31st MAY 2003 @ BRISTOL, UK
On Saturday 31st May at 1pm a group of women gathered together to celebrate an historic reconstruction of the ancient rite of the Ordination of Women Deacons, in Cotham Parish Church in Bristol. The event had been organised by C.W.O. as part of their 10th anniversary celebrations, but it was also aimed at raising awareness of the role that women played in the Church during the first nine centuries C.E.
The re-enactment succeeded on both counts. As we listened to the stories of women who had worked as deacons, priests and even bishops, spoken by women who are denied that opportunity today, it was hard not to be overcome by a mixture of emotions: thanks for those women who did so much, often at great cost, in their lifetimes; awe at the beauty of the rite itself, identical to that of the ordinations of the male deacons, a deep sense of ‘connectedness’ with the early Church and with all those who have shared our faith over the millennia – and sadness mixed, if I’m honest, with a touch of anger that the voices of these women, and countless others about whom we know nothing, have been silenced and even denied.
We watched and prayed as the rite unfolded: the voices of the women, dotted around the church, who took the parts of just a few of those women deacons, each one a women of whose diaconal ministry there is historical evidence, telling us a little of their life and work; their calling by name from within the community to have hands laid on them and to be anointed by the bishop; their ministry at the altar and a beautiful re-enactment of the baptism, by full immersion, of an adult catechumen. This was indeed, a memorable occasion – and a painful one for those who are only able to take part in the reconstruction of an ancient rite, rather than be allowed to exercise a ministry to which many feel called, by God, in our world today.
It was not a huge gathering, but the feeling amongst those who came was that it was well worth the journey. Apart from Bristol and the surrounding towns, one or two had travelled down from London and one lady had travelled from Malmesbury – a journey which entailed three buses each way – and said she wouldn’t have missed it for the world!
The event raised a number of questions in the minds of some of those who came as spectators – perhaps the biggest are ‘Why have we not heard of these women before?’ and ‘Why does the Church not allow this ministry today ?’ The questions remain unanswered by the Church’s leadership.
For an illustrations of this re-enactment – click here. (n.b. this link goes to a sister site.)