Ministry in the Uniting Church – one woman’s response

A response to Nancy Beach’s presentation at the Uniting Leaders 2017 National Ministers’ conference.
The Uniting Church is Australia’s Ordination questions highlight the importance of an egalitarian approach to men and women in ministry. However, we have mistakenly assumed that this would mean a commitment to public advocacy and leadership in combatting the dehumanising rhetoric of complementarianism in the life of the Church. It was deeply disturbing to many at the recent UL2017 National Ministers’ Conference to be presented with the continuum of “Complementarianism to Egalitarianism” as reflective of the current spectrum of belief and behaviour in the Uniting Church. How far we have fallen!

This is not a criticism of the excellent presenter, Nancy Beach, who was refreshing in her well-grounded and insightful comments. It is just that 25 years ago I did not think we would need to revisit such arguments within the UCA. I thought we learnt these approaches simply to offer support, advocacy and solidarity to our ecumenically oppressed sisters-in-ministry. Alas, Nancy’s presentation was needed in a Church that is seeing women walk away from working in hostile environments.

After the well-constructed and engaging session on women and men in ministry, I asked a few people what they thought about the current climate in the UCA. Several spoke of their concern that we were sliding backward, reiterating some comments Nancy had made in her presentation. Another expressed surprise at hearing this spoken about at a National Conference, stating, “It seems like she hasn’t been well-briefed about our position.”


On reflection, even if Nancy was aware of our doctrinal position’ of women and men being equal in ministry, she was very effectively addressing the reality that there is doctrine and then there is belief – and they do not always match up.

She highlighted this with a particularly helpful example of how women contribute in a meeting. Nancy stated that more often than not women tend to hold back until they are 90% sure about what they are saying, whereas men will contribute their thinking when they have a 40-50% formed idea.

My response to that is, ‘Yes’! When a woman presents a 90% formed idea to a bunch of 40-50% thinkers, they often treat it as if it is a 30% formed idea that will need their validation. This is why I believe women need to be particularly attentive to other women’s voices in meetings. They need to listen carefully to one another and reflect back what they are hearing. This means repeating those things that resonate, and removing the enculturated habits of men from assuming that it is a role (attached to their gender) to validate considered thinking.  Of course, this becomes impossible when you are the only female in the meeting OR when women are trying to behave like men in order to get on (more on this later).

Aside for Executives: I have always prioritized business relationships where a member of a Board has sought answers to their questions when they read the report, in advance of the meeting. Such courtesy is to be treasured and invites a reflective relationship. When such a relationship is established, I am much more likely to seek out that Board member for further refining of emerging work. They have demonstrated how to improve work rather than destroy it.

I was, however, bothered by the advice that women should speak up earlier when they have less formed ideas. An alternative would be to tell some people to shut up until they have engaged their brains better. An in-between compromise, which has been around for a long time, is to invite people to toss in partly formed ideas for the group to play with respectfully.

Respectful engagement is about relational behaviour. Women are not the minority in the Uniting Church, but we can sometimes be treated as minority voices, and we often act as a passive majority. The rise of UnitingWomen, Women-in-Theology and new forms of expression are signs of the desire for a more active engagement. Such gatherings of women include welcome experiences of freedom and empowerment. They also highlight that this is no longer the expectation in our mixed gatherings.

 

It is difficult to discuss women and men without falling into unhelpful cultural stereotyping. When thinking about gender, we need to critique our own worldviews and cultural assumptions. One way of doing this is to consider perspectives from other cultures, examining alternate values and then reconsidering our own situation, enlightened by other ways of looking at things. Essentially, this is part of what we are doing when we do Bible study.

Within the Uniting Church, many of our comments and assumptions about women are also Western ones. Some of the strongest women of influence and authority are from non-Western cultures. I have been privileged to learn from indigenous sisters from both patriarchal and matriarchal social systems. I have witnessed the shift in style when four female Moderators (2 Western and 2 non-Western) get together. I have experienced Executive Leadership gatherings, in Australia and overseas, with some gender balance and, more often, with minority women. These are stories that can help our Church to continue to learn.

After having a keynote speaker discuss women and men in Ministry at a Uniting Church National Ministers’ Conference, perhaps it is timely in 2018 to commission a new expression of Gospel and gender to further explore our common good?

 

Rev Dr. Amelia Koh Butler is a Uniting Church Minister. You can follow her regular theology driven reflections through her blog Hyphenated Faith.




2 thoughts on “Ministry in the Uniting Church – one woman’s response

  1. Lilian

    Clear sign of offence has been taken hence the having to re word something some one else has said. I do believe this is one of the reasons why churches are not growing to their full potential in Christ as there is too many people (so called Christians) relying on how they feel rather than standing on Gods Word and Promises. When we hear something that we don’t agree with it offends us and we allow bitterness to grow in our hearts. We end up putting what someone is saying in the most nastiest way when who’s to say that person is only speaking on facts from a heart that has no hidden motives but a heart full of Love for God and to see His Children (Church and Bride of Christ) rise up to The people they have been called to be. Rising up from the grave and casting down All the enemy’s lies!!!
    Jesus’ two greatest commandments in short-Love God and Love others. How easily it is to deceive our selves when we only live out 1 instead of the 2. God is such a Loving God That He has given us His Son as a ransom for the whole world. He was also so Loving to allow His Holy Spirit to come and be our Guide and Helper. It is The Holy Spirits work to bring us children of God wether it be in our families, local churches and worldwide Body of Christ into ACCORD with each other. The problem is….Not All are willing to die to self and live in The Spirit.
    If you know to do good and do not do it-It is SIN….Ask yourself this the next time you feel offended or have something ill towards someone just because they have said something wether true or false or if they have done anything to hurt you….AM I treating them how I would want to be treated???
    As this question pretty much relates to…Loving others!!! Now The Bible tells us If we Love God We Will Keep His Commandments, so that means If we can Love others by forgiving them or rechecking our thoughts and feelings towards them in making sure their is nothing negative (as satan would love to have us have something against each other) Then we are Keeping both of Gods Greatest 2 Commandments. Loving God and Loving others as ourselves. Thank You God in and through JESUS for All that you have done and continue to do for All your dear children around the world and the precious souls you continue to call❤️❤️❤️ You are Worthy of All our Praises, Glory and Thankgivings❤️❤️❤️Strengthen us to do YOUR WILL in ALL CIRCUMSTANCES!!!!❤️❤️❤️

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