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Williams and women

Rowan Williams

Following up the controversy the other week about Rowan Williams’ comments on women, he was interviewed on Sunday for the BBC’s Sunday Programme. It’s worth listening to in order to hear his own views on what he said (or didn’t say) and for the fact that he apologises to female clergy for any offence he caused. Gracious, brave and unequivocal. If only our politicians could learn from that kind of approach.

You will need RealPlayer on your computer to listen to the interview.

In other news, there has been some academic research into the impact of women clergy that has been published and is attracting media attention. I am sure it’s very interesting but, once again, I must make slight narky criticism of our press. They’ve reported it as if women are given the crappy jobs in the church because they are women. I can’t say whether the academic research ignores the contributing factors (and it’s just the press’ reporting at fault) but it’s not as simple as that.

The women currently in ministry include a fair proportion who are unpaid (which they describe as ‘the dregs’) because of their situations in life. They went into ministry in order to become non-stipendiary. While it’s not unknown for people to switch, you have to declare during the selection process what you are offering for – full-time stipendiary or otherwise. It’s not that you come out of theological college and get told – “oh, by the way, here’s your parish and there’s no money to pay you”.

They also note that women tend to get the parishes that need the most attention (again something they interpret as ‘the dregs’… the ones needing the most care, the most ‘nursing’ as the media put it). Perhaps that’s a natural outworking of where their interests and gifts lie? Again, to consider some facts related to which parish you go into – we all as ordinands get a choice. You don’t get assigned somewhere and told to lump it, it’s a joint decision between you, the Bishop, the diocese and ultimately you can say no. To give the impression that women just get told to go and do the crappy jobs for no pay is a gross exaggeration.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am sure that the Church of England still has a long way to go. I am sure there are far better qualified people to comment on women’s ministry than me. I am sure that there are some women priests who are at a disadvantage which is grossly unfair and ultimately illegal… but to portray it as some kind of institutional endemic culture is very unfair.


Christopher Robinson

I think you are right to question the medias assesment, but don’t forget how much sway patrons PCCs Bishops and Arthdeacons have when it comes to appointments – often it looks more like a fair cop than it is in my experience.

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