By Jody Stowell

The Rev. Jody Stowell

Almost a week has passed since I was sitting, nervous, jittery and hopeful on the edge of my seat, in the public gallery in Church House, Westminster.  I was waiting for the voting figures to be called, first the bishops, then the clergy, and finally the laity.

Since that moment it has been all at once interesting – in a way that a disinterested observer might watch a newly discovered tribe order themselves by strange alien customs – and painful, so that the grief cycle of disbelief, anger, sadness is completed a number of times every day.

The most surprising emotion that I experienced this week was the sense of shame that rested upon me on the Wednesday morning.  I felt that I simply did not exist at the same level of priestliness as my male colleagues. I have heard a lot about ‘second-class’ citizens in this debate – whether it is in defence of making sure that women bishops are equally bishops, or, distastefully in my opinion, the cries of ‘second-class’ status that those who are ‘anti’ claim. However, I had not expected to feel like a second-class priest.  After all, isn’t this about bishops?  Not priests.

So, why this is not just about ‘Women Bishops’?

Some of the conversation that I have heard over the last week has been a bit puzzled why women priests are quite so upset – not just angry because of the injustice, the unbiblical decision, the disgraceful way the process was mitigated against – but upset, gut-punchingly, heart-achingly, tear-jerkingly, upset!

Is it puzzling though? Is it?  Or is it that what is now blindingly obviously, a structurally male organisation, is simply incapable of dealing with this kind of pain?  So it is then easy to be puzzled, and it is easy to think that this is an overreaction to simply not being allowed to progress up the career ladder – after all, the majority of us will not be headed in that direction anyway.

Why be quite so upset, when it is not going to make a difference to your life anyway?

You can almost see the cogs turning.

Firstly, I want to say something about the ‘career ladder’ language that has surrounded some of the responses to the images and stories of women’s pain linked with this issue.  The idea that women enter the priesthood in order to progress up a career ladder is not only offensive in the extreme, but ridiculous, too.  Do those who suggest such twaddle really think that if women were choosing their day job on the basis of progression, there might not be something rather better that we could do?!  I simply think that there is deep ineptitude in understanding the connections that women priests (and of course other men and women in the church) are making regarding this vote, that this is the only thing that some people can think is ‘wrong with us’.

Well, what is ‘wrong with us’ is that we feel ‘rubbed out’, as if we are a strange anomaly in the fabric of the priesthood, an anomaly that can simply be unpicked at any moment.  For those of us who were at Synod, listening to the speeches, we were under no illusion that the discussion was really a time-shift back to 1992, arguing again the case against women being priests. And the case against women being priests is, in itself, really about the particular humanity of women – is the particular humanity of women sufficient to represent authoritatively the humanity of Christ?  If the answer to this is ‘no’, then the reality is that a woman’s humanity is fundamentally different to a man’s humanity and when there is a difference like that, then it follows that one type of humanity *must* be the most authentic representation of humanity that there is.  In this case the male is the most human human and women are….well not.

So yes, we are upset.

For those of us who are priests, we recognise that our orders have been called into question yet again.  Called into question because of a voice which speaks of us as the ‘not-quite authentically human’ human and expects us to be okay with that.  And when that voice speaks with the authority of the institution (regardless of the fact we know that most within the institution did not want this…), it causes a disintegration between the inner and outer person of the woman priest.

Ecclesiologically, I am supposed to rest on my orders – given me by an institution which officially says I’m not the truest representation of Jesus’ humanity.

Spiritually, I am supposed to ‘hang the Synod’ and rest on my calling from and identity in God – a calling and identity which seems unrecognised fully by the church to which I am called.

Emotionally, I am supposed to show resilience – so as not to disturb the church with my tears, and if I do cry it will be because I am a woman and show me lacking in strength.

Do not underestimate the strength and resilience it took for many women priests to get up on Wednesday morning and do their job, without this dissonance causing a fatal crack in their psyche.

So yes, we are upset.

But we will not stay so upset forever.  Do not, however, mistake this for it ‘going away’.  This conversation will not go away and women priests will not go away.  We find in our pain the very reason to stay – it is ironic that the very thing that hurts us will be the thing that gives us the strength to remain in the Church of England.  Our humanity is inextricably identified with Jesus’ humanity in this.  We came to our own and have been rejected. We were told ‘how dare you’ and asked ‘by which authority’?  We were denied again and again.

Our humanity is Jesus’ humanity and it is by this authority that we dare to stand where we stand and say what we say, behind the altar and in the pulpit.

The Rev. Jody Stowell is a priest in North London. This article originally appeared on her blog,  Jody Stowell: Writing on Religion, Feminism, Community and the Life of a Priest and is reprinted here with permission.

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