counter this is for women to keep stepping up, to challenge this denial of God's call that does not discriminate on the basis of either gender or sexuality, when one is often the only woman in a room full of men, or when one's contributions have been mansplained one more time (and once is one time too many), it is wearing to keep going back for more. It calls for certain appendages with which only men are endowed. And, meanwhile, there are other tasks to be accomplished as the body of Christ: feeding the hungry, visiting the prisoner, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked... Tasks that, as a woman in Ministry, I find it difficult to subjugate to the fight to be accorded my rightful place at the table as a woman called by God.
Hence my need to indulge in women only events that examine the role we play in an institution that continues to discriminate against us because of an alignment of chromosomes or of body parts over which God presided.
That tinkle of breaking glass? It wasn't the glass ceiling coming down. It was being reinforced.


Bryan Kerr said...

It is truly sad that in this day and age we minister in denominations that still have inequality of any kind. I love the work that revgalpals does and the ideas that come from you and your ... pals! Everyone needs a space to be and to grow, for some that will be a different place than for others. We are all called by God and none of us are the same (thank goodness there inly one bryan, I hear you say Liz!)
I'm just jealous that you guys came up with the crushing idea ... now if others did it we would just be copycats! Lol
Cruise, study, grow, challenge, inspire and create ... it may be a gender specific group, but the ripples of the group extend far beyond.

Mary Beth said...

I'm sure that copycats would be most welcome. Love you, Liz, and grateful for your courageous witness.

Martha Spong said...

I am proud to know you and so happy to have you in the leadership of RevGals. Any organization would benefit from your wisdom, experience and faithful witness.

Shuna said...

thanks for this Liz, I share some of your fears for the future. I have been fortunate to be called to a parish that has a history of women ministers, the first being in the early 80s. So within the parish I have experienced no resistance because of gender. It's 17 years since this parish was ministered to by a man!
But sadly I have experienced what can only be described as ageism and sexism from colleagues. In my mid 40s to be treated a some silly wee girl is rather galling.
Revgals is a great support and knowing there are an army of women being force and fabulous for God, who are there whenever I need them is a huge relief.
Bryan, thank you for appreciating the ripples. I think you are spot on in your observation.
I also really appreciate being part of the STB team, I find that inspiring and challenging and fun!
These networks are important when we work so much of our time in isolation from our friends and colleagues .

Anne Mulligan said...

Thank you for this Liz. The Church of Scotland ordained deaconesses in 1887 yet we could still say Amen to all that you write. It is a long struggle but we must stay strong and also gentle and stand for the things we know are important.
I am thoroughly enjoying There's a Woman in the Pulpit. It is great!

Barbara Quigley said...

having been one of the first dozen women ordained by the Church of Scotland when I was 26,I now am coming towards retirement, I find it sad that the old battles are still being fought. I hear what Liz is saying and it echoes with me. One worrying source is the number of women ministers who do not know the struggles, who have never heard of Mary Levison, who do not know about the 'Motherhood of God' debate and claim they have had no problems. Like Liz, I can hear the glass ceiling being reiforced, maybe it will collapse under the weight of its own superstructure. or maybe God will break it down, we can but pray.

Muthah+ said...

I just celebrated 32 years of ordained ministry and have felt my head bumped by the glass ceiling most of that time. And while there have always been those wonderful experiences of genuine collegiality, interaction with male colleagues has been worsening over the years just at the stage when i would have thought it should be getti,g better. Part of it comes frome the real changes in how the world perceives faith. Church is less about "controle" these days and more about relationship, consequently i see more male colleagues trying go back to controlling techniques rather that avail themselves of building relationships.

liz said...

Bryan, thanks for being one of the "pals". Mary Beth invites you to be a copycat!
Martha, thanks for all the opportunities you've sent my way - glad to know you!
Shuna, great to share networks with you.
Anne, thanks for your graciousness - you are one of the role models. And thanks for the reminder to be gentle.
Barbara, we can but hope!
Muthah, sigh.

Barb McRae said...

I'm new to RevGals and all I can say is, I know what you mean. Glad to have found a community that sees reality.

Teri said...


Crimson Rambler said...

ah... sad memories. Clergy meetings where all the (male) responses to the assigned question were minuted -- except mine -- until senior male clergy intervened. And the secretary/colleague (who expressed annoyance, not apology) would swear in all sincerity that he values his female colleagues, respects them, etc.

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