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A Reflection on Women in Ministry

A Reflection on Women in Ministry

By Katherine Ruch
Sept. 30, 2017

The following was submitted to the ACNA House of Bishops in August 2017

As the ACNA continues to navigate through the choppy waters of how to embrace women in leadership at a time when the province is in process on women's ordination, I think it important to zoom out and remind ourselves of our goal and the means to that goal.

The foundation of this entire conversation needs to carry forward the fundamental truth that men and women together image God. One of the creational intentions for man and woman is to share in the dominion of God's creation. They are to be one. When women and men partner in ministry, great fruitfulness and joy are the beautiful result. They are living out God's design. It isn't difficult to agree that this partnership is the desirable end, the question is always how God designed that partnership to be embodied in the Church. Does each bring something unique to the partnership? And does the uniqueness fall along gender lines? The answers to these questions matter because God's way is always the blessed way, the fruitful way for both men and women. If we can discern and embrace God's way, it will be a joy and blessing for both men and women, but more than that, their union will be a beacon to the world, where men and women live in a power struggle marked by resentment, loss, and division.

The difficulty of having this conversation in the current atmosphere is that many women in the evangelical church have felt that they have been shut out from meaningful roles in the Church. The question of women in ministry has often been answered in practice by something less than a true partnership with men. Men have done the heavy lifting of shaping, strategizing, and leading in the Church, and women have had certain supportive roles that rarely tapped into the wealth of meaning and capacity women could have brought to the table. Understandably, women with gifts to lead and shape have suffered hurt by being shut out of important conversations.

Clearly something has needed to change. It naturally seems the way of justice and mercy to open up to women every role of influence traditionally held by men in the Church in order to restore to her a place of equality with men. The difficulty with this approach is that it leads to role-based solutions that deny the uniqueness of the feminine, because it makes the assumption that the influence of men and women is effected in the same way. This would be like saying that because the role of motherhood has been undervalued, the solution is for a mother to be given the role of father. And by "mercifully" giving the role of father to a mother, one would unwittingly confirm that motherhood is of lesser value. But on the other hand, not giving the role of father to mother does not correct the original problem of motherhood being undervalued. It is more important that the influence of women be understood as equally necessary, rather than equally delivered, and then to encourage that influence.

If women, therefore, begin simply to step into roles understood throughout the historic church as the headship roles for men, does that truly reach the heart of the issue, which is to bring the full feminine into the fabric of the tapestry, where she has been missing for so long? The presenting issue of whether or not the ACNA should allow women in the priesthood unfortunately does not address the real underlying issue: how is the ministry of the feminine best released in the Church? Within our beloved Church there can be, often unwittingly, a fear of the true feminine expression within the leadership of the church.

The real release that needs to happen is a blessing of the unique contribution that woman has to bring. Man was incomplete without her. He had to realize his need of a companion before God brought the gift of a partner, a helper perfect for him. We know that the word used for woman, "Helper," ("Ezer") is the same used for the Holy Spirit in other contexts of Scripture. Woman brings a supernatural completion to man. Without her, man is unfruitful. Without her, his dominion is unbalanced. Without her, his wisdom is incomplete. Men in authority in the Church have to realize and acknowledge that they need women in order for the Church to be fruitful and flourish. Such a great distance exists between "permitting" women and "needing" women in ministry.

I have come to believe that women's ordination to the priesthood is an "Ishmael" -- an attempt to fulfill a promise of fruitfulness that, instead of fruitfulness, has both caused division in the historic, global Church and a disregard for the real issue. The real issue is the "Imago Dei," male and female together reflecting the image of God. This must be the desired goal. For this goal to be accomplished, women must be understood as the supernatural companions for men and the sacramental representation of the Church. But if in the attempt to address the impoverishment of feminine roles in the Church, we offer restitution by offering a role that actually is not crafted for her, we inadvertently sequester her leadership and limit it by categorizing it in an historically defined masculine role. This will also side step the intention of God and the means by which we worship and do mission most effectively.

Simply choosing not to ordain women, however, will not accomplish this higher calling of the unity between man and woman. It requires a different kind of commitment to bring women into true communion with men, a commitment I would hope to see the ACNA champion. Ishmael was the product of an attempt to employ a human solution instead of God's design of the supernatural fruitfulness born through faith. God's design is more creative and requires more humility from both men and women.

If women embody half the meaning of the world, men must seek to receive from woman what he cannot on his own hear or see. If women are the mothers of all the living (Gen 3:20), men must seek the counsel of their mothers. If women receive a seed, gestate it, nurture it, and deliver to the world a new life, men must submit to the necessity of women for any new life to be delivered in the Church in its most mature form. Jesus himself tied the future of his kingdom and all his work to the Church, his bride. If women are the icon of the Church, men must realize that they themselves cannot accomplish anything lasting on this earth without her. God entrusted the life of His Son into the womb of a woman. But men in the Church continue to disregard the essential contribution of woman in many circles of leadership. If woman is honored and brought into the creative process of building, nurturing, and establishing the Church, the need for a woman fatherhood role, such as the priesthood, is rendered unnecessary.

Unfortunately, women have consistently been disregarded in many areas of influence and leadership in the Church and have not been welcomed as equal and essential contributors in thought, ideas, and strategy. Accordingly, many have sought other means to bring what they know the Church needs, the gift of the feminine, a gift they are born to give. Sadly, however, when left to find avenues for their own bestowal of the feminine gift, women will often off-road into the masculine, as those seem the only roads traveled.

The biblical, theological, and historical reasons against the ordination of women are clear and can be articulated more succinctly by others qualified to do so. I am convinced by them. But if this debate dismisses the real issue of women being welcomed into the broader conversation rather than being only whispers in their husband's ears at home, we will collectively miss the opportunity of walking into a greater good. If the ACNA as a movement continues to allow women into ordination and yet does not shift in its understanding of the need of the feminine in the Church, the halls will be crowded with women lining up to be ordained because that will be the only door open for women to use their gifts of leadership.

Opening ordination to women has never released all women to bring what they have to share into the movement. It would be easy for the ACNA to check a box: "We release women in ministry because over here in this segment of our province they can become ordained," while all along avoiding the hard work of bringing women into the heart of all that is being birthed. My experience in the evangelical church is that there can be an overall spirit of suspicion toward the contribution of women where there is a nod to one group when women are included in a visible role, while at the same time apologizing to another group. Jesus has never apologized for the inclusion of women in his deepest work, such as the Incarnation.

As a woman with gifts of teaching and the prophetic, I want to submit to the headship of my husband, the historic Church, and above all, to Christ. I am grateful that I am in a parish and diocese that blesses women in all areas of leadership (though not the priesthood), or I would be confused as how to use the gifts I believe God has given me to build up the Church. No woman needs to be ordained if she is released to do what she is gifted to do. Our diocese has a woman heading up the church planting initiative and has women strategizing the future of our ministry school; our churches have women wardens, executive pastors, and worship leaders; women are in highly collaborative meetings and are sought after for counsel as to the design and architecture of whole ministries.

We have no need for women to be ordained into fatherhood roles because their feminine contribution is everywhere released and encouraged. Rather than placating those who are vociferous about women in leadership by including token women on committees, women are sought after as a needed voice in decision making. It is understood that they can and do have all the spiritual gifts that men have but will employ them in a feminine way, in a way that ministers the Gospel differently.

If women are ordained as priests, they abdicate what only they can bring. But if men cannot receive what only women can bring, they themselves will be impoverished, and the movements they lead will lack that flourishing fruitfulness that is marked by this supernatural partnership. It is my prayer that the ACNA will enter more deeply into the true dialogue of how to release women into non-headship roles while welcoming and affirming their essential contribution.

Katherine Ruch is the wife of ACNA Bishop Stewart E. Ruch III, the first bishop of the Diocese of the Upper Midwest in the Anglican Church in North America

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