Frederica Mathewes-Green on “The Problem with Women’s Ministries”

More than a little relevant to current discussions among conservative Anglicans, from traditionalists to latitudinarian conservatives, on the ordination of women.

It might sound odd to hear such gender-neutral convictions coming from a member of a church that does not ordain women. Talk about patriarchal-my church has actually got patriarchs. But that doesn’t seem to result in repression; Orthodox congregations have welcomed me to their pulpits and parish halls much more than my old mainline denomination ever did, the one that knits its brow so earnestly over gender equality.

The scope of women’s work is not defined by a convention resolution, but by the examples of those who have done Christ’s work and been affirmed by the wider community. Can a woman be a missionary evangelist? Yes, there’s St. Nina of Georgia. Can she be a theologian and liturgical composer? Yes, there’s St. Cassiane. Here’s a toughie: can a woman rule over a nation, and call a council that establishes church doctrine? Meet St. Irene. A glance through history shows that a Christian woman can be a healer, a missionary, a preacher, a pastoral counselor, a debater, and a fool-for-Christ, and she doesn’t need a clerical collar to do it.

I can’t explain why my church has never ordained women priests-we never spelled out a reason—but that doesn’t seem to have held women back. Most of Christ’s work in the world is done by people who aren’t ordained, after all. I don’t care if other churches ordain women, but obsessing over it seems a kind of hyper-clericalism that misses the value of lay ministry. The opportunities for lay service are so vast, and the work done only by clergy is so small, that there is more than enough for lay men and women to do, and to be honored for.

From a Western Christian perspective we could add:  missionary evangelist?  Lottie Moon, Southern Baptist missionary to China.  Preacher and composer?  St Hildegard of Bingen.  Preside over a church synod?  St Hilda of Whitby.  And the list could go on, never failing to take note all those mothers who, like Susanna Wesley, saw to it that their children were formed in the Christian faith and life.

But there is considerably more to ponder in this essay from Mathewes-Green, a well-known Orthodox author and speaker. Read it all.


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