Feature: young women priests face issues of ageand gender.


"I had a little girl in my parish 30 years ago who, on holiday, went to church and was heard to say, 'Mommy, can men be priests, too?' Your question is kind of like that.

-The Rev. Barbara Liotscos. Toronto

"I was 19 when the Anglican church was debating ordination of women.

I remember being very sad when my dad, an Anglican priest [in the diocese of Ottawa], was against such ordination, using biblical texts to support his view. My career choices were limited by those views. It seemed unfair that because I was born female, I would never be equal to my two brothers...

One of my best friends...Judy Paulson is now a priest [at St. Paul's Bloor St. in Toronto], and seeing her work and ministry and her thoughtfulness really helped me to be confident in my beliefs that absolutely women should be included and be ordained and take leadership roles in the church.

The church that we belong to now is called St. Margaret s Episcopal Church in Little Rock... [The Rev. Mary Vano] is a wonderful, genuine priest and it is wonderful to have her lead our parish.

-Charlotte Hobbs, Little Rock. Arkansas

"We would not get far without the faithful ministry of so many ordained women. God transcends gender!

-Judith Matthews McBride, Brisbane. Australia

The Rev. Dawn Leger went through a phase where she dim* "I can't bed herself to keep everyone happy. Until she realized, "ship all the time." just take on everybody 's anxiety about women in le;

Maj. The Rev. Catherine Askew, CAF military chaplain

The Rev. Cathy Laskey, diocese of New Brunswick

Two key moments relating to the ordination of women have been seared in the memory of the Rev. Dawn Leger, an associatepriest at Christ Church Anglican in Stouffville, Ont.

While pursuing her master's of divinity degree at the Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax, Leger found that two of her classmates were retired nurses. "I remember being so moved and compelled by their stories because, unlike me, they had both wanted to join the priesthood from a really young age, but they couldn't, because the church [then] wasn't ordaining women," says Leger. Once the Anglican Church of Canada began ordaining women in 1976, these nurses decided that as soon asthey wrapped up their careers, they would go back to school-which they did.

Leger was ordained a priest in 2006, the same year that the Anglican Church of Canada celebrated the 30th anniversary of women's ordination. The homilist, one of the first women to be ordained in the diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, recalled having guards on either side of her so that she could safely walk down the aisle.

Hearing stories about the struggles of women clergy before her has made Leger wonder:

"Would I have been so compelled? Could I have fought the fight?"

Like Leger, the Rev. Riscylla Shaw, priest and pastor of Christ Church, Bolton, Ont., says she remains "very conscious"that where she and other young women clergy stand now was once "not an easy place to get to." She remains thankful to "those who led the way before us."

Thirty-eight years after the Canadian Anglican church began to ordain women and 70 years after the ordination of the Anglican Communion's first female priest, Florence Li Tim-Oi, what do Leger, Shaw and other young clergy women like them think about the status of female priests within the Anglican Church of Canada?

Maj. The Rev. Catherine Askew, a military chaplain for the Canadian Armed Forces, says she has seen the stained-glass ceiling "shattering," citing Bishop Lydia Mamakwa, the first aboriginal woman bishop, who is "really breaking new ground and really redefining who we are as a Canadian church."

Askew notes that female military chaplains are in senior command positions. "The command chaplain of the navy is a female Anglican priest [Lt. Col. The Rev. Michelle Staples]," she says. "A . higher percentage of our women are in leadership roles than the men." (There are about 200 male chaplains and 20 female chaplains in the regular forces.)

Legernotes, "where I stand now, I feel I'm being selected for leadership not because of or in spite of my sex but because of the gifts that I have."

The Rev. Cathy Laskey, associate priest at St. Martins-in-the-Woods Anglican Church in Shediac Cape, N.B., says the influence of female

clergy in bringing people together in a family kind of context is being affirmed.

"Traditionally, women have played leadership roles in the church and kept things going. You look at the ACWs [Anglican Church Women] and there are many stories," she notes. "It is a natural role and it's being broadened into a more recognized form of leadership..."

The Rev. Jolene Peters, a newly ordained priest serving the Parish of Labrador West, says female clergy today have "more opportunities."

Peters finds it "very encouraging" that the archdeacon of her diocese, Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, is a woman-Sandra Tilley.

Shaw says that while there are women priests and plenty of lay leaders within the church, "as far as key influencers, there's a lot of room for growth." When asked where female priests stand now, Shaw says half-jokingly, "Well, we let peoplestand on our shoulders."

If one considers the time that women have been in ministry, "then we are working our way," says Shaw. "But when we consider how societies have changed...we have a lot of work to do."

Leger, Askew, Laskey and Shaw would like to see more women represented in leadership roles. Men, for the most part, head larger churches; the female to male ratio in the House of Bishops is 1:7.

"Some of it has to do with the fundamental perspective on collaboration and co-operative ministry versus power and authority," says Shaw. The perspective that women bring "doesn't lend itself to the style of top-down ministry that the Anglican church has been founded on."

The Rev. Jolene Peters, diocese of E. Nfld. and Lab.

The Rev. Riscyllla Shaw, diocese of Toronto

Adds Laskey, "I think the hierarchical structure contributes more to that than per se gender."

"It's just harder for women to have to claim theauthority to make the decisions that need to be made. We don't trust women as much as we trust men. I'm just as guilty of that as anyone," says Leger. "When I have to exercise my authority, I always feel like I'm walking this fine line of authority with humility because there's a far greater burden on me than on my male colleagues, to be seen as humble and as a servant..."

Askew says it is harder for women to get top posts because many come into ministry much later, often after they've raised children. Some parishes tend to have more unrealistic expectations for women.

"[Parishes] sometimes expect their female clergy to do everything they would expect their male clergy to do, plus [the contributions] of the traditional clergy wife, which his not fair," she says.

Age-sometimes more so than gender-is a major challenge.

"Just to be a young priest of either gender now is rare, and sometimes that's held against you," says Askew. "Opportunities are withheld simply because of our age, when in fact we may be more senior in our ministry than somebody who's entered it as a second career."

Leger belongs to Young Women Clergy Project, an international group in which she finds support for issues particular toher generation. "It's a wonderfully safe and encouraging place where we can share some of the ridiculous stories of being told, 'your dress is inappropriate because a tweed skirt comes above your knee,'

[as well as] the really hard stuff."

The challenge of being "constantly underestimated" because of one's age is not exclusive to the church or to women, says Leger. A friend sums up her generation's collective frustration: "In a culture where 50 is the new 40 and 40 is the new 30, in order for that to be maintained and for people of that age to feel young, vital and vibrant, it means that those ofus who are in our 30s have to be kept in our 20s."

People assume that because she's young, she lacks experience, says Leger. She recalls moving into a new diocese and celebrating communion there for the first time. "You did a marvellous job for someone so young," one person commented. When Leger mentioned that she had been giving communion three times every Sunday for four years, the person responded, "Oh, I guess I just never thought of that."

Such comments don't upset Leger; she reckons that the church is simply in a period where baby boomers, Generation Xers and Millennial are "just trying to find a place in an institution that's shrinking."

For Peters, the struggle has been about explaining to people why a young person would want to become a priest instead of doing something "that makes more money."

The onus is on everyone in the church, including women, to work for change, the priests say.

"I think it's a really difficult thing to put on a different set of shoes, but sometimes women in leadership need to dothat," says Shaw.

"I think sometimes I'm my own biggest roadblock," says Leger. "I'm the one who says, 'Oh, theywon't want me to serve inthat area."' Leger, who will turn 40 next year, notes that there are lots of bishops in the Communion today who became bishops long before they were 40. Yet, "I'm the one who says, 'Oh my God, I can't be a bishop right now.' "

Overall, the five young clergy...

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