RECENTLY, a friend asked me a question that stopped me in my tracks. She asked: Why do you choose to stay in a profession that is so oppressive?
I didn't know how to respond. Within the last number of weeks, the US Southern Baptists voted to ban female ministers from their denomination, and closer to home, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland refused to engage in a conversation concerning women in ministry (they currently have approximately 20 female ministers out of a total of 345). This – on top of the ongoing abuse I constantly receive simply because I am a female minister – is probably why I responded with 'That's a great question.'
I don't believe any of us should remain anywhere that is oppressive and I certainly don't believe God would want us to remain in a constant place of toxicity. I've often said that I don't believe the Church will ever reach its full potential when we continue to exclude women from the leadership table and I completely understand and respect any female clergy who have chosen to walk away, because being constantly told that 'You can't' simply because you are a woman is bound to weigh you down. At times it weighs me down too.
A couple of years ago, I had the privilege of being part of the NI Women's European Platform delegation to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. My focus was on gender and religion. One of the quotes that was shared stood out for me: 'If you feel there's no room for you at the table, bring a folding chair.' The reality is that many female ministers exist and are ministering across the world;
Despite being often dismissed, disrespected and disregarded.
Despite attempts to silence.
We are here – still. And I have no doubt women will continue to step up and lead, they will bring their folding chairs and keep on keeping on. Why? Because we truly believe God has called us to do this, and He tends to make a way where there appears to be no way.
I have no idea what the future holds for me and I am thankful to the Baptist Union of GB who ordained me (the Irish Baptists don't ordain women). But for now, we keep on pressing on. Friends, don't let anyone tell you that 'You can't.' You can. Keep pressing on. Keep pushing ahead. Keep paving a way!