A few weeks ago, I attended the International Clergy Meetings in Bryn Athyn, USA.
Or did I?
I think everyone can agree that I was in Bryn Athyn at the time, but whether I was present at the Meetings themselves… well, you can decide.
I first realized that there was some confusion while at the Clergy & Wives dinner. There, we wives had been toasted by our husbands, “we couldn’t do this without you.” Juxtaposed against that, after dinner I learned that a group of women had set up a protest—they had left shoes outside the door of the room where the Meetings were being held. Empty shoes meant to display the absence of women’s voices in the governing of the Church.
For all the many women who don’t bother to follow the local politics of Bryn Athyn Church, here is a little background: Several years ago a portion of the laity-mostly in the US- pushed to have the clergy reevaluate whether women could be priests. Three years ago, Bishop Keith lead the clergy through an examination of the HD to see what they understood the Lord said on the subject. When the clergy turned in their responses, the vast majority of them didn’t think the doctrinal support for women priests was there and so the Bishop announced that the priesthood would remain as is. Most congregations in the world moved on. Many WIM (women in the ministry) supporters who couldn’t move past the decision left the GC and joined other New Church organizations (Convention and Conference both ordain women). But in BA there remains a contingent of vocal dissidents—people who don’t want to accept the decision and don’t want to leave the GC.
This article is not venturing into the whether-or-not-women-should-be-priests debate. Neither is it attempting to answer the larger question of “what are the ways women CAN serve the Church.” Rather, I wish to refute a particular insult to Clergy wives—and to Our Church—implicit in that original protest: to say that no women’s voice was represented at these meetings is total (expletive removed).
As I hope to demonstrate.
The day after the Clergy & Wives dinner, I went to see the protest. When I looked up close at the display, I admit, I laughed. The quote on the paper around which the shoes lay read: “It is not good for man to be alone” a quote from Genesis 2.
The set up was too perfect and I had to leave a little note for the activists that finished their sentence for them “…I will make him a helper comparable to him.”
Of course I agree that men are broken on their own—The Lord thinks so too—that’s why He gave men wives!
I don’t think the activists were intentionally downplaying the support Clergy Wives give to their husbands—I suspect they really just don’t understand how deep that support goes. I worry they may be overlooking the role that any wife is designed to play in her husband’s use. And I fear they may be falling into Western culture’s error of viewing a man or woman as a complete unit unto themselves. And this leads to the error of believing that the person you physically see only represents himself.
In the most external terms, I think you would be hard pressed to give any woman’s voice greater influence over the clergy body, than a clergy wife has. In fact, I contest that had 100 unconnected women been standing in that meeting shouting out their opinions, they could not have had one-tenth of the influence over my husband’s view on the subject than my casually spoken word has.
But this is a trivial argument. There is a far more disturbing implication by the shoe-protest than that a wife’s opinion has no real influence. The greater danger is a potential ignorance (or worst, dismissal) of the complete interconnected design of a truly married unit.
To explain, below are excerpts from one of my favorite Memorable Relations (the complete number can be read here). In Conjugial Love 56, Swedenborg goes to visit the Temple of Wisdom in Heaven. He steps into one of the small side buildings near the Temple to talk wisdom with the angel man there:
I saw inside that the building was divided into two sections, and yet the two were still one. It was divided into two sections by a transparent partition, but it looked like one room because of the partition’s transparency, which was like the transparency of the purest crystal. I asked why it was arranged like that.
The receptionist said, “I am not alone. My wife is with me, and though we are two, yet we are not two but one flesh.”
To which I replied, “I know you are wise, but what does a wise man or wisdom have to do with a woman?”
At this, with some feeling of annoyance, the receptionist’s expression changed, and he stretched out his hand, and suddenly, then, other wise men were present from the neighboring buildings. To them he said with amusement, “Our visitor here says he wants to know what a wise man or wisdom has to do with a woman!”
They all laughed at this and said, “What is a wise man or wisdom apart from a woman or apart from love? A wife is the love of a wise man’s wisdom.”
But the receptionist said, “Let us join together now in some conversation of wisdom. Let the conversation be about causes, today the reason for the beauty in the female sex.”
So they then spoke in turn…The fourth speaker gave this reason, that the Lord took beauty and grace of life from man and transferred them into woman, and that is why a man not reunited with his beauty and grace in woman is stern, severe, dry and unattractive, and also not wise except for his own sake alone, in which case he is a dunce. On the other hand, when a man is united with his beauty and grace of life in a wife, he becomes agreeable, pleasant, full of life and lovable, and therefore wise…
After these and several other similar views were expressed, one of the wives appeared through the crystal-like partition, and she said to her husband, “Speak, if you wish.”
And when he spoke, the life in his wisdom from his wife was perceived in his speech, for her love was in the tone of his voice. Thus did experience bear witness to the truth expressed…
It doesn’t matter if your physical eyes only see my husband—when he speaks, when he governs, and when he judges, his effectiveness is a product of us both.
I am present.
I am present in the most powerful way I possibly could be because it is the way I was designed to be present by the Lord God Jesus Christ—my love is, as it were, the very life of my husband’s wisdom!
No policy or structure humankind can create could ever provide women a truer or more powerful outlet of influence than what Our Lord has created.
I suppose it is difficult to prove to those outside of my marriage that I know this connection exists between Derrick and myself. But it does. When I recognize that the Lord has blessed us with so deep a bond…such complete interdependence and connection…words fail me.
So did I attend the Clergy Meetings?
I think your answer to that will depend on whether or not you acknowledge the woman behind the partition.
27 thoughts on “Pay No Attention to the Woman Behind the Curtain”
I am so glad the this author feels that her influence to her ordained husband is present indirectly through her husband in the clergy meetings. Many men do not listen to their wives. Some men are not married. Last week I had the privilege of witnessing a woman being ordained. It was amazing. I trust that her husband will be able to speak to her and his influence will be present and voiced indirectly when she serves as a minister in her society. In the meantime she will be directly serving the Lord and a church society with her feminine wisdom, as their ordained minister.
Its true that unmarried priests are at a disadvantage. And I think that that is important to openly recognize so that the congregations they serve can adapt to support them in their deficiency as best they can.
And I am hesitant to accuse Priests of not listening to their wives or not having true married love. I’m not sure we can know that. All the couples I can think of have, what I assess to be, good relationships.
Though I don’t know a lot of the older clergy well.
I am aware there are organizations that ordain women.
Thank you, Eden.
Thank you Eden! I love that number.
Thank you THANK YOU, Eden, for your eloquent description of the Lord’s marvelous design for marriage and the interplay between husbands and wives. You expressed all that is in my heart. Rather than try to “imrove” on it in our church organizational structure ( IMPROVE on the Lord’s plan??!) we need to work diligently to understand this relationship as the Lord has established it, to bring its beauty and power more fully into the life of the church in this world.
Thanks, Laurie. How wonderfully expressed! Yes, we have such a treasure here in the NC–and I would love to see us exploring ways to more fully bring the Lord’s doctrines into our organization. And also into the world.
I really appreciate your thoughts on this, and enjoyed reading the quote. A lot of good details there to ponder. Especially in my role as a minister’s wife and my influence there.
It is also tricky that even in this amazing way women are involved in the clergy (in a manner of speaking) that is not a use available to women whose husbands aren’t called to be ministers. I feel similarly to you in regards to the protest, but I also feel like it is important to find ways for women to serve in core roles. Interesting to think about.
I agree– there are definitely more ways women can serve the church than marrying a priest.
I think that is more than just a gender-issue; its an issue of developing meaningful uses for all laity. I think that that is a healthier debate to have– a discussion around what needs to be done by a priest, and how can the laity serve.
Women serve in the most important core role there is–raising new potential angels, and servants of the Lord. As long as we keep trying to find ways for women to be leaders in the church, I believe they will be unsatisfied unless it goes all the way to ordination. In my opinion, we have already gone way too far away from the ideal.
Yes, pretty much exactly my thoughts, Abby! I really appreciate the article, Eden, (especially the memorable relation!) and agree that is important to keep looking for ways/better ways to include and give a voice to women in our church.
I am very happy that Eden feels she has a lot of influence on her husband in his ministry. Yes, that is the ideal. As a woman NOT married to a minister I still have no real voice in my home church.
Hi Caroline. I’m sure it’s very hard to feel you don’t have a clear way to serve the church. Traditionally it was the schools that provided that outlet for the laity. I would love a conversation to begin about other lay ministries that churches could encourage. Not all congregations have schools. Not all lay men and women are called to that ministry. Lots of potential for conversation here.
With respect, Caroline served for many years- she had a clear sense of how to serve. But she wasn’t paid for her work, and she wasn’t treated with respect or gratitude at its culmination.
Oh sorry, Caroline–I didn’t mean to belittle any service to the Church you’ve given–I’m just a proponent of developing a larger selection of meaningful lay uses.
Thank you for taking the time to write about this topic in such a clear and concise way. I really appreciate your sharing of so many thoughts that I have, and with an eloquence that I lack. Blessings to you, Eden.
Ahhh. That was great, Eden – thank you! I hadn’t thought of it from this perspective, and I think there’s a lot to what you say. As you and others have also said, there’s still so much room for exploration as to how women CAN serve,…. which I look forward to seeing some forward movement in. Back to the minister’s wife thing, though – “In the most external terms, I think you would be hard pressed to give any woman’s voice greater influence over the clergy body, than a clergy wife has.” – from one clergy wife to another, thank you for validating us so beautifully! 🙂
I don’t believe anyone suggested wives had no influence on their spouses: of course they do! However the weak derived doctrine excluding women ministers is what the protest is about
As I said, I don’t believe the slight was intentional–rather an overlook. If the protesters had clearly said something more like “we understand that the GC priesthood represents both men and women’s voices but we desire a greater influence than currently exists through the clergy wives,” I would not be voicing this grievance.
Thank you for sharing your experience of the shoe protest.
I am married to one of those clergy as well, and I participated in the shoe protest. I am very aware of the influence I have on my husband, and am more grateful than words can convey for the ways that we make each other better people. We agree on some things and disagree on some things, but our discussion and doctrinal studies help us each to grow.
The shoes had nothing to do with the role wives play in a husbands life, clergy or otherwise. I’m sad that it felt like an insult to you. I invite you to consider that it had nothing to do with your role in Derrik’s life, and everything to do with those of us that feel a call to be in the room as clergy members.
For myself, my dream is to be able to serve along with my husband, to minister in a visible way as a known entity, rather than as a silent partner.
I don’t expect you to agree with me, and I’m fine with that. But if you didn’t hear the message correctly, perhaps that is because yet again, women are forced to make silent protests rather than being able to openly speak for themselves.
Thank you for sharing your experience of the protest, I hope that it has become clear that no one intended you harm, and that you can feel at peace.
I feel grateful for the various conversations that have come from this article. I have learned a lot about what was going on for the people who participated in the protest that I’d never heard.
Thank you Tira, I like exploring ways we can work together. Gillian
I always appreciate when someone takes time to share their experience and thoughts. Thank you for doing that Eden.
What came to mind when reading your post was this tiny line from Thorton Wilder’s classic play, Our Town, set in New England in the early 1900’s:
“All males vote at the age of twenty-one. Women vote indirect.”
While my husband and I cast votes for the same candidate this year, I was happy to cast my own and am very grateful to the women of the Suffrage Movement who worked to make my voice heard these many years later. What if they had been satisfied with voting “indirect”?
This is a fun argument to play with! Actually in College i remember a group of girls trying to decide if, given the Truths in CL, it was better or worse for society that women vote. But really, again the US gov. doesn’t acknowledge a husband and wife as the basic unit of society, but the individual– so two votes makes sense within that worldview and im very happy to participate in sec government. Honestly, if i lived in a country where everyone was a married new Christian…i dont know?
As for the abortion issue that you mentioned, unfortunately the general public, male and female, has not had the opportunity to vote on the issue. The legal standing for abortion on demand was decided by judicial fiat … Roe v. Wade in 1973.
Clever Catch, Trish! Actually, I was thinking of a more complex political connection–that the political climate that allowed for Roe vs. Wade and that didn’t provide for elected politicians who were willing to take it on, was a result of the large pro-choice womens demographic. I think the character and stances of politicians (and even judges–who are placed there by politicians) are strongly influenced by the stances of the people who vote for them.
But you are totally right– there has been no straight-forward vote.
Obviously, that wasn’t your point–but its interesting to explore.
In reality, the Church is an Ecclesiastical structure (not a democracy) and precious little “voting” currently goes on with the Clergy– mostly it is discusion and counsel on the part of Clergy and then it is the Bishop’s responsibility to consider that counsel and form policies and decisions etc.. And as I explained above, I think wives perfectly situated for influencing their husbands opinions which they would in turn project in their own counsel to the other priests. I don’t think putting women directly into that discussion would be a more effective way to have a woman’s voice a part of the discussion. But that’s if you just want there to be SOME women’s voice present. As in not having masculine wisdom divorced from feminine love. Which was the particular direction of the article.
I recognize if the issue is a woman personally wants the role of priest, then the GC and its system do not provide that.
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