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Postcards from the edge

Three reflections on the 2nd international conference on Women’s Ordination Worldwide

Ottawa, Canada

At the First International WOW Conference in Dublin (2001), Joan Chittister stated that Christian discipleship "will change a church that is now more ecclesiastical than communal. Real discipleship changes things."

Chittister invited participants to reflect upon the quality of our discipleship, that "attitude of mind, quality of soul, and way of living that takes Jesus the Christ as model and seeks the wisdom of God to build a better society, a better church, a better world."

Where there are disciples, there are leaders. So the Second International Ecumenical WOW Conference focused on how a different model of leadership might change things.

We invited keynote speakers to share their vision and their experience of leadership in a discipleship of equals, a church where all share in the "royal priesthood" of the faithful.

Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza called us to joyfully stand up and be ordained by the Spirit- Sophia Wisdom into what she termed the "variegated ministries" needed to build the kingdom of God : political and grassroots organizers, educators, mentors and writers, performers of religious art, liturgists, preachers, mystics, Eucharist presidents, faith-sharers and peace-makers, counselors and protectors of creation. Rosemary Radford Ruether called us to reject patriarchy and clericalism by generously sharing rather than hoarding knowledge, redemptive power and the Spirit's gifts.

Mary Hunt, Teresia Hinga, Kirsten Pedersen and Myra Poole painted a picture of how women have been deploying those gifts in myriad ways all over the world.

What has been etched in my memory is the powerful breaking of silence on a broad range of subjects covered in workshops and prayer services. Our closing liturgy was a powerful, celebratory and nourishing breaking of Word and Bread for the journey ahead.

The first objective of Women's Ordination Worldwide is to open dialogue with the Roman Catholic hierarchy on the subject of the admission of women to ordained ministries.

My prayer is that, contrary to the disciples in the story of the Samaritan Woman, the men who currently lead the Roman Catholic Church will ask women, "What do you want?", honestly and humbly; ask Christ why he is speaking with women (John 4:27), then listen very closely to the answers.

Marie Evans Bouclin of Sudbury, Ontario, is co-ordinator of Women's OrdinationWorldwide.

The conference taught me the steps of a delicate dance. It is the dance of our many and varied sensitivities regarding the ordination of women in Christendom and in other faith traditions, especially in the current situation of impasse in the Roman Catholic Church.

All the women present at WOW 2005 in Ottawa expressed their deep concern, pastoring one another. The giftedness of 500 deeply spiritual women coming together in mutual respect, despite differences about women's ordination, released the action of Jesus-Sophia, our tender and compassionate Mother and Father holding us in a common bond of recognition.

What more could we have asked of this particular conference? A Catholic News Service report missed the central issues which was raised by the keynote speakers Fiorenza and Ruether. The title, "Supporters of women priests call church hierarchy morally bankrupt," missed the compelling points made by both speakers about sacred domination. People have difficulty understanding this metaphor in the context of the sacred realm. But when I take the word 'domination' and ask them to consider it in terms of their life experience in private and public lives, and then ask them to move their understanding into the realm of church practice, they understand it.

But that is not enough. We must name these practices explicitly and consider how we will not replicate them. We must envision alternate models of ministry and structural practices. Such work asks for clear discernment with each other in community. It asks us to consider in what ways we each personally embody such practices because it is unlikely that we have not been socialized into them on some level.

A few days before I left for Ottawa, I experienced an episode of 'sacred domination'. A priest from a different Catholic tradition invited himself to my home, and I agreed he could come. He arrived at my door in a full-length black cassock. He wore a silver cross on a long chain, and a Roman collar. He carried a small square leather case.

We went outside to the patio where he seated himself across from me. He faced me with hands folded in his lap and insisted I address him as 'Father.' He tried to dissuade me from becoming a Roman Catholic woman-priest. It was an offence to everything in his religious tradition, he claimed. Only the male can be a priest, because only a male can be the symbol for transmitting the sacred presence. His wife is a priest, he claimed, but in her motherhood. It was not good enough to stop me from embracing my priesthood within what my life and study had taught me, bringing me to at this historical moment. I thanked him.

From this visit and from the WOW conference, I take a commitment to work in every way I can to address how we can change these practices stemming from patriarchally privileged belief systems. We can teach each other as we go.

My belief is that we must discover, name and stop doing all these dishonouring practices if we are to create an inclusive model of priesthood with the People of God.

Michele Birch writes from Parkesville, British Columbia.

I believe it is the beginning of a new and awesome change in the life of the church.

I pray and hope it will bring dialogue to help people sit down and, as human beings, work out our differences. Otherwise, we are doing the same thing as the United States and Iraq: throwing bombs at each other.

Rome believes that these women are only after power. My experience is very different. I have always been edified by their spirituality, compassion, love and very humble service. I never sensed any hunger for power or prestige.

Father Ed Cachia lives in Cobourg, Ontario.

These reflections were first published in Catholic New Times of Toronto, September 11, 2005 and have been abridged and reprinted here with permission.


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