Thursday, March 28, 2013

Anglican Women on Church and Mission

The Anglican Communion is in crisis. The battle over homosexuality, with its intense media coverage, threatens to rip the Church apart. The debates on women bishops in the Church of England caused anger and frustrations among female clergy and their supporters. Some conservative Anglican bishops and their followers have formed a Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, chastising the Church as having gone astray from true biblical teaching. These controversies epitomize the challenges facing the Communion and touch on fundamental issues such as the crisis of Anglican identity, the nature of authority and provincial autonomy, contrasting views on biblical interpretation, and ecumenical relations with other churches. The tenor of the debates is also influenced by the shift of Christian demographics from the global North to the global South. If the contentious issue of women’s ordination did not break the Anglican Church apart in the 1970s, some are less optimistic that the Communion can weather the present storm and find ways to remain together.

Yet even as gender and sexuality issues remain at the heart of these debates, voices of women from the Communion have not been clearly heard or appreciated. Media coverage and church pronouncements tend to focus on the opinions of bishops, as if they could represent the range of diversity within the member churches, or of spokespersons of various Anglican networks and agencies, who are mostly male and clergy. The voices of lay people and women are marginalized, even though women make up the majority of many churches. This groundbreaking volume attempts to fill this gap by inviting female church leaders, scholars, and theological educators from across the Communion to share their reflections on the Anglican Church and its mission. An anthology such as this makes a unique contribution because there are very few substantial works by women from different parts of the Communion. It is even rarer for the majority of the book’s authors to have grown up in the global South, bringing with them the rich textures and multilayered experiences of the Anglican Church.

The book originated at a conference for Anglican female theological educators at Canterbury, United Kingdom, in the spring of 2009. The women gathered became very conscious of the fact that we had few women leading theological schools in the Anglican Communion. Although there are several books on Anglican women’s history, mission, and struggles for leadership, they are mostly limited to a single country and do not cover the Communion as a whole. Judith A. Berling, Jenny Te Paa, and I decided to coedit this book to broaden the conversation.

The book is divided into two parts. Part one provides Anglican historical and theological perspective on the Church. Contributors include Ellen K. Wondra, Jane Shaw, Wendy Fletcher, Jenny Te Paa, and I. We discuss the transition from a colonial church to a global Communion, the problems of authority, the debates on sexuality, women's struggle for ordination, and women’s leadership development in the Communion. 

Part two focuses on Anglican women and God’s mission. Gulner E. Francis-Dehqani, Cordelia Moyse, Esther M. Mombo, Denise M. Ackermann, Clara Luz Ajo L├ízaro, and Judy Berinai are the contributors. The chapters discuss the involvement of women in the Church Mission Society in Iran, the work of the Mothers’ Union, the Church’s involvement in poverty alleviation in Africa, the Church and the HIV and AIDS pandemic, cultural diversity and women’s spirituality within the Communion, and women witnessing Christ in a Muslim context. 

We hope that this book will promote dialogue and scholarship on women in the Communion. We are very grateful to those faithful Anglican women who have gone before us, and we hope that women in the upcoming generation will be given greater responsibilities and leadership opportunities in the Church.

*Adapted from Anglican Women on Church and Mission © 2013 the Church Publishing Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY.