Sunday, 23 August 2015

BAREFOOT AND PREGNANT IN THE CHURCH

It would be the start of a long, sometimes painful, but mostly joyful journey beyond Anglicanism into priesthood. 

Priesthood! 

For heavens sake I didn't know what half the tools of  my new trade were called - the robes, the stuff on the altar, and architectural divisions of a church. I found organ music jarring, I needed a hymn book for the words. The rituals of the Eucharist were foreign. Fact is I hadn't grown up with the externals that are taken pretty seriously. 


There was much to learn  but I wasn't alone. So often when I'd seek an answer from someone in the pews, The answer would be 'I don't know'. 




(I've still never been involved with a Christingle service and have just added it to my bucket list.)  

Fact is, unless you attend an Anglican School quite a lot is likely to fly over your head. Much depends on how your Confirmation Classes are handled. Little teaching on Anglicanism is done from the pulpit. Yet one of the most valuable sermons I experienced was on the Eucharist and its various forms. That sermon effectively transformed the service from traditional ritual to a sacrament steeped in Scripture.

Years later I would work in a parish run by a superb rector who had joined our ranks via the Assembly of God Church. Both of us had such fun taking Anglicanism to Anglicans.

Back to the story. Fr Andrew advised me to discuss my apparent calling with my Spiritual Director and my rector. Their response was basically 'We were wondering when it would happen.'  

My old circle of friends were alarmed. There were not so subtle hints about a delayed menopause. Others were still convinced the church was after my money. My mother was bemused and my sons had learned that I tended to do my own thing.

Then I woke up and smelled the coffee. There was a huge difference between dabbling in religion and answering a call to vocation.  

I booked an appointment with my psychologist who I hadn't seen in more than a year. After the session she half joked  that I probably hadn't ended up in the Catholic Church because it didn't allow women to become priests and I wasn't great at guilt. Many a true word....

That same year my son and I visited Jerusalem where we had the wonderful privilege of staying at the Ecce Homo Convent. It is in the Old  City and run by Catholic nuns. During breakfast a young nun approached me and asked if I was a priest. Of course the answer was no but I had a toe in the water. 


The entrance to the Ecce Homo  Convent on the Via Dolorosa
















I, in turn, was curious why she had asked. Turned out she had sensed my calling and that she was going through terrible angst because she believed she had a priestly vocation. But for her that door was firmly shut. It was a sharp reminder of how many Anglican women had gone through the same pain before our Church had changed its mind on the matter.

Later I would come to appreciate what a bitter and hard won battle had opened the door to my own ministry. Also how fortunate I was that our southern African Province was so ahead of many others. At the time of my calling the Church of England was still only allowing women to go as far as the diaconate  - the first step to priesthood. 



In  November 2012,  about 18 years after the Anglican Church in southern Africa decided women could become bishops,  Elinha Wamukoya of Swaziland (right) made history  as the first woman to be elected.  Shortly afterwards Margaret Vertue was made Bishop of False Bay.  








Back to my session with my psychologist (turned out she was Jewish).  I left her confident that, at the very least, I should be going through the formal discernment process.

Soon I was enlisted into a Fellowship of Vocation programme. Ours was a group of varying ages from gungho youth to widows and they were much holier than I was. Nonetheless there was a powerful common denominator  - we were all pretty desperate to crack the nod for priesthood. 

As such we were all vulnerable to the hurts that come with being at the bottom of a woodpile. 

The young men were being strongly advised to 'first go forth and experience the world' and I know we lost a couple of potentially good priests. Once you are on that corporate ladder with a family to keep it's hard to change track.  

All the women in my group were middle aged and most had gender war stories to tell. We would all be self-supporting and would often joke about being cheap labour.

The church may have officially approved the ordination of women but some rectors still had one foot in the dark ages. I remember how one tall friend was instructed to always stand a step below her rector because she made him look short! We were all studying for a Theology degree and most of us had had careers but too many were only allocated responsibilities that were seen as  'womanly' - the Church's version of barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.

Mind you, I once attended a retreat that included rector's wives and several were in tears about what they were expected to handle at parish level. Professional accountants and even one engineer were expected to do 'womanly'  things in the parish. Yet in many cases those wives were the main bread winner.  (Just as we women would joke about being cheap labour full-time male priests joked about being 'kept men'.)

I had never had to kick my way through a glass ceiling and I was fortunate to be in a parish that empowered women. But that didn't mean I wouldn't get my share of hurts a bit further down the line.

Meanwhile, strategising was what I did for my business clients  and it seemed a good plan to serve on the Parish Council. I was duly elected and should have been great but I still cringe at the 'holy' platitudes I spouted during that year as I sought to convince the leadership that I was priestly material. 

I was awful and not re-elected the following year.     

3 comments:

sunflowers and khakibush said...

Have you ever had any regrets about following your heart, and taking up your "vocation"? Although I have no inclination to become a priest, actually I very much doubt that I would ever have been chosen. lol! Although I am Anglican, I have spent much time exploring all sorts of off-shoots of Christianity. Nothing weird mind, just people like John Wimber and Jackie Pullenger and so on. I find Anglicanism a bit too narrow. Someone gave me a book to read the other day by Thomas Kempis, The Imitation of Christ. I find it puzzling. I'm sure Jesus didn't want us to live quite in such a way! There is a book entitled Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness, and one of my previous priests lived their lives this way. Our job is to love, accept, forgive and pray for people and God's job is to change them. We so often try to do God's job for Him.

Loraine Tulleken said...

Dear Sunflowers and Khakibush
Good to hear from you again. No regrets but then I was very blessed to enter the Church at an age when I felt free to question and, as you will see from future blogs, I was very privileged in many ways. Kempis didn’t do it for me either. Have you read Henry Nouwen or Albert Nolan? I think you would enjoy both. I totally agree that too often we folk in Church circles confuse ourselves with God.

Peter Nickles said...

The saga continues; hopefully for some time to come.