Thursday, July 10, 2008

Women in Purple

A few days ago the Church of England has decided to welcome women into the role of Bishop. Personally, I am thrilled for this step forward and also anxious for those who first take on these roles. People will tell them who they are, rather than get to know them, and treat them as a symbol rather than a friend. Folks will attack and criticize from one side of the theological spectrum and project and fantasize from the other. Very few people will reach out to very human women and encourage them to be fully themselves in their role. They will want them to be just like the men or criticize them for being like the men. Some will be considered weak for being feminine. It is the challenge we women bishops have faced in our recent history. Barbara Harris was consecrated in 1989 and although the church has made great strides, there is still a lot of explaining to do.

So today, as many of the women bishops are en route to England for a conference on women in the Episcopate (which I was to participate in) I want to remember them particularly in prayer. Many have carried a great weight. Many have had to walk a fine line as they are under great scrutiny at all times. All of them are genuinely loving, wonderful people with incredible talents, gifts, skills, enormous strength and courage. For those very few of us women bishops of color (3 in the American church - one retired) it has been particualrly challenging and often wonderful too. We have had the privilege of inspiring young women (and men) who never thought someone like them might be a bishop. At my consecration at St. Paul's College in Lawrence, Virginia, I was brought to tears by the outpouring of love from the young women students. They know the challenges.

So may we pray for all those who are misunderstood, projected upon, and trying to bring about positive change for the church and the world. The coming days in England and at Lambeth will be a mix of challenge and blessings. For that very, very small group of women who will be present (less than 3% of the gathered group of bishops), let us pray that God's joy and love may shine to them and through them. May God's light and love shine through us today as we face the challenges and blessings that will come our way.

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