Over the years I’ve found myself gradually increasing the number of badges I decide to pin to my lapels. Sometimes folk will ask me about them, and one of them is a white symbol on a purple ground : This is the badge of an organisation called WATCH – the acronym stands for “Women and the Church” It came into existence when the Church of England belatedly recognised that God was insisting that “he” wanted women as well as men to be ordained. That happened back in 1992, but the struggle had begun long before. I first became aware that there was a question when I met the Principal of my wife’s Teacher Training College. She was a formidable lady – Monica Wingate. Her brother was the war-time hero General Orde Wingate, the commander of the Chindits who fought a ferocious guerilla war far behind the Japanese lines in occupied Burma in the 1940’s, but woe-betide anyone who tried to categorise Monica as her brother’s sister – she was a very notable person in her own right, as I realised within seconds of first meeting her. In the context of those condescending times, I think she was the first woman I had met whom I recognised was more than capable of holding her own as a leader who both women and men would serve and follow unquestioningly. I cringe as I write those words, but we’ve moved some way in my life-time. So why do we need “WATCH”? The lapel badge is two symbols combined: the conventional sign for a woman is surmounted by a bishop’s mitre: because the legislation which enabled women to be ordained as priests expressly denied that they could be consecrated as bishops: WATCH was first set up to campaign for the Church of England to go on to accept that women who were priests could be ordained and consecrated as bishops equally with men. WATCH continues because of the realisation among many of us that we are still a long way from that, and a long way from abolishing all discrimination against women in ministry. Just how far I realised afresh when I attended this year’s Annual Meeting in London last month. We heard that the numbers of young women offering for ordination is barely matching the numbers of men coming forward. The women’s hesitation, given for us to ponder, was the continuing use of patriarchal language and symbols in our debates, our documents and our liturgies. Our failure to adopt inclusive language is readily seen in the hymns we still use, but that thoughtlessness manifests the attitudes which are leading many young women to conclude that they cannot with integrity find a place in an institution lagging so far behind what is increasingly recognised in the secular world. Not for the first time, God’s Spirit is being heard in the world, yet muffled in his Church. Michael Taylor
Rev Michael brought lots of ‘goodies’ back with him and a beautiful book that will be reviewed in an upcoming post.