|Two priests outside Church House on day of Synod vote on women bishops|
The first was some formative church experience where women as teachers and leaders were at best absent and at worst disallowed. This reflected a conservative theological reading of St Paul where Eve's deception in the garden of Eden, and the perceived creation hierarchy, were cited as reasons women cannot hold authority over men. I needed to know if I shared this view or rejected it. With something of a tussle, I rejected it.
Second, and more pressing, was the problem of priesthood. If you are ordained in the C of E, after a preliminary year you will be a priest. What did this mean? Was it legitimate in terms of the New Testament's 'priesthood of all believers'? Could I come to an understanding of 'ordination' that felt, not so much comfortably numb, but comfortably mine?
So much hangs on language. If you are brought up non Conformist it's hard to even say 'priest' with any real meaning. To my ears 'priest' sounded male and it sounded Roman Catholic. It also sounded Old Testament. The female equivalent was worse - cult-ish - in a bad way - priestess of the cult of Diana or Astarte or something. My meetings with those that prepared me for selection were all around this problem. 'What do you understand by priesthood?' To which I would mumble something about 'the priesthood of all believers' and the patient response would come: 'yeeees, but what do you understand by priesthood?'
And so I was stuck, grappling with something that was fundamental, and yet excessively difficult to pin down theologically, which has furthermore been the cause of so many divisions within the church. Only men can be priests. Only the priest can 'celebrate'.The priest is representative. The priest is one of the people. The church can do without priests. The church can't exist without priests. Anglican orders are null and void. There were no priests in the the early church There were priests in the early church. Ordination is indelible. It's just setting you aside for a function. Only the Bishops' hands. 'Tainted' hands.
So, reeling and tripping like an amateur ice skater, I came to the night before Ordination. We were holed up in a small chapel for the final Eucharist. I must admit I found that last Eucharist as a 'lay person' very hard. It had an awesome sense of the Holy. In fact I had taken my shoes off. It's the only time I've ever taken the bread and wine in bare feet. It felt like the final ascent of a high mountain. The lower slopes had been manageable but I feared failing at the last few metres. I desired yet drew back from the summit. It was like when you can see the bank on the other side of the water and you really need to get over there but there's a huge jump.
Three years in and I am no closer to defining priesthood. It grows to encompass many things, but with an expanding breadth of meaning it tends to get diffuse. President, intercessor, conductor, enabler, sign, presence, shepherd, witness, leader, visionary?
I felt decidedly weird on the day of
Recently I was challenged by reading a former Bishop in Australia reflect on the phrase 'ordained ministry': 'The notion of the ordained ministry suggests an ontologically distinct order within the ecclesia into which certain persons are inducted. This generates the entirely fictitious idea that those whom the church calls to the office of deacon, priest and bishop, are, in the first instance, being relocated to a different metaphysical realm, that is the ordained ministry.'*
So I don't know...My gender and background keep me from identifying wholly with a position which makes me 'Christ's representative'. Yet it has to be more than just the 'charism' of leadership taken to its logical conclusion. Maybe its
meaning will always elude me. Maybe it doesn't matter day to day. Maybe the more you focus on priesthood the less you remember you are still just an ordinary Christian trying to be obedient.
I suppose the bottom line is this is where I seem to have come, this is where I am now, and this is where, with God's grace, I'm going.
*Stephen Pickard, Theological Foundations for Collaborative Ministry, p. 21, my italics.