Monday, May 21, 2012
Do women do it – ministry and leadership – differently?
Do women lead different?
That is the conclusion from those who write in Presiding Like a Woman – Feminist Gestures for Christian Assemblies, a collection of 20 essays and 2 poems, reflecting on what it means to “preside”, to offer leadership in ministry, as a woman.
The argument of the book is that gender can be rejected – “Oh we’re all the same.” Or ignored – “It’s awkward, so let’s not talk about it.” Or explored, because, in the words of Ali Green, “By honouring sexual difference we can encourage and inspire others who … have felt excluded by their own culture, both within the Church and in wider society.” (109)
As I read, a number of themes seemed to keep appearing.
First, an embodied spirituality – for example the connection in so many essays to experience. In the words of Gillian Hill “women’s experience and an embodied approach challenge any retreat into abstract ideas.” (155)
Second, the whole of life – and to illustrate, a great example by Ali Green
“As well as being childbearers, woman are also oftentimes the carers and homemakers who look after the very young and old and put food on the table. Essentially, the Eucharist is a meal of companionship where everyone is invited to the table, and where the priest, representing Christ, feeds the guests. The woman presider offers a reminder of this very concrete and humble connection: the transcendent, unsearchable God, through the incarnation, becomes known to us in the basic staples of life.” (Green, 107)
Third, participation – a desire for interactivity and mutuality. A chapter by Nichola Slee explored this in depth, arguing that mutuality flourished when responsibility was taken up to attend to the care of the group.
“whether shared or exercised by one person, attention to the power dynamics within the group and careful management of those dynamics is essential if the community is to function well.” (160)
Four, leadership as gentle space-making – Grey describes how the presider is a midwife “that hears into speech, especially the inarticulate, the invisible, the excluded.” (55) This space-making is facilitated by an ethos of empowering leadership and the deliberate creation of safe space.
“The [teacher] does not create the community, but she is frequently the one to call the community together and to issue the invitation to the risky, adventurous process of learning.” (159)
What was fascinating was the chapter by Brian Barrett (one of the two male contributors) who placed this within a lovely mission frame. He argues that the traditional image of church as circle is not Biblical. Neither is the one person band.
Rather leadership is about movement, the constant shift between attending to the congregation and to the stranger on the margins;
to “move back and forth across and to the very edges and doorways of the space, enabling and encouraging the movement of others, and, in the process, making visible and tangible the ‘incarnational flow’ within the ‘space between.’” (Barrett, 173)