As self-identified minorities have clamoured for a voice in government, education, culture and the church, I think some other voices got pushed to the edges and maybe even silenced. Traditional men have been complaining about this for a few years; they once held most of the influence and power, and now they are just a voice amongst many. That is a whole other issue. Should a group that has held power, and not always wisely, take a back seat (or backbench in parliament) and let others have a turn? Should they acknowledge that they need to make room? On the other side of that, they are often the best educated and most experienced, and still control most of the financial assets. How does all of that fit together in a changing world?
But another group that never had much power or influence directly still isn’t at the table. That is traditional women. Despite, in the Anglican Church, the influence and fund-raising ability of the Women’s Auxiliary and Anglican Church Women, traditional women have sat on the sidelines and pretty much still do. (And this despite the remarks about the Women’s Artillery and the Army of Church Women. The rectors of the past were right, that these were the only places where women did have power in the church, and often they wielded it with an iron fist, as far as they could reach.)
Even more than men in suits and ties, we traditional women are seen as archaic, an anachronism in a church and culture that prides itself on moving with the times. The elder women may still be in the parish kitchen in forty year old aprons, but we younger ones (though I am feeling older by the day) sit in the pews, but rarely do we sit on vestry or council. The church doesn’t know what to do with us. They don’t know how to help us find ministry. I am ordained and my traditional dress and manner still cause consternation and hesitation.
Partly the church has accepted the cultural perception of the Plain: that we have little education, are extremely shy, that we will be obstinate and immovable in making decisions. Traditional women are perceived as having no independent thought, and relying on their husband’s opinions for everything. This is despite the facts, that while some Plain people do not have advanced education, they are often self-educated, and Plain people outside the Old Orders may have university degrees; that a peaceful mind and a quiet voice are not necessarily signs of shyness; that we may come from many different backgrounds and have varying opinions from each other as well as from society. My independence and creativity are things my husband found attractive before we married, and he does not try to stifle that. He has always relied on my knowledge, experience and power of logic. While I may defer to him on many matters, (Shall we sell the car? Do we live in this town or the next one over?) he wouldn’t make a decision without taking into account what I think or want. This is just basic respect for another human being; it has nothing to do with power and authority, which are Christ’s.
The church doesn’t know what to do with us, and most don’t know how to begin to learn. Quite often, even though we have attended a church for a period of time, we find we never get to know the other members. They may exchange a few words at coffee hour, but we have never, in the last few years, been invited to a member’s home except as part of a church group. We can’t always invite others to our home, because of living arrangements, but it is indeed the burden on the older members to invite the new ones, not the other way around. This is just part of the general lack of hospitality rampant in the churches; once our strongest feature, we have completely lost a sense of building community. And thus we exclude others when Jesus called us to welcome them in, unconditionally.
So what should the church be doing, to welcome those who are on the edges, to encourage women to have a strong sense of who they are, to include those who just don’t fit the mold?
First, get rid of the mold. Stop being a shill for culture and be the body of Christ.
Second, look for wisdom first in scripture, and then in the traditions handed down from the Apostles. Stop trying to twist these into a modern shape.
Third, stop accomodating money and worldly power. Jesus had neither of these. He told us to stay away from them.
Foruth, stop looking at the outside of people and pray to the Holy Spirit to help us see what is inside.
Fifth, get away from programmes and workshops and books about how to be Church and just go do it. Look seriously at what Christ said, what Christ did, and how the Apostles lived that out. We are probably not going to put on sandals and walk everywhere, preaching the gospel in the marketplace, but it wouldn’t hurt if we did.
Traditional women, you will have to be supportive of each other. Plain or not, you be the welcoming ones: Hospitality is a traditional woman’s ministry. Live out your role in the body if Christ by doing what you do well. Bake, sew, nurse the sick, teach the children, grow produce for the hungry. In the work that is given to us we must be the leaders. Men in suits and women in high heels, no matter how much power and money they carry, will never see us as influenetial or even useful. Elders will have to shepherd the young. So the ACW will need to start recruiting traditional young women and making room for them. Worldly people may have to shut up and listen; insist in a Spirit-filled way that we are hear to be heard.
It is just a beginning. I believe the Lord is leading us to take a seat at the table, not just in the shadows. In our own way, with meekness and humility, we will need to be the voice of the past and the future. Plain has a lot to offer, and we are the ones who bear that tradition.