On Women in the Church

This isn’t a post I expected to write just yet, but recent events have meant it’ll soon become a source of much conversation.

But first some history

I am old enough to remember when the Church of England voted to allow the ordination of women, about 20 years ago. There was a lot of media attention on the matter and at the time I was never convinced by the arguments against the ordination of women. As a young Christian man, my opinion was that the spiritual qualities of a minister and their abilities to lead a congregation in a biblical were far more important than their gender.

At the time I worked in a computer shop and one of our regular customers was a vicar. A few days after the vote to allow women to be ordained he brought his computer in and he’d set up his Windows to have the most ghastly colour scheme you could ever imagine. Pretty much everything was a different colour and they were all bright and clashed horridly. When a comment was made, his response was that he had attended the vote and during the pre vote debate, so much was said that he considered unpleasant that when he got home he was in a such an emotional state it was the only way he could distract himself long enough to wind down to sleep. He was involved in the organisation of the Women’s World Day of Prayer, so I don’t think it’s difficult to guess which side of the argument he was on.

The Sunday after the vote, the leadership of the Church of England church I attended stated that they considered that the Church had lost something of its essence as a result of the positive vote. I never really understood what was meant by the comment and I never felt confident enough to ask. I was a little surprised though because the church did seem to support women in leadership. There was at least one female Lay Reader and women did preach on occasion as well. There was certainly nothing obvious about the language and the leadership of the church that indicated opposition to women in leadership.

After we got married, my wife and I were briefly involved in a church plant that this same church was involved in. The team put together was mostly women and the church actively supported the church plant and the members of the team.

When we relocated, we started attending a Baptist Church. One active church member, who we worked with in the youth ministry, was anti women in leadership. She was anti to the point where she would not attend a service when a woman was preaching. This included the occasions my wife would preach.

How do you support and work with a person on a close level and yet, due to their gender, don’t consider them worthy of your ear when they preach? The contradiction led to a couple of unhelpful conversations but, again, the reasons for the non-support of the female preacher never made any sense to me.

And so to now

Now we’re heading for the first anniversary of our latest move, gosh how the time flies! We’re at another Baptist church and we’re friends with the minister and his wife, and a handful of others too.

The church has its challenges, it has a far more conservative congregation, mainly due to its older demographic. The church forbids the women to preach, it’s in the constitution. The current minister does not support this rule, but he can’t change it without the support of the majority of the congregation. So my wife will not be preaching at this church any time soon, though she has already started leading worship on occasion and organised a worship group; two things that appear to be appreciated.

So why bring this subject up now?

Well, at the weekend one of the less old members of the congregation approached my wife and asked if they could meet up at some point to have a conversation because he suspected that they didn’t agree on women in leadership and he wanted to have an honest discussion before there was a chance of a misunderstanding.

I’m disappointed that this gentleman is closer to my own age than the traditional older members of the congregation, but I do admire his desire to head off a confrontation and hope that the result will be positive. However, I don’t really see either changing their minds so the result can really only be a return to the uncomfortable friendship previously described at our former church.

This makes me sad, but there is not a lot I can do about it, my wife is a big girl and she doesn’t need me to protect her from this sort of situation, however it is something she could do without. I guess we’ll have to see what transpires and deal with it from there.

Final thoughts

There is a paradox about not allowing women to lead and preach that has always bothered me. Churches (and people) that don’t support women behind the pulpit seem happy with women leading the children’s groups. If what the woman has to say is so unbiblical then why the hell allow her to talk to impressionable children but not to adults who can apparently think for themselves? If a woman is not worthy of expounding the gospel to adults then why the hell is she teaching the children?

I don’t get it.

Advertisements

Communion Forced Another Conversation

Before reading this post, it would a good idea for read the preceding one (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/12/12/the-coming-out-begins/) to get the context.

Having admitted my doubts, the very next Sunday happened to be a communion. When I noticed, which was right at the start of the service as its very hard to miss the table all set up like that, my heart truly fell. I wanted to walk out.

I wasn’t ready to face this; I’d not even considered it, not even for a second. After goodness knows how long faking it by taking communion, I now found myself facing my denial square in the face and I had nowhere to run.

As the service progressed I got more and more distracted by the issue. I really wanted to leave and miss the communion part of the service altogether, which would mean missing the rest of the service. I didn’t want to just walk out in the preceding song, if I was to do so I might worry my wife. I could briefly tell her, but that might be just as bad.

“Sorry I can’t take communion”, then leave?

Well, it sounds easy but I couldn’t do that either, it didn’t feel fair to leave her on her own in the row.

So I stayed and I let the plate and glasses pass.

A week later we spoke about it

I kept waiting for my wife to ask me about it. She obviously didn’t want to push me on the issue so I eventually broached the subject myself.

I explained that I felt really uncomfortable being there during communion and that letting the plate and glasses pass me by wasn’t good enough. I was still deeply uncomfortable being there during communion. I couldn’t explain exactly why, I still can’t.

Unequally yoked

We talked a little more about other issues and I raised a concern I had about my current state of faith meant that we were effectively unevenly yoked and I didn’t want that to become a problem or a burden in our marriage. My wife, in her typically wise way, pointed out that over the years we’ve very rarely been evenly yoked. Our Christian walk has very rarely been in step, so why should this situation change anything?

She’s right, of course. She didn’t see it as being an issue so I shouldn’t either, so long as we continue to be honest with each other.

Then there was the next month’s communion

Then the next month came by and another communion service.

My wife gave me a get out and suggested that I could stay at home that day. It wasn’t free though, I had a list of things to prepare for lunch. I gladly took the deal.

This can’t be a long term solution though. I don’t know what the long term solution will be, we still need to work that out. In the meantime this month’s communion is looming, this Sunday I think. I guess we need another discussion.

Whatever happens, I know the worries I had about my marriage being affected by my state of belief are pretty much exposed as being over nothing. That’s a major relief.

This video was shown in the Church service yesterday

Yesterday’s Sermon used the following video as an introduction and link to the sermon.

Its a clever video and makes its point in a slick and impressive way. I am sure if I still called myself a Christian I would have enjoyed it. Several of the congregation around me seemed to enjoy it, judging by their positive murmurings and head nodding when it ended.

However.

All the way through the first half, my mind was screaming out “this is not how I think, this is not how atheists think, this is a straw man built on what misguided Christians think the godless live”.

So I switched off. I can’t remember what the sermon was about now.

So today I find myself faced with the first disappointment of the paster of our new church.

Settling into a New Location

New Location Summary

At the end of August the family limey relocated to a seaside location. We’ve settled into our new home quickly and we are beginning to get our bearings in the town and meet some new people. We’ve moved to a small town, smaller than the town we used to live in, however, due to its location it’s a very popular holiday destination and there are two large static caravan parks north and south of the town; as a result the population swells considerably in the summer months. This brings its own benefits and challenges. For starters, it means that it’s a much more dynamic town and there is no shortage of visitor attractions in the area. There are also many events and activities in the town which are geared towards family’s and children. All of this is very good, because we’ve moved from a very nondescript magnolia town which was less than an hour’s train journey from centralLondon. Most residents wereLondoncommuters and people went out of town for their activities because there was no shortage of similar towns all a ten minute drive away. Now we can walk or cycle to many places, including the sea front.

We’ve moved into a brand new house, which is great in many respects, but also brings its own challenges and issues. For the next few months at least, we’re going to have to tolerate new houses being built 20 meters from our front door and all the dust and noise that comes with it. However, look out the back and we can see cows in fields and scrub land, which I hope never gets built on.

In short, we love our new location, there will be a time of settling required but we are already very happy here and are glad we’ve made the jump. I am currently working from home and my travel intoLondonwill be limited because the journey is not a practical daily commute.

Our phone and internet provider has been astonishingly slow in getting us connected and so I feel very out of touch with the blogs I follow and the other on-line communities I like to keep in touch with; which means when I do eventually get connected I’ll be overwhelmed with the volume I need to catch up on.

The New Church

As was previously predicted, the whole family has attended the Baptist church in our new town. It’s the longest run of consecutive services I’ve been to in a while. For the moment I am okay with going to church again so I we’ll see how things proceed.

Our last pastor is best described as intense and immature. He had a very black and white attitude to many things and his delivery was always shouty enthusiastic rather than considered intellect. In the last few years we’ve seen many mature Christians leave the church and the vast majority of the newcomers are new Christians or literal Christians. While I had much in common with our last pastor, including a love of cars and a very childish sense of humour, I had little respect for the way he ran the church.

The pastor of this new church is very different and carries a maturity that is immediately attractive; being ten years older than our last pastor probably helps with this. The pastor’s wife is actively involved the children’s work and when I’ve seen them both at the front doing a sketch together they were genuinely entertaining and very likeable. It’s the first time I’ve seen a Pastor’s wife so visibly involved in the ministry of the church.

The church itself has an older demographic than we are used to, and this is most obvious in the worship. The only musician is an elderly lady who plays the organ, a very lovely pipe organ that dominates the front of the church. Its quite surprising to see one in a building so small. In a way it reminds me of my Grandparents old Brethren Chapel

That’s not to say that all the worship is dowdy hymns though. There are many popular chorus’s sung and they are accompanied by a CD soundtrack. Its sounds immensely corny but its actually works quite well.

So far we’ve already managed to get a lunch invite to the Manse to get to know the Pastor and his family a little better. We had a lovely lunch and chat after wards. I can see that we’ll be getting to know them much better over the years.

Cause to Laugh and Chuckle

The biggest surprise came when I visited the local camera club in our second week here, only to find that the Pastor himself is a member. So it looks like I will be getting to know the Pastor on a social level regardless of whatever happens at church. This could be interesting; at least it gives the chance to have serious conversations casually so it doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

Nothing has changed, yet.

There is more that I want to say about the church but that demands its own blog post. What do need to acknowledge and clarify is that being happier with this church changes nothing in my state of belief; I am still an atheist. What will change is that I’ll no longer be able to hide behind our previous excuse of not being happy in the church. At some point I’ll have to stop wishing for a happy status quo and man up to the challenges that will come in answering questions on my spirituality. I don’t ever see myself professing faith again, so the issue of needing to tell the truth but not wanting to cause hurt and upset is still the big thing that is bubbling away in the back of my mind.

We Said goodbye to our Church on Sunday

This Sunday just gone, was the last time we attended a service at the Church that we’ve called home for the past 14 years.

Our pastor was on holiday so he wasn’t around, but I did get the chance to shake his hand and say farewell and best wishes the week before.

This means that, having not attended Church for several months, I have been the last two Sundays.

There are many dear friends who attend our former Church, most of whom know of and even share our concerns with the current leadership. Some know about the various events over the past couple of years that have upset either my wife or myself.

It is a little sad to be leaving under less than happy circumstances, but the move away is not at all related to the situation at church, it is a personal choice that will bring a very different quality of life to us and its for that reason we are moving. If everything at church was perfect, we’d still be moving, and it would be a more emotional wrench.

We are still leaving some very dear friends behind though. Friends who welcomed us to the church all those years ago and friends we’ve made a long the way. In those years I’ve seen people come to the church and I’ve seen people leave. Some have moved away, after many years of service, many more than the 14 years we’ve been around. Some have left the church because they’ve had enough.

Our last service was nothing special, with the pastor being away a church member preached. He’s a nice enough and genuine person but he’s not especially great at preaching. He doesn’t engage in his delivery and I don’t find him intellectually stimulating either. Some people don’t go when he preaches for those reasons.

Since we have dear friends in the church and those dear friends know how much my wife and I have committed to the church over the years, there was no way we were going to get away without it being made known to the rest of the church. So near the beginning of the service we were called to the front and interviewed about our move away. We were okay with this, though we would also have been happy to slip away unannounced. We’ve already arranged for many of our close friends to come and bid us farewell on our last night here in a local drinking establishment, so a farewell at the front of our home church is merely a formality.

However, that all being said, I had mentally prepared a small speech covering some of the things I wanted to say as a thank you to those who have been an extended family to us over the years. Unfortunately, the gentleman who was leading the service is a new joiner, an enthusiastic South African who is a biblical literalist and has his own way of doing things; he has also been the source of some of my wife’s upset over the past year. On his list of accomplishments seems to be the utter demise of the church music group. As a result, the farewell interview was a couple of obvious questions like, when do you move? are you packed? and where do you move? He didn’t probe to ask how long we’d been at our church or what we’d be doing church wise after we’d moved. Things we would also expect to be asked.

So the questions halted awkwardly and then we were prayed for. One of those praying for us is possibly the best friend we have at the church. A wonderful lady who has seen her own share of hurt, not just from this church, but from other churches too; gentleness, kindness and love simply ooze from her pores and we’ll miss seeing her on a regular basis. So I smiled knowingly when she made a point of listing all the things we’ve been involved with in the church over the years during her prayer of thanks for us.

I didn’t get to say my piece to the church, I’m a disappointed about that, but I’ll get over it. I have no idea, if we’ll ever set foot in it again. We may do, but we’ve currently no plans at all to return to this town, so I can’t say for certain.

We’ve waved goodbye to the church we gave much to and which supported us. We’ve waved goodbye to the frustrations and upsets too, hopefully they’ll not return to bother us again.

This week is now a week of looking forward, on Wednesday my wife takes our daughter to her parent’s house to stay for a few nights while we finish up the packing and on Friday we move to a brand new house in a town by the sea and a new life beckons.

I am sure it won’t be perfect and I am sure there will be challenges ahead, but there will also be good things to look forward too. For the last 14 years we’ve lived in a town we moved to because of my work and we’ve not been close to family for any of that time. From Friday, we’ll be a mile away from my wife’s parents, since they beat us to the hop and moved to the same seaside town a month before we did; after we announced our intent to move. We’ll also be less than an hour from my Aunts and cousins. This is a move for us. My wife is very excited about the move and simply can’t wait to settle in and start making friends with our new neighbours. I am a little more reserved about it as I’m not yet sure how this will affect my work so I’m taking it in my stride, enjoying the ride and will deal with whatever comes our way.

No doubt there will be a report from our new home Church and I expect I’ll be going to church more regularly from next week. I’m sure I will cope.

That Certainly is Convenient

My last post (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/05/04/you-have-my-permission-to-be-controversial/) had me thinking about coincidences and happening of convenience. When my wife and I move to the town that we currently live in; it was due to my job. In the months building up to the move several things combined to give us the distinct impression that God was guiding us.

In no particular order;

–         The minister of the Baptist Church in town was a friend of the Curate at the Church of England Church we’d been attending previously.

–         A friend of my brothers was dating a girl who attended that same Baptist Church

–         A girl who grew up at that Baptist Church had married my cousin inZambia, which helped me to get back in touch with that part of my family. (something we wouldn’t actually find out until after the move)

–         A girl who I knew, who attended my Mother’s Baptist Church had married someone who grew up in this same Baptist Church we would end up attending.

–         Despite resistance from my wife to moving to this town, attempts to buy a house in neighbouring towns failed. Either we couldn’t find a house we liked or we were outbid on the properties we did like.

–         When my wife eventually consented to looking at houses in this town, we found a flat that was new to the market, viewed it and made an offer all in one afternoon. Our offer was accepted.

There are probably a few other moments that could be added to this list, but the years have not been as kind to my memory as I would like them to be. The point is, that we interpreted all these things as evidence of God’s hand in the move and that it was most certainly His will.

We’re still in the early stages of our next big move, but the coincidences have already started.

–         Our house is being bought by a retiring Minister. It’s a cash purchase from his church organisation. This means there is no chain of people before him, to complicate the moving process

–         The house we are buying is a new build, not something we expected but the value compared to older houses is good and we won’t need to spend money redecorating. Also, buying a new house means no onward chain to complicate the move.

–         After an original concern over when the new house would be completed it turns out its going to be ready in August, which just so happens to be the month our purchasing minister retires and will need our house.

–         The father of one of the ladies at our current church used to be the minister at the Baptist Church in the town we are moving to.

–         When we visited the church a couple of weeks back, we found it a relaxed and less formal church than our own. There did appear to be a need for a worship group and it just so happens that my wife is gifted musically and on the occasions that she leads worship at our current church, she is always appreciated.

Of course we’ve discussed that there have been some rather fortunate moments in our plans to move. Neither of us has brought up the God at work assumption though. Certainly in years gone by I would have already been interpreting this as God’s will, but not now. Coincidences happen all the time.

Now I prefer to express it in the words of the great Tyrone from The Backyardigans; “That certainly is convenient”.

There’s a Problem Behind the Pulpit

The church that my wife and I have been attending for more than a decade now, has a very real problem.

Some years ago, when I still identified myself as a Christian, the church appointed a new Paster. I remember well the meeting that voted him in, 100% of the membership who voted that day voted for the new boy, it was very exciting.

Now, the church has many unhappy members. The new pastor has shown himself to be manipulative in getting his own way on things and his very black and white theology is proving divisive.

Conversations that my wife and I have had with others reveals that pretty much every one of our friends in the church are as unhappy and concerned as we are. People we trust and respect have stopped attending services when the pastor is preaching, capable people have stopped volunteering to do things in the church. There is a very obvious slide into something unpleasant, but not everyone see’s it yet.

As an atheist, why should I care?

I care because I have many friends in the church, I care because my wife still cares for those in the church and I care because people are getting hurt by the man at the front because he’s so focused on his vision of what he wants from the church that he’s forgotten about caring for the people who make that church.

All this has come at a convenient time as I can now say to my wife, in all honesty, that I really do not want to go to this church any more. I can state reasons that she agrees with and I don’t need to face questions on lack of faith.

However, it doesn’t solve the bigger problem of what to do about a pastor who has lost the respect of half his congregation.

My wife and I had a long discussion about it last night.

I’m of the feeling that there are people getting hurt and upset right now, there is disunity in the congregation and that it is likely to increase as time goes on. Its best to try doing something about it now.

My wife, while agreeing with all my points and concerns, would prefer to ride it out, taking the long term view that in another 5 years the current pastor will likely have moved on and the church family will still be here and they will all still be caring for each other. I know she’s not alone in taking that view.

While I sympathise with this standpoint, it sits very uncomfortably with me. I worry that the very good care structure within the church will be undermined.

I know that some individuals have approached the pastor to express their concerns. The result was that it reinforced to the pastor that he was right in what he was doing; taking the view that opposition comes from the devil and that only happens when what you are doing is good. The pastor has gone further and invited those who oppose him to leave the church. I consider such blinkered theology to be downright dangerous.

My wife asked me if I would initiate steps to have the pastor removed; in a Baptist church its possible to have the membership vote to remove the pastor. This is something I have considered and voiced casually a few times already. I don’t consider it something to be taken lightly, as the result will be immense pain, not just for the pastor and his family, but also for the congregation. It could split the church. A close friend of my wife and I has been a pastor who was removed from his church in such a way and he cautions against this action unless absolutely necessary. It was a very painful experience for him and his family.

It may be true that the church is not yet in a situation where this course of action is a serious option.

However, if the church is heading in that direction anyway, why wait until the situation demands it? Why not just get the awful thing over and done with sooner rather than later?

I’m not decided on what I want to, other than stop attending. At least it means I have a very good reason to stop attending and it means I can hold out from coming clean to my wife on my atheism. One day she’ll have to know, but I’m not ready for that one yet.