Mum... why can’t I be a priest? For Jacquie Lambert, her daughter’s question reopens old wounds. How much richer, she reflects, would Christians find God’s world to be – if they viewed it through a pair of spectacles instead of through a single male lens
ere I was, comfortable having worked through most of my ‘stuff’ about women and the institutional church, to a point where I was able to belong and worship in a Catholic community with relative ‘ease’. Then, over coffee one Sunday after church, my 10-year-old daughter asked me, “Mum, why can’t I be a priest?” It was not a question about a personal calling, but an equally serious question about “what if ”, and “how come”? I can almost hear the sighs of readers thinking, “here we go again” – and I have to admit to a sneaky thought or two in that direction myself; and yet the truth of it is, we cannot escape this issue. It will not lie down and go away if we ignore it. As with all gospel challenges, it will stay in our faces until we get the point.
for two millennia the Christian church has been visioned, frameworked, legalised and controlled by one gender I have spent ten years around the issues of women and spirituality, not just within my own personal faith journey, but also in various roles as chaplain, spiritual director, teacher, writer, nurse
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and academic. I have been angry to the point of fury in the early years. I have studied to gain knowledge of theology and church history to better understand how we have got to where we are, to better and more legitimately voice my concerns, and also to be challenged in them. I have spent ten years across the divide so to speak, in a Protestant church being nurtured by a remarkable woman minister. I have journeyed the contemplative road as a Benedictine oblate. I have worked intensively on myself to ‘clean’ up my own psychology and be safer and wiser in my practice. I thought I had reached a place of relative peace and a workable relationship with the institutional church. I had moved through anger into a deep sadness for the loss the church has experienced through its reluctance to develop and support its feminine expression. This has stifled the myriad of ways that God can be experienced, addressed, worshipped and imaged. I had found a place of quiet personal authority in my own beliefs, yet my daughter had re-opened the issue in new depth and in a way that I feel still begs any credible reply.
A wider question?
need to identify that this issue is only partially about women priests in the Catholic church. It is in fact much more subtle and critical than that. Having spent five years in a mainline
Protestant church, I continue to have many ecumenical relationships and Protestant directees, including women priests. What appears increasingly
our faith journey is not from point to point. It is as a spiral around a central core of concerns apparent is that having women as priests is not the magic solution. It is also the structural framework, the institutional agenda, the ‘spirit’ of the institutional church that needs to be revisited. Women priest friends of mine are adamant about the value they feel they contribute as women priests in trying to bring this about, but are also adamant about the difficulties they continue to experience within their own institutions. Simply placing women within an arguably unchanged institutional milieu is not going to ‘do it all’ for women. For two millennia the Christian church has been predominantly visioned, frameworked, legalised and controlled by only one gender. Can we even begin to try to imagine how it may have been different? We have looked for so long through one lens of a pair of glasses that it will take us a long time to be able to focus clearly when we add the other