Tuesday, 3 April 2012

40. Phoebe - are you being served?

I'm trying to be fair here...yesterday I wrote about the conundrum facing some Evangelical women who recognise a vocation to teach the bible but who have faced, if not actual restrictions in this, at least demotivating suspicion and a lack of actual role models in the pulpit.

Today, this last day of the Fabulous Forty through Lent (sniff) I'm thinking about the suspicion and restrictions that come from other quarters regarding a vocation to be a priest and 'rightly and duly administer the sacraments.'

Can any fabulous female step forward?

Enter Phoebe.

As well as having a desirable girls' name (like Lydia, Hannah, Eve...it makes me broody........for a nano second) she is introduced by Paul thus: 'I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea (...) for she has been a great help to many people, including me' (Romans 16: 1).

Here's the thing: 'servant', 'minister' and 'deacon' (as in ordained deacon) are all English words that derive from this word rendered 'servant.' So an equally good translation would read 'our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church', a designation which suggest a recognised public church role, usually ordained, which in the C of E at least, is now tied up with ordination, first to the diaconate, then to the priesthood and presiding at Holy Communion.

Ecclesiology is contested within Christendom and all our words are a jumbled mess in people's minds: I've given up trying to explain why I was first ordained deacon and couldn't preside at Holy Communion even though I was a Rev and wore a dog collar, and why I had to be ordained again (as priest) but didn't stop being a Curate at this point...and why I can be known as a Minister but not a Vicar yet...(but always a deacon in spirit...) 


I'm just glad that it would appear, in essence at least, that women's public ministry roles in the Christian church didn't start in 1994 with the C of E finally getting round to ordaining women, but perhaps a little bit earlier....

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