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Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

Edited by Janet Wootton

ISBN: 978-0-85346-351-1 Published by the United Reformed Church on behalf of the Council for World Mission, the Congregational Federation and the Ecumenical Forum of European Christian Women 86 Tavistock Place, London WC1H 9RT.

© 2021 The United Reformed Church All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.


Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher Edited by Janet Wootton

Thanks The Congregational Federation and the United Reformed Church for their support in planning and organising the conference and associated events Council for World Mission for its generous funding in support of the conference and this publication The Ecumenical Forum of European Christian Women for its partnership in funding and participation in the conference and book launch


Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher This book is a celebration of The Revd Constance Coltman who stood tall in a male-dominated society, refused to be stereotyped, rejected the labels placed on women, and responded to the call to serve God through the ordained ministry over 100 years ago. The legacy of her courage is a perpetual challenge to the many churches who are yet to embrace the ordination of women. Council for World Mission congratulates the editor of this volume, herself a champion for gender justice and the rights of women and girls. The content is provocative, inspirational and insightful. We commend it to you wholeheartedly. Lydia Neshangwe Moderator of CWM 2020-2024, the first African woman elected into this role

We are all influenced everyday by so many different things but sometimes some experiences are stronger than others. Learning more about Constance Coltman and being part of this conference was one of those times for me. My prayer is that, as you read this book, you too will be influenced, challenged and inspired by the stories of faith and courage to live out your calling and be true to yourself. Yvonne Campbell General Secretary of the Congregational Federation, UK, the first woman to serve in this role

When a door long barred finally begins to open, and an initial few, and then a multitude rush through it rejoicing, the first one to slip through it quietly is easy to overlook. Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher is to be commended for shining a timely light on the life and ministry of Constance Coltman. But it is also a necessary account of present-day dissenters across the world. Will the Church still remain as the last citadel against the claims of women to full equality and spiritual authority? The witness of these women gives ground for hope. Kathy Galloway Writer and Activist; the first woman Leader of the Iona Community, 2002-2009

To share the story of women pioneers is an act of Justice; to understand their struggle and expose the unseen injustice lived, past and present. This book is an encouragement for women who are still struggling with women’s ordination and leadership. Sharing the story of Constance Coltman and many women around the world is an affirmation that God is at work and encourages women to speak up and seek change. The Revd Najla Kassab President of the World Communion of Reformed Churches, the first woman in this role

This multifaceted celebration of Constance Coltman as pioneer ripples into the present, interweaving feminist critical reflection, liturgical and poetic performance, and storytelling by a constellation of women (and men) in the church, academy and ecumenical movement. The diversity of ‘voices’ in the book is testament to our calling to shared ministry, secured by our common baptism and the Spirit’s gifting. It aptly avoids letting the burden of extolling a singular pioneer outweigh the emphasis that we are called together to common witness. Although historically side-lined, the contribution of women’s ministry is uplifted as good news. An enriching read! Kuzipa Nalwamba Lecturer in social ecumenical ethics at Bossey Ecumenical Institute, and Programme Executive for Ecumenical Theological Education (ETE) at the World Council of Churches. The first woman to serve as General Secretary of the Zambia Fellowship of Evangelical Fellowship (ZAFES), 1999-2002, and also first woman Associate Regional (Southern Africa) Secretary at the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students in English and Portuguese Speaking Africa (IFES-EPSA), 2002-2005

When early Christians were reminded that they were ‘…surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses….’, the vast majority of those named were men. In exploring the life of Constance Coltman, and the pioneering ministry of women in a whole variety of contexts, this book reminds us of the real diversity of the witnesses who surround us. A mixture of testimony and creativity gives encouragement to each of us, whatever our ministry, to ‘ with perseverance…’, as Constance did. Clare Downing Moderator of URC General Assembly, 2020-2022

This is a much-needed book. It employs the tools of storytelling and creative writing to uncover hidden stories of inspirational women in patriarchal societies. Written in a language that is accessible to everyone, this book makes a significant contribution to the fight against patriarchy in Church and society. Dr Jonathan Kangwa Deputy Vice Chancellor, United Church of Zambia University.

CONTENTS Introduction 4 Janet Wootton Constance Coltman: A centenary celebration in historical context Kirsty Thorpe


Conference: Women of the Way: Global pioneers gathering


The social realities of women in the African context Ellen Nachali Mulenga


The Life of Jo Ahra, ‘Mother of Gwangju’, ‘The Godmother of Democratisation’ and the implications of her life-giving to the Korean Church Min Heui Cheon, translated and summarised by So Young Jung


‘Just because she is a woman’ Carla Maurer


Women’s Ordination for a ‘Discipleship of Equals’ Luca Badini Confalonieri


Catalysts for Change: Issues faced by women in the Church today Asea Railean


Conference Worship Janet Wootton Lythan Nevard


Workshops 79 Poems Karen Campbell 16 Kirsty Thorpe 31 1

Patricia Sheerattan-Bisnauth Karen Campbell Judith North Wayne Hawkins Workshop members Workshop members Artworks Annemarie Mannet Martha Kroes Sarah Moore Suzanne Nockels Lythan Nevard Yvonne Campbell

41 68 111 113 123 124 21 33 43 49 78 81

Stories Yvonne Campbell 32 Martha Kroes 48 Judith North 54 Karen Campbell 62 Sarah Moore 72 Thanksgiving Service: To mark the centenary of the ordination of Constance Coltman Order of service



Sermon 100 Susan Durber Public Lecture: Daughters of Dissent: Celebrating Constance Coltman 105


The Spirit Groans… Still I Dance Patricia Sheerattan Bisnauth


Constance Coltman and the Role of Women in the Economy Athena Peralta


Panel discussion


Centenary Events: Ripples of Celebration


Service of Thanksgiving: Somerville College Chapel, Oxford Homily Mia Smith


Talk: Mansfield College, Oxford Stream of Dissent: The power of confluence Janet Wootton


Centenary Service: St Andrew’s United Reformed Church, Sheffield Sermon Fleur Houston


Centenary Service: St John’s United Reformed Church, New Barnet Sermon Elizabeth Welch


Prayers 151 Ann Jeffers The Congregational Lecture, 2017 Constance Coltman: Pioneer for today Fleur Houston

153 154



Select bibliography




Scripture references



inside back cover


INTRODUCTION by Janet Wootton


his book is a celebration of pioneers – of one particular pioneer, the Revd Constance Coltman, but also many wonderful pioneers in our own day, wonderful women and men. The glory is in the inspiration they give, by their enthusiasm and perseverance, for which God be praised. The shame is that pioneers are still needed in the cause of women’s freedom to exercise their God-given gifts of leadership, for which, God forgive us. It is a book full of deep thought and exciting discoveries, of celebration and concern. There are stories, art, poems and worship material alongside talks by inspirational global figures and scholars: a rich mix, to read at leisure, or dip into for a moment of encouragement. What is a pioneer? For sure, it is someone who does something for the first time, something that no one else has done: the first human being in space; the first person to ‘conquer’ Everest; or, as a class, pioneers of modern medicine, using groundbreaking new techniques. They are explorers, people who go against the grain of what everybody else believes or is doing. In a sense, they are our heroes, and so we see them as people to follow, to try to live up to. But they are complex figures as well. They are people chosen by posterity to represent a major advance. And their very prominence means that a host of forerunners, colleagues and supporters lie forgotten in their wake. We are beginning to understand the dangers inherent in reading history this way. The ‘pioneer’ explorers of the Victorian age were ‘discovering’ lands whose indigenous inhabitants had known and understood them for generations, and by ignoring or devaluing that knowledge, the so-called pioneers caused the destruction of cultures and, sometimes, whole communities of people. 4

Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

Of particular relevance to this book is the the concept of the pioneer hero as part of a male-oriented narrative of history. There are very few heroines in that grand narrative, and their part is often that of the plucky sidekick, forced into the leading role when the real hero is no longer available.

This leaves room for a new layer of pioneers, as those who have been excluded from the narrative begin to play a part: the first woman in a role heretofore reserved for men; the first Black or Asian or Indigenous person, the first person with a disability, or with a different sexual orientation to occupy a position which societal pressure has kept repressively ‘normal’. Mia Smith raises a question in her sermon at Somerville College, where Constance Coltman was one of a pioneering generation of women scholars: ‘Why are we not celebrating 2,000 years of women’s ministry?’1 Alongside the celebration of women’s pioneering, there is in this book a place for lamentation and anger 1

See, Mia Smith, ‘Homily’, p 134 in this volume.


at the appalling fact that women, along with other excluded groups, are still facing adverse discrimination; we still need women pioneers, and in fields from which they have been unjustly excluded for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Constance Coltman was acutely aware of the injustices that she was combating, and the complexity of the broader movement for social justice. Women’s ordination was only one element in a great campaign for women’s rights in politics, education, the professions and family life. Like many pioneering women, Constance was a campaigner for wider human rights: a pacifist, suffragist and feminist, a supporter of women’s education, as well as successfully seeking ministerial training and ordination.2 The book arises out of a series of events marking the centenary of Constance’s ordination, a true pioneer in women’s ministry. We tell her remarkable story in these pages, from a number of different perspectives. We also hear many other stories of women pioneers, and the issues surrounding the global struggle for women’s rights, up to the present day.

A long-held dream

For some of us, the centenary was the culmination of two or three

decades of research and celebration. Back in the 1980s, Dr Elaine Kaye published a number of articles to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Constance Coltman’s ordination in 1987.3 As it happened, this coincided with a significant ecumenical emphasis on women in the World Church. The following year, the World Council of Churches launched the Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women, which sparked a number of local and global initiatives. It was taken up in Britain and Ireland by the Revd Jean Mayland, Associate Secretary for the Community of Women and Men in the Church in the Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland (CCBI, later CTBI), then a new ecumenical body.

2 3


See Janet Wootton, Cultural History of Women and Christianity: The Age of Empire 1800-1920 (London: Routledge, 2021). These include Elaine Kaye, ‘Constance Coltman: A forgotten pioneer’, in The Journal of the United Reformed Church History Society 4.2 (May 1988): 134-146.

Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

There was a London launch for the decade in Westminster Abbey, with the support of the then Precentor, Canon Alan Luff, at which the Revd Suzanne Fageol led and the Revd Dr Janet Wootton preached. Worship resources for the launch service, and for wider use, were published in a short anthology, Who Are You Looking For?4 At the mid-point of the decade, Jean Mayland brought together a team to plan a conference in Durham, at which we placed the stories of women in the churches today alongside the experience of Christian women through history. At a packed service in Durham Cathedral, there was a mass ‘crossing of the line’,5 and the presentation of an icon of St Hilda of Whitby, newly painted by Russian Orthodox iconographer Edith Reyntiens. The icon can be found by the altar to St Hilda in the cathedral, and is well worth a visit.6 At the same time a collection of hymns, Reflecting Praise, was published, edited by Janet Wootton and June Boyce Tillman.7 The 80th anniversary of Constance Coltman’s ordination fell towards the end of the decade, and a group from Women in Theology and other similar organisations held a day conference and service in Birmingham to mark the occasion. This was just a few years after the achievement of a major milestone, the ordination of women to the priesthood of the Church of England. Reactions in popular thinking, as reflected in the press, were interesting. The change was greeted with great joy in some places, and utter condemnation in others, but appeared universally as if it were a complete novelty. It was as if women had never been ordained in the UK and were not already, as many of us were, serving, in a long tradition of women’s leadership in our churches. The Baptist minister the Revd Carol McCarthy, writing in 1986 at the height of the Church of England debate, but before women were ordained in the Church of England, records her frustration at the suppression of women’s history: Who Are You Looking For?: Easter liturgies for the WCC Ecumenical Decade, Churches in Solidarity with Women, 1988-1998 (London: British Region of the Ecumenical Forum of European Christian Women and the Women’s Interchurch Consultative Committee, 1988). 5 The line at the entrance, which women were historically not allowed to cross, to enter the cathedral, for example, (accessed 11/9/2019). 6 See (accessed 16/9/2019). Edith Reyntiens tells the story of the commissioning and creation of the icon in ‘An ancient art in worship: The icon of St Hilda’, Worship Live 18 (Autumn 2000), pp 3-4. 7 June Boyce Tillman and Janet Wootton (eds.), Reflecting Praise (London: Women in Theology and Stainer & Bell Ltd, 1993). 4


I am impatient with media coverage of the ordination of women (and I have said so). They talk as if no woman has ever before been ordained and what makes me most indignant is the way they ignore the Free Churches.8

It was certainly time for the long story of women’s ministry to be told; to remind people about the first women to be ordained, the real pioneers. The United Reformed Church had set up an initiative, Sharing People in Network (SPIN), to further the aims of the World Council of Churches Decade. The Revd Dr Janet Lees was one of the joint co-ordinators, and the Revd Dr Kirsty Thorpe and Dr Elaine Kaye were leading participants. Janet Lees proposed a project ‘to recover the stories of women who had been active in promoting the ministry and contribution of women in the United Reformed Church and its predecessors’.9 In the meantime, Kirsty Thorpe was working on her PhD, begun in 1997, exploring ‘how Congregationalism found itself in the position of pioneering women’s ordained ministry’,10 and she began a collaboration with Elaine Kaye and Janet Lees ‘to explore the issues around women’s contribution to the life and ministry of the United Reformed Church’.11 The three women visited the King’s Weigh House, now the home of the Ukrainian (Catholic) Cathedral of the Holy Family in Exile, where Constance Coltman’s ordination had taken place, for the 85th anniversary of the ordination. Kirsty delivered the Congregational Lecture in November 2003, under the brilliant title, ‘Daughters of Dissent’.12 The book of the same title was already in preparation, reporting on their researches into women’s stories. It was published in 2004, co-written by Elaine Kaye, Janet Lees and Kirsty Thorpe, with contributions from the Revd Dr Susan Durber, among others. 8 9 10 11 12


Carol McCarthy, ‘Ordained and Female’, The Baptist Quarterly 31.7 (July 1986) pp 334-6, cited in Janet Wootton (ed.), This is Our Story: Free Church women’s ministry (Peterborough: Epworth, 2007) p 3. Elaine Kaye, Janet Lees and Kirsty Thorpe, Daughters of Dissent (London: The United Reformed Church, 2004) p viii. Kaye, Lees and Thorpe, Daughters of Dissent, pp ix-x. Kaye, Lees and Thorpe, Daughters of Dissent, p ix. Kirsty Thorpe, ‘Daughters of Dissent’, (London: The Congregational Memorial Hall Trust (1978) Ltd, 2003).

Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

The book is every bit as brilliant as the title, and is an explosive exploration of the issues surrounding women’s ministry. The concrete experience and the real lives of extraordinary women are gathered into reflections on broad themes such as: ‘On not keeping silent in the churches’, ‘Peace and justice’, ‘Rethinking gender and the church’. Soon after its publication, Kirsty Thorpe and Janet Wootton were asked to join a group planning a global gathering for 2006, with Ian Jones. ‘Women and Ordination in the Christian Churches: International perspectives’ took place at the University of Manchester. Speakers and participants came from a wide range of Christian traditions and a broad global reach. The papers from the conference, together with some additional perspectives are gathered in a book edited by Ian Jones, with Kirsty and Janet, under the same title.13 Meanwhile Janet Wootton was working on a publication, which came out the following year. This Is Our Story: Free Church women’s ministry14 included a chapter by Kirsty Thorpe, and stories from Susan Durber and the Revd Suzanne Nockels, among others. This was the first of two books. The second, on women hymnwriters (also campaigners and pioneers), was published three years later.15 Together, and in different ways, we were telling our stories, reclaiming the history of women’s ministry as it continued to develop around the world. By the time that the centenary was approaching, it was clear that there was an appetite for celebration, so an organising group drawn from the United Reformed Church (URC) and Congregational Federation – the two main heirs to the tradition of Constance Coltman – began work.

Centenary celebrations

The project team was headed by Francis Brienen, Deputy General Secretary (Mission) of the United Reformed Church, together with Eve Parker and Veronica Daniel of the Global and Intercultural

13 14 15

Ian Jones, Janet Wootton and Kirsty Thorpe (eds) Women and Ordination in the Christian Churches: International perspectives (London: T&T Clark, 2008). Wootton (ed.), This is Our Story. Janet Wootton, This Is Our Song: Women’s hymn-writing (London: Epworth, 2010).


Ministries unit. This group, supported by the administrative and communications staff of the URC, put a huge amount of work into running a programme over the four years leading up to and including the centenary. We are grateful for funding and support from the URC, Congregational Federation, CWM, and the Ecumenical Forum of European Christian Women (EFECW). These offered enthusiastic help and support, as well as being generous in helping fund the programme in all its aspects. Events got under way on 17 September (the date of Constance Coltman’s ordination) 2014 with an exploratory day at the Royal Foundation of St Katharine in London’s Docklands, at which Kirsty Thorpe led a guided walk round the east London streets where Constance and Claud Coltman had first ministered. Most of the buildings of the time have disappeared, but the streetscape is still there, and the area is still full of movement and change.16 Over the next year, Kevin Snyman produced a short film based on Constance’s interview with Dr WB Selbie, Principal at Mansfield College, Oxford. This was launched at the 2015 gathering at URC Church House, and is well worth watching.17 For the centenary itself, we wanted to hear from presentday pioneers who were still breaking new ground in women’s leadership in every part of the world. We therefore invited women from around the world who are global pioneers of women’s ministry for a three-day global gathering, based at URC Church House in London. These included women who were the first to be ordained within their denomination, and consciousness-raisers and activists who work to tackle all forms of marginalisation that women continue to face around the world today. We were joined by a number of men who had worked in solidarity with women. We met from 14-16 September, leading up to the centenary itself on the 17th. It was an amazing gathering. Participants included 23 women and men from CWM Partner Churches, who spoke about their own experience in a wide variety of cultural contexts around the world. They were joined by women from the EFECW, and other ecumenical partners who represented a broader range of church traditions, including Roman Catholic and Orthodox. 16 17

10 (accessed 27/9/20). (accessed 27/9/20).

Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

Also present were two regional Secretaries of CWM, Dr Yvonne Dawkins (Caribbean) and the Revd Wayne Hawkins (Europe). The Congregational Federation and United Reformed Church worked in partnership with the Ecumenical Forum, and the conference was funded through a grant from CWM. We are immensely grateful for their generous support, which enabled not only the conference, but other linked events, and publications, including this book. There was a tremendous sense of being part of a shared narrative that stretched back in time, and right around the world: the fascination of rediscovering our roots, and the excitement of being part of new initiatives and facing new challenges, not in isolation, but as a worldwide sisterhood. And, for a moment, the world did listen. The whole September 2017 issue of Feminist Theology, a flagship academic journal, was dedicated to the centenary, and copies were available at the conference. We have included one of the articles, by Kirsty Thorpe, with kind permission of editors and publisher, at the beginning of this book, as a representation of Kirsty’s vast and varied contribution to the centenary. Other contributors included the Revd Fleur Houston, whose Congregational Lecture concludes this book, Karen Campbell and Tessa Henry Robinson, writing on the contribution of Black and Minority Ethnic communities to women’s leadership, writers from Baptist, Pentecostal and Anglican perspectives, and contributions from Africa (writing African women back into the story of mission), India (written by the first woman bishop in the Church of South India) and the Caribbean (from the first woman Principal of the United Theological College of the West Indies).18 We also featured on local and national radio, in a number of interviews on local stations, as well as on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, The Daily Service and Sunday Worship. This last was a service led by Kirsty Thorpe, including contributions from many of the global participants from the conference.19 18 19

Feminist Theology, 26.1 (September 2017), (accessed 12/9/2019). Woman’s Hour is no longer available, but The Daily Service can be downloaded at and Sunday Worship at b094s0jn (accessed 12/9/2019).


Our conference grew in intensity as we went. We heard presentations from a great variety of cultural perspectives, describing the experience of women in the struggle for equal treatment by the Churches and in society. These papers are included in the following pages. Our regular conference worship grew and developed from our shared creativity. There was a session of open story telling. Some of the stories appear scattered throughout the book, but others were too private to be given such a public airing. Suzanne Nockels, who leads regular ‘Talking Life, Talking Art’ events at Sheffield Museum and Art Gallery, and the poet Karen Campbell, led creative workshops in art and writing. At various times throughout the conference, we were invited to record the names of pioneering women who had influenced our lives. These could be women of global reputation, or unknown to anyone but family and friends. We wrote their names on strips of coloured wrapping paper, which eventually formed paper chains. By the end of the conference, every flat surface was covered with brightly coloured paper, each piece with the name of a pioneering woman. We held our closing discussion and worship surrounded by the sparkle and glitter of women’s courage, wisdom, power, strength and struggle. There could be no better symbol of solidarity, of bringing those memories out of obscurity, just for a few days, and celebrating the beauty of women’s lives. On the Saturday following the conference, there was a public lecture at Dr Williams’s Library in London. The speakers were Kirsty Thorpe, the Revd Patricia Sheerattan-Bisnauth, Executive Director of Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association and the first woman to be ordained in the Guyana Presbyterian Church, and Athena Peralta from the Philippines, responsible for the Economy of Life Project of the World Council of Churches at the time. Kirsty’s talk was broadly a resumé of her article in Feminist Theology. The second two papers are included in this book, as is the panel discussion that followed. The lectures brought the participants and themes of the conference into engagement with an audience of about 75 well-informed and interested people, and the discussion which followed was lively and, from time to time, controversial. To our 12

Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

delight, the audience included a member of one of Constance Coltman’s former churches, who contributed her own memories of this pioneering minister. The climax of the whole series of events was a special celebratory and thanksgiving service on the very centenary date, which, by happy coincidence, fell on a Sunday in 2017. We were hosted by the American International Church, formerly Whitefield Memorial Church. It was a festive and moving service, attended by about 100 people. The preacher was Susan Durber, URC minister in Taunton and former Principal of Westminster College, the first woman to serve in that capacity. The service was led by Karen Campbell, and the conference participants took part in leading prayers and other parts of the service. Original worship material written for the service is included in this book, as is the sermon preached by Susan Durber.20

Ripples of celebration

The centenary was marked in a number of services and events

around the country, and we have included a taster from what was a banquet of events. Mansfield and Somerville Colleges played an important role. Mansfield College made the centenary a focal point for its summer celebration known as ‘Commem’. Kirsty Thorpe was invited to preach at the Annual Service in the College Chapel, and Janet Wootton gave the after-dinner talk in the evening, honouring the nexus of dissenting movements that Somerville and Mansfield brought together, as they pioneered women’s access to education and non-conformist freedom to open the way to women’s ordination. The Revd Joy Langford and the Revd Sara Iles, both Congregational Federation Ministers, brought to life the debates surrounding the foundation of Mansfield College, which was radical in its origins and practice and, relevantly here, was in the hands of powerful and effective women from the beginning.21 20 21

A short film of the service, titled ‘Celebrating 100 Years of Women’s Ordination’ can be found at (accessed 27/9/20). Janet Wootton, ‘Mansfield College, Oxford: Dissent meets the Establishment’, in Janet Wootton (ed.) The Spirit of Dissent: a commemoration of the great ejectment of 1662 (Winchester: Institute for Theological Partnerships Publishing [ITPP], 2015), pp 99-114.


The colleges held a joint day, with lectures at Mansfield and a centenary service at Somerville, on 21 October. The sermon at the service was preached by the Revd Dr Mia Smith, Anglican Chaplain of Hertford College, who acknowledges ‘the debt that I and my fellow priests owe to women of courage like Coltman, who follow whatever the cost’.22

Participants in the Global Pioneers Gathering, at URC Church House, London

Elsewhere, at St Andrew’s URC, Sheffield, Constance’s own translation of the book of Jonah was used to demonstrate the power of reconciliation, which was such a principle of her life. Fleur Houston’s sermon at that service is echoed in her article at the end of the book, where she describes the purpose behind Contance’s translations of biblical texts. At St John’s URC, New Barnet, the Revd Elisabeth Welch explored the biblical witness to the roles of women, and drew on her own childhood growing up in South Africa. 22


See, Mia Smith, ‘Homily’, p 134 in this volume.

Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

The celebrations continued to the end of the year, with the annual Congregational Lecture, this time delivered by Fleur Houston. Fleur has been very much involved in research, writing and preaching during the anniversary, and brings this whole publication to a close, reminding us that: ‘As in word and deed [women ministers] faithfully proclaim a liberating gospel of hope, love, joy, peace, they testify to the transformative power of God.’23


See Fleur Houston, ‘Constance Coltman: Pioneer for today’, p 185 in this volume.


CONSTANCE COLTMAN: A CENTENARY CELEBRATION IN HISTORICAL CONTEXT1 by Kirsty Thorpe Pioneer Push me; pull me; with your words try to Imprison me. You say Only this far; this far, and no more. I say No! I won’t let you limit my destiny. Every day I will push. I will break through your barriers; Explore new ground; chase new horizons, to Realise the purpose God has for me.

K Campbell (from poetry workshop)


here can be little doubt that the 20th century witnessed some of the most significant breakthroughs for the role and status of women in European and North American society in more than 2,000 years. Major transformations are often signalled by small, relatively unnoticed events, the significance of which only emerge later. One such occasion took place in a Congregational church in the West End of London on 17 September 1917. On that day, for the first time in Britain, a woman was ordained as a minister in a mainstream, Trinitarian denomination. A century later, the ordination of a woman to Christian ministry attracts very little attention in Britain. Many major battles for gender equality, both within the Church and in wider society, have been done and dusted during that period. Women are now present in ministry across most major denominations, and within a wide range of settings. 1


First published in Feminist Theology, 26.1 (September 2017), pp 8-18. Reprinted with permission.

Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

There are exceptions to this, such as the continued bar on women becoming Roman Catholic priests. Hidden resistance to women’s leadership remains, admittedly, even within those Churches which have a long and proud history of women’s ordination. Evidence of the concealed obstacles to women is present, for those with eyes to see absences and ears to hear silences, whenever Christians gather to debate important issues and make decisions. On such occasions, female voices and non-patriarchal, alternative perspectives are rarely heard, even now. Group photographs of senior church leaders continue to show more men than women. Opposition to gender equality in the Church is also a continued challenge facing women in some new and evangelical Churches. Despite all these difficulties, however, acceptance that both women and men are called by God to ordained leadership is now widely present throughout major parts of the Christian Church across the world. Things were very different a century ago. This historical overview will attempt to explain the nature and scope of the multi-layered context into which Constance Coltman was ordained. The first element of that context, which may well have weighed heavily on the minds of many people at the time, was World War One. The passersby on nearby Oxford Street in the heart of fashionable London, like the large congregation which gathered in the King’s Weigh House Church on that Monday evening in September 1917, would all have been facing varying degrees of anxiety and personal stress. By this point in the conflict, the war had dominated the lives of those on the home front for more than three years. The news was full of another Allied summer offensive, which was grinding on relentlessly into autumn without any sign of success, and had uncanny echoes of the bloodbath on the Somme a year earlier. The first shots of this new attack, which would later become known as the Third Battle of Ypres, and was under the leadership of General Haig, had been fired in Belgium on 31 July 1917. Since then, matters had settled into the now-familiar pattern of a massively costly advance, paid for by many lives for every yard of progress made along the front line. Heavy summer rainfall turned the Flanders fields into a muddy quagmire, where the Allied troops and their horses got pinned down, and some actually drowned. By mid-September, as events at the King’s Weigh House 17

unfolded, a renewed attack was about to centre on the Menin Road and Polygon Wood following a month of stalemate. In October 1917, fighting would reach a climax around the small Belgian village of Passchendaele.2 The battle, which had been opposed at the outset by Prime Minister Lloyd George, would continue until 6 November for the gain of four miles in the Ypres sector of the front. It was claimed as a victory. Official statistics for the Flanders offensive of 1917, published in 1922, would show that three British troops had been killed for every two German deaths. The ratio of officers killed was worse, at three to one. The year 1917 marked a low ebb for those in the civilian population. There were food and fuel shortages as a result of German submarine attacks on supply ships sailing the Atlantic, and Lloyd George’s new naval convoy system had not yet improved matters significantly. As well as queues on all sides, there was labour unrest, and transport problems were rife.3 Many families had experienced personal bereavement through the loss of a loved one on active service, while countless others were living day by day with the possibility of hearing that a relative had died or been seriously injured. The number of adult men away on active service in September 1917 had been boosted by the introduction of conscription in 1916, yet still the allies seemed no nearer to victory.4 Added to all of this, the civilian population in London was coming to terms with the daily reality that civilians were seen by the enemy as legitimate targets for attack. From May to August, there were three German bombing raids on London. The most dramatic of these, in terms of its impact on morale, had been on 13 June, when a Gotha IV raid killed 162 people. Among the victims were 18 pupils from a primary school in Poplar, east London. By September, with British air defences improved, the raids had switched to night time, and lighting restrictions were in place as a result. It was understandable if, in such a set of circumstances, the nerves of many people were frayed, and hopes of an end to the conflict were at a low ebb. 2 AJP Taylor, English History 1914-1945 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965) p 87. 3 Taylor, English History 1914-1945, p 88. 4 By the end of the war, more than seven million men and women had served in the British Army. (accessed 1/5/17).


Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

This climate of fear and tension was shown clearly when, only a few weeks after the ordination of pioneer woman minister Constance Coltman the religious press reported Dr WE Orchard’s response, as minister of the King’s Weigh House, to the possible dangers of coming to worship: Dr Orchard announced at the King’s Weigh House on Sunday evening that it was now their intention to keep to seven o’clock as the hour for the evening service and to go quietly along until something happened. When it did it would be soon enough to decide what should be done. If, however, anything occurred during the service, Dr Orchard assured his congregation that the choir and himself would maintain an attitude of calm, and that he would look to them to do likewise. He mentioned that the basement of the Church afforded as good protection as could be found in the neighbourhood, and also that one of the Tubes was situated close by.5 This classic example of the British preference for carrying on despite adversity might prompt a smile, were it not such a graphic illustration of the mood of tension and reality of physical danger in London at the time. It was against the backdrop of a faltering and costly battle in Belgium, and of deprivation and danger on the home front, that the ceremony at the King’s Weigh House Church on 17 September 1917 took place. Reports in the contemporary religious press provide some sense of how this event was looked on by those who attended the occasion or knew about it. These articles contain no record of any of the participants directly referring to events in Belgium, or on the streets in London, but it may be that this context was so powerful nobody present needed reminding of it. Perhaps, too, there was a desire to avoid such negative thoughts, and to capture instead within the service a defiant sense of kindling a light within the darkness. Could it be that some of those who supported this radical ceremony regarded it as a symbolic challenge to the surrounding shadows of war? It is easy to see, from this distance, how that might have been the case. For years, even before the outbreak of war, some feminist writers and thinkers had been arguing that the greater presence of women in public life was the best way to prevent humanity’s continuing 5

The Christian World, 17 October, 1917, p 3.


resort to war and violence. The British women’s suffrage campaigner Catherine E Marshall had expressed this clearly in 1915: I believe that just as women can do much for the healing of the physical wounds which men are inflicting on one another, so they can do much also for the healing of the deeper and more disastrous spiritual wounds which nation is inflicting on nation. I believe that women, if they turn their minds in that direction, are more likely than men to find some other way of settling international disputes than by an appeal to force, partly because that is an appeal which is not open to them as women, and they have, therefore, never been accustomed to rely upon it.6 Whether or not you agreed with such an idealised and highminded promotion of the need for more women in public life, there was no doubt by autumn 1917 that World War One had already greatly raised their profile in society. It was not just as tram drivers, munitions workers, nurses and postal staff that women who had formerly been at home (unpaid or as domestic servants) were now to be seen. The British religious press of the day also keenly reported their appearance as preachers, once the shortage of men to fill the nation’s pulpits began to bite. Earlier in 1917, a Mrs WA Constable of Halifax had been praised for her ‘appropriate and able sermons’ at Crookes Congregational Church, Sheffield. She had also led worship and graced the pulpit of Heath Congregational Church in Halifax.7 Being a minister’s wife, as Mrs Constable was, no doubt helped a woman to gain access to this new role. Perhaps those in the churches who were less comfortable with the greater public role of women reconciled themselves to this development with the familiar mantra that it would only be ‘for the duration’, until the war ended. It is now time to examine what is known about the service of ordination which took place on 17 September 1917 in the King’s Weigh House Church. Constance Todd, who had trained for ministry at Mansfield College, Oxford and was 28 years old,

6 7


Catherine E Marshall, ‘Women and War’, in Margaret Kamester and Jo Vellacott (eds) Militarism versus Feminism: Writings on women and war (London: Virago, 1987), p 39. The Christian Commonwealth, 20 June, 1917, p 472, and 18 July, 1917, p 520.

Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

was ordained alongside her fiancé Claud Coltman, who had also studied for ministry at the same institution. The presiding minister, WE Orchard, was a highly influential Presbyterian who had been appointed to the church in October 1914: ‘He had a magnetic personality. His intellectual ability and his emotional power impressed all who heard him preach. He aroused strong feelings amongst both admirers and detractors and had to bear both adulation and bitter criticism.’8 Orchard’s outspoken pacifism was a strong part of his attraction for those who shared his views. He was at the inaugural meeting of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a Christian peace group, in December 1914, and would later act as chaplain to conscientious objectors in Wormwood Scrubs Prison.9 His opposition to the war,

I made a face, as if it was some

piece of paper, torn in multiple pieces. The different parts of the face have bright colours; they are a symbol for the power and talent of an individual person. The face is broken, because of a lot of different expectations and prejudices that can have a strong influence. One of the lines in the painting splits the mouth in two: in a lot of cases, people are kept silent, can’t speak openly or aren’t taken seriously. There are different ‘lines’ that can break a face, different causes of brokenness. In this case, the lines symbolise the patriarchal patterns, under which a lot of women still suffer today, in different ways. The patriarchal system keeps them from doing what a lot of women (individually) are best at. Annemarie Mannee (from art workshop) Elaine Kaye The History of the King’s Weigh House Church, (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd, 1968) p 118. 9 Kaye The History of the King’s Weigh House Church, p 127. 8


combined with strong preaching of the social gospel, no doubt attracted Oxford theological students Constance Todd and Claud Coltman. They had probably heard him speak on 2 March 1915 when he addressed the Junior Common Room at Mansfield College on ‘The Church and Militarism’.10 In January 1917, Miss Constance Todd became a member at the Weigh House.11 By then the young couple were engaged, had completed their theology course in Oxford the previous summer, and were looking for a way into ordained ministry. That path opened up through the Weigh House’s mission in Darby Street, just off Cable Street in London’s East End, which had been established in 1838. In July 1917, the Church Meeting of the King’s Weigh House Church accepted what was termed Claud and Constance’s ‘self-sacrificing offer’ to live near the mission and act as its superintendents.12 Judging by the minutes, attention then focused on the need to raise £200 per year to support this ministry. There is no record of any comment being made about the unusual prospect of a woman being ordained to serve as a minister. Four ministers took part in the ordination, as was the usual practice in Congregationalism. This had the benefit of allowing the quartet of like-minded men to share responsibility for an event which would have been seen by some people at the time as highly irregular. Leyton Richards was, like Orchard, a high-profile pacifist who had come to worship at the Weigh House after resigning his ministry at Bowdon Congregational Church in Cheshire because the members there did not support his views on the war. George E Darlaston and Stanley Russell were well-known London Congregational ministers. There is a note of high-minded idealism in what the religious press reported of Russell’s ordination service address: A new age is travailing at birth and the old civilization in which woman was the subordinate of man has come to an ignominious end. The new civilization which we hope to build – not only out of its ruins, but out of new power received from on high – is the one in which men and women will be in partnership.13

10 11 12 13


Elaine Kaye Mansfield College, Oxford, its origin, history, and significance (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996) p 163. King’s Weigh House Church Meeting Minutes 1916-1926, 14 January, 1917, p 15. King’s Weigh House Church Meeting Minutes 1916-1926, 12 July, 1917, p 21. The Christian World, 20 September, 1917, p 5.

Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

The emergence of this ‘new civilization’ within the Church and wider society would not be quite so straightforward as Russell’s words implied. Before examining how recognition of Constance Coltman’s ordination was eventually given by those beyond the Weigh House, it is valuable to uncover more about her background. Constance Todd (as she still was on 17 September before her marriage to Claud in the Weigh House the following day) was a young woman who would have stood out in any generation for the combination of intelligence, inner strength and courage that sustained her throughout her life. A Presbyterian by upbringing, she had been born in Putney, London, on 23 May 1889, the oldest of the four children of George Todd (1844-1912), headmaster and educational administrator, and Emily Ellerman. Her mother was one of the first generation of women to study medicine and a member of a wealthy shipping family.14 Emily’s father, Johan Herman Ellerman, had emigrated to Kingston upon Hull from Hamburg in 1850, where he married. His son, Emily’s estranged brother and Constance’s uncle (it is unclear whether they ever met), was one of the wealthiest men in the world in the early 20th century. Sir John Reeves Ellerman became a baronet in 1905, in recognition of the support his shipping line had given to the Boer War. In 1917, a journalist estimated that his shipping interests alone were worth £35 million, making him the richest man in the United Kingdom. Constance’s mother does not appear to have practised as a doctor, despite her medical qualification. This may have been influenced by the contemporary convention that married women should not work outside the home. There was also the sad fact that Emily had suffered a serious accident involving an open fire at home, which injured her so badly she was permanently invalided by it. It is interesting to speculate as to how much her mother’s unfulfilled potential as a doctor affected the strong desire Constance held to fulfil her own vocation. There is no doubt that the private income Emily had from her wealthy background was to prove highly significant. This was the money which later allowed Constance to support her own family, when she and Claud 14

Elaine Kaye in HCG Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) volume 12, p 800.


had three children while living on one joint stipend. One of their daughters later attested to the very discreet way in which Constance used this money to subsidise the family.15 It is also interesting to reflect, in view of Constance’s strong pacifist views, how she would have felt during World War One as someone who had a German grandfather. Her education had taken place at St Felix School, Southwold, a girls’ school which had been founded in 1897 by Margaret Isabella Gardiner. As the school’s first headmistress, her stated aim was to create a school where girls were treated like sensible creatures. This was at a time when the value of a sound, academic education for girls was only just becoming recognised. Constance went on from there in 1908 to Somerville College in Oxford, winning an exhibition to read history. She could never add this as a qualification after her name since, before 1920, despite the presence of women’s colleges, no women could become full members of the university or be awarded degrees. Even so, Constance seems to have enjoyed her studies, which chimed well with the love of art, travel and independent thinking which she had inherited from her upbringing. Studying history was not her real calling, though, since from childhood Constance had felt a strong call from God on her life. By the early 20th century, discussions about the possibility of women being ordained had begun, within both the Free Churches and the Church of England. These conversations were partly encouraged by contacts with the North American pioneers of women’s ordination. It was in 1853 that Antoinette Brown had been ordained as minister of South Butler Congregational Church in Wayne County, New York. Even though her ministry was short lived, Brown’s example ushered in an early flowering of women’s ordained ministry in America, especially within the Congregational, Methodist Protestant and Unitarian traditions. In April 1909, English-born medical graduate and women’s suffrage campaigner Dr Anna Shaw had spoken in Whitefield’s Tabernacle, London, on suffrage issues and her ordained ministry in the Methodist Protestant Church of the United States.16 More recently 15 16


Letter from Irene Brown to Elaine Kaye, 19 January, 1986. British Weekly, 22 April, 1909, p 57.

Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

still, and nearer to London, Anne Zernike had become the first Mennonite female pastor in the Netherlands (and quite probably the whole of Europe) on 5 November 1911. As Constance explored her vocation, she had met resistance from the Presbyterian Church of England, the tradition in which she had grown up. It was then she had applied to study theology at Mansfield College, Oxford, a Congregational institution. For Constance, her desire for ordination outweighed her denominational loyalty, and she was not alone in this. Of the 18 other women ordained after her in the Congregational Union of England and Wales between 1917 and 1939, 11 were from Anglican, Presbyterian or Methodist backgrounds, where the path to full ordained ministry was not yet possible for female candidates. In the early 20th century the word of a college principal was often the main deciding factor as to whether or not a student could enter training. However, in a Free Church setting it was understood that preparation for ministry did not automatically mean a student would be called and ordained at the end of their college course. Dr WB Selbie, principal of Mansfield College, later explained he had admitted Constance to training in 1913 because of her deep sense of God’s call.17 Even so, there was no certainty that she would be ordained after the three-year course, and nobody had yet tested out a policy recommended in 1909 to the Congregational Union of England and Wales (CUEW) by its General Purposes Committee, but not formally adopted at the time. This stated that a woman who fulfilled the same criteria as a man in terms of preparation for ministry could be ordained. By 1917, there were already some women lay preachers and even a few lay pastors in British Congregational churches, but they were locally appointed and did not need any central authorisation of the sort now required for ordained ministers. Constance entered fully into life at theological college, despite the overshadowing of World War One, and was well accepted by her male fellow ordinands. Questions of where a female student would live were more straightforward in this non-residential college than in most other theological colleges where women would later train. If all students live out, then women are no different from anyone else in doing so. The Junior Common Room at Mansfield took kindly 17 Kaye, Mansfield College, Oxford, p 161.


to its first female member and, in May 1914, passed a resolution supporting women’s place both in the college and the Christian Church as a whole.18 The college records show that Constance was a gifted student, particularly in Hebrew and Church history, regularly coming top in the Easter examinations, with average marks above those of the male students in her year. The causes of feminism, pacifism and women’s suffrage were important to Constance, as they were also to the distinguished Anglican speaker and preacher Maude Royden. She spoke at a Mansfield College conference in November 1914 on ‘The Spiritual Significance of the Women’s Movement’. This was the start of a significant and lifelong association between the two women, who shared many ideals and views. By the time she had finished her ministerial training in summer 1916, Constance had become engaged to fellow Mansfield ordinand Claud Coltman, but they did not marry at once. Since her mother was by then a widow in her 60s (Constance’s father George Todd had died in 1912) it is possible that Constance returned to the family home in Putney, just west of London, to care for her. Meanwhile, Claud became the resident Mansfield student at the Mansfield House Settlement in Canning Town, a Christian community supported by the college and offering a wide range of activities, entertainment, education and support for the poor residents of the surrounding area. Claud thus received ideal in-service training for the ministry he and Constance would soon begin in the East End. It would probably have been considered most improper for Constance, an unmarried, upper middle class young lady, to live in that setting too. Wherever she did spend the year after completing her theology degree, it is tempting to imagine that during the winter of 1916, she and Claud had begun to worship at the King’s Weigh House Church. However it arose, they must have had some contact with Dr Orchard, from which came the possibility of them being his ministerial assistants in the East End mission at Darby Street. The conversations which later bore fruit in the ordination at the Weigh House on 17 September 1917 were not the only signs of change in the status of women in the Church in London at the 18 Kaye, Mansfield College, Oxford, p 162.


Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

time. Despite her Anglican background, Maude Royden began a role as pulpit assistant at another London Congregational church, City Temple, in March that year. The press reported long queues outside the church to hear her preach, which required a police presence to control them.19 Women’s ministry was controversial and newsworthy. The day after they were ordained at the Weigh House, Constance Todd and Claud Coltman were married in the same church. This meant that Constance was able to use the title ‘Reverend’ before she also became ‘Mrs’. At a time when women were expected to give up paid employment on their marriage the fact that events took place in this order – ordination then marriage – cannot have been an accident. As their ministry progressed, Constance would combine ministry with her marriage to Claud and the upbringing of three children. This was a trio of roles that none of the other female ministerial pioneers in the CUEW between 1917 and 1939 achieved. It must have helped that, as the family grew, her private means would have allowed her to pay for help at home. This answered one major objection to women’s ordination that was often raised throughout the 20th century, that their families and domestic responsibilities would suffer. As September 1917 continued, Claud and Constance began the move to their new home, a terraced house in Burr Street, Wapping, half a mile away from Darby Street and on the far side of St Katharine Docks from the mission church. Meanwhile, all was not going smoothly, as the structures of London Congregationalism considered Constance Coltman’s request for inclusion on their list of ministers. Problems had been present even before her ordination, when the quarterly members meeting at the Weigh House heard that Dr Selbie had withdrawn his earlier acceptance of an invitation to conduct the service on 17 September. He was apparently uneasy that the ordination of a woman had no precedent.20 New developments in women’s ministry often happen on the edge of irregularity, and gain approval in retrospect. This ordination was no exception. The London Congregational Board met on 26 September and instructed their secretary, the Revd RJ Evans, to 19 20

Sheila Fletcher, Maude Royden: A life (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989) p 156. King’s Weigh House Church Meeting Minutes 1916-1926, 13 September, 1917, pp 23-4.


write to the General Purposes Committee of the CUEW for its view on the reception of women as fully accredited ministers. In October 1917, after a lively debate, the CUEW Council agreed to give formal recognition to Constance Coltman as a minister. In making this ruling, the Council referred back to the 1909 discussion of women’s ordination, without acknowledging that the earlier process had failed to rule women’s ordination either out or in. Whatever the confusions and omissions of these deliberations, in November 1917 The Christian World reported that Constance Coltman had been admitted as a fully accredited minister by the London Congregational Union.21 Soon afterwards, it was further made known that she would be inducted at Darby Street Mission on 7 December.22 The 1918 Congregational Year Book entry would make no mention by name of the four ministers who had participated in the 17 September service at the Weigh House. Instead Dr Selbie, Mr Evans ‘and others’ were named as the ordaining ministers. Life in the East End was to prove stressful for Constance, it seems, and in March 1919 Dr Orchard reported to the church meeting at the Weigh House that she had resigned. It was agreed instead that she be granted sick leave, although Claud would continue in ministry until the end of September that year.23 The Weigh House records contain nothing to explain these events, though it is interesting to speculate whether part of the problem may have been a serious lack of support and understanding for Constance’s high church sympathies. Like Dr Orchard himself, she loved beautiful liturgy, candles, works of art and forms of worship that some said were nearer to Rome than anything else. These things might find favour with some at the Weigh House, but they probably did not go down well in Darby Street mission. A later history of the Weigh House remarked: ‘Those who were drawn to Catholic ceremonial went to the Catholic church, and found the Darby Street “experiment” incomprehensible.’24 Coming from well-to-do surroundings in leafy Putney, via Oxford, Constance must also have felt the physical deprivation of 21 The Christian World, 22 November, 1917, p 4. The Christian World, 6 December, 1917, p 12. 22 23 King’s Weigh House Church Meeting Minutes 1916-1926, 26 March, 1919, p 42. 24 Kaye The History of the King’s Weigh House Church, p 131.


Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

the East End environment into which she and Claud had moved. A glimpse of this greyness can be found in an extract from the Mansfield House magazine from November 1916: There is not a curve or an ornament or a patch of colour in the long grim street. It is as if someone had built two walls of mud-coloured brick and had made slits at intervals for windows and doors. The mortar has perished between the bricks. There is not a tree or a bush to be seen; here and there in a window-box a starved geranium or nasturtium struggles for life. There are no forecourts: the doors open on to the pavement, and the passer-by has glimpses of peeling paper and broken plaster over shabby wainscoting. Every third or fourth window has been smashed, and across the gaps sacking or brown paper has been stuck. Each house has its two or three families; a few have more. The street swarms with children. At the end of it there is another street – just like it.25 In 1922, Constance and Claud started another sacrificial ministry, this time trying to revive the declining Congregational church at Greville Place, Kilburn. When that ministry concluded in less than two years with the closing of the church, they moved on to Cowley Road, Oxford in 1924. A 1936 report on the ministry of women by the CUEW noted that several ordained women had received calls from churches in financial difficulties that could not offer an adequate salary for a man. Constance was not alone in taking on difficult ministries in mission settings. Throughout their ministry, which took them to Wolverton in 1932 and finally to Haverhill, the Coltmans divided their roles. Constance specialised in baptisms and some weddings, as well as visiting young mothers. She studied midwifery and advised on birth control and fertility. Her daughter Irene Brown would later recall that Marie Stopes, the pioneer of family planning, was one of the great feminists her mother admired.26 Another of Constance’s interests was writing a regular column of spiritual advice in The Sunday at Home journal during the inter-war years. It was a mixture of personal and scriptural wisdom of the sort that was considered suitable for polite reading at home on the Sabbath.

25 26

Mansfield House Magazine, November 1916. Letter from Irene Brown to Elaine Kaye, 19 January, 1986.


When Maude Royden brought out a book entitled The Church and Woman in 1924, it was to Constance Coltman that she turned to write the chapter on the Free Churches. Constance described the Reformation as a ‘two-edged sword in the cause of the ministry of women’.27 From her High Church perspective, she saw the Reformation’s ending of Mariolatry, suppression of nunneries and intense bibliolatry as having weakened the status of Protestant women. She declared with clear-sighted realism, based on painful experience, that one or two protesting church members were enough to prevent a woman being called to a particular church, adding: ‘Where women are officially or otherwise exercising pastoral charge, it is usually as leaders of small causes, which are glad to get such help, but can hardly pay a living wage.’28 Despite such misgivings, Constance was a founder member of the Society for the Ministry of Women (Interdenominational), and active in it throughout her life. Generations of women ordinands were helped by her in their academic preparation, and in the 1950s she learned Swedish so as to support women seeking ordination in the Church of Sweden. A lifelong pacifist, member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and founder of Christian CND, Constance died in 1969. At her memorial service, tributes were paid to her by fellow Congregationalists the Revd Elsie Chamberlain and Lady Stansgate (mother of Labour politician Tony Benn). The significance of her quiet yet powerful ministry did not escape figures from the wider Church, including Lord Donald Soper and Bishop Trevor Huddleston, copies of whose condolence letters to Claud have survived. One massive challenge in researching Constance is that she never preserved her personal papers, which makes reconstructing her story very challenging. Claud and Constance themselves were very quiet about their pioneering role, and rarely spoke about it. Many people, on meeting them, would never have realised what a significant couple they were. The centenary of Constance

Constance Coltman, ‘Post-Reformation: The free churches’, in A Maude Royden, The Church and Woman, with a chapter on the Evangelical and Free Churches by Constance M Coltman, MA, BD (London: James Clarke & Co Ltd, 1924), pp 80-135, p 80. 28 Royden, The Church and Woman, p 116. 27


Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

Coltman’s ordination provides an ideal opportunity to right this wrong, and celebrate the life and ministry of a remarkable ministerial pioneer.

Constance Could I just say, Lord, Once and for all, I Need a rest! So stop bothering me – now! Take that gospel of yours Away, and let me enjoy injustice. No need to fight, or question. Can’t you do that please? Except, I don’t really mean it, do I? Kirsty Thorpe (from poetry workshop) Kirsty says: ‘I think I need to put my Constance acrostic in some sort of context. ‘You gave us permission to face the doubts and frustrations we experience. I just wrote down the letters that spell her name. ‘It felt to me as though decades of campaigning, disappointment and trying to start again then flowed out of me as I wrote. ‘I certainly felt God very close as I wrote, which is why I felt able to say something like “Take your gospel away” – because I knew it was safe to do and God would understand I didn’t totally mean it.’


Story by Yvonne Campbell

At junior school, when I wanted to work out my placement,

I said that I wanted to be a missionary. I think I had been reading stories of strong women who had changed things, such as Gladys Aylward, Elizabeth Fry, Mary Jones and Florence Nightingale. It’s ironic that my sister has been working in Taiwan, and travelled around, and I have never moved out of Liverpool, where I was born! When I went to the local minister and said that I wanted to be a missionary, she said that you can’t just go to be a missionary, you need to have a skill, such as a nurse or teacher. My mother was a nurse, and I knew I didn’t have those skills. It must have been God’s leading that the teacher training colleges didn’t want me! In the end, I went into further education, working with people returning to education after they had had children, or been in prison, or been addicted to something, and were getting their lives back together. I was also active in my church, but I was always the only person my age in the church. Eventually, I started getting into local and regional church organisations, and someone said, ‘Would you like to do the Congregational Federation training course?’ Well, I wanted to know more about my faith. I was not satisfied anymore with just going to services. I married in my 30s and had a baby, so my life really changed. I struggled with the change of lifestyle, but it was God working me up to what I now know was the role of General Secretary in the Congregational Federation. I looked at the job description and thought, ‘I could do that.’ My skills were right for the role, but at the same time I thought, ‘No way could I do that!’ It was such a strong, and dominant position – a General Secretary! I went for the interview and got the job: Wow! It affirmed the calling of God, that he wanted to change my life. He wanted me to follow his call and be bold. I found the verse: ‘Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path’


Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

(Psalm 119:105) speaking to me. I knew that God would guide my feet in the role he wanted me to do. Hearing other stories today, I have been deeply affected. My life has been one of relative privilege, but I lack confidence. God is always giving us strength to do what he wants. In the art workshop, I found a place where I could just stop and trust God. The story of Constance is real. I am also called by God; not ordained, but called by God.


oman proudly rising from the mud My inspiration: I feel inspired by the many hard-working women who struggle to survive, like my grandmother did. They pass on the strength to stand up to the negative, resistant powers in life and church to be proud theologians and pastors – just the way I am, both strong and vulnerable. Martha Kroes (from art workshop)


WOMEN OF THE WAY GLOBAL PIONEERS GATHERING CELEBRATING CONSTANCE COLTMAN London, UK 14-17 September, 2017 All those who gathered at the conference were global pioneers. Their presentations arise from their own stories, and the stories of others known to them. They speak from the heart of their culture and faith communities. As each one shared their stories of struggle, heartbreak, hope and empowerment, every listener responded. The details may be different, but the same themes arose, again and again. These are specific stories in a shared narrative.

Patricia Sheerattan Bisnauth


Yvonne Dawkins and Kirsty Thorpe

The social realities of women in the African context by Ellen Nachali Mulenga Introduction


omen are people that are marginalised, looked down upon in so many ways and areas that govern their affairs. Therefore, I will endeavour to explore the social realities of women in an African context in relation to patriarchy, and theological reflection on the subversive and resistive ways in which women have been fighting for liberation and resisting patriarchy.

Social realities


he social realities of women in an African context amount to gender inequality: women are considered as weaker vessels and tools for men. Marriage succession, education, employment, Christian ritual performance, types of jobs etc: these realities come about as a result of a patriarchal concept of life. This patriarchal concept of male leadership in a family or community is a socially constructed part of culture, and is embedded in cultural and traditional norms that, in some communities, are exercised through patriarchal dominance in decision-making positions. This is the kind of community where I personally come from. Most of the cultural principles have stereotyped women to be ‘the weaker vessels’ and dependent upon masculinity to be complete. It is noted that language has been used to stereotype women as lesser beings. A number of factors have entrenched the African context, as well as the societal norm which describes a woman’s place in the home. This means she is only to attend to the household chores and other home responsibilities. There are some cultural 35

practices, myths and taboos which are taught to Zambian girls at a tender age: that their place is in the home, they are confined to the domestic spheres of life, a role that is extended into the church. Secondly, in African tradition, particularly in Zambian myths and cultures, there is no need to advocate for the empowerment of a girl, as she is expected to be taken care of by her husband when she gets married. She is always expected to be a mother and a good wife. Because of the bride price which is paid by the man to the girl’s parents, it generally believed that a woman is a property of the man, and she always has to be submissive to him and always subject to the man; whatever the man says, he is right, again a role which is also extended into the church. A man can marry as many wives as he wishes, and it is generally acceptable. The implication is that, in the African context, a woman is ready for marriage just after puberty; without marriage, she does not command respect for herself. This implies that the woman’s survival is through marriage, not only for her to be complete, but also to bear children. In rural areas of Zambia, society gives some space for women to do agricultural work for production. Women are the cultivators and harvesters of the crops for both subsistence and commercial production. In the family, a woman as a wife or mother is there to provide food, fetch water and firewood, and look after the children and her husband. In dealing with society, it is mainly the responsibility of women to provide for the family, including social obligations such as taking care of the sick, work at weddings, funerals or any other occasions. The same is transferred to the church. There are more women in the church than men, but although more women are present, it is mostly in positions that do not influence church policy. For example, one church which I pastor has a membership of 1,554 members, of whom 1,122 are women and 332 are men, and 70% in leadership are men, simply because of our traditional and cultural practices. Women think leadership is for men, where they are taught to be quiet among men. The third factor is religion: this is to say, God is symbolised as a male figure, and women are a source of evil. Thus, in an African context, having female pastors is a taboo. African traditional religion holds that women are ceremonially unclean because of their menstrual periods. They are therefore not even fit for 36

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Christian ritual performances such as Holy Communion, not even partaking of it. Other factors would be biological makeup, for example hairstyles, or cover, and the traditional roles which are assigned to them such as child bearing and homecare. Further, in contemporary workplaces, certain jobs are classified as for women, for example secretarial work. From a biblical perspective, Africans have silenced women, and some women have accepted that. In the Bible, we see Israel, which was a patriarchal society, not different from our cultural context. Leadership was male-dominated. We can only see kings, priests and clan leaders. Leadership was pronounced to be male in both the Old Testament and New Testament, especially Paul’s teachings. Even where women appear to have rights, this is often seen as the exception rather than the norm, and is hedged around with regulation. An example can be seen in Numbers 27, where the daughters of Zelophehad ask for an inheritance from their father, as they have no brothers. This is granted by God through Moses, and becomes the basis for an additional property law, permitting daughters to inherit. This sounds encouraging, but the circumstances are exceptional, and remain so in law. The incident takes place on the very threshold of the Promised Land at the end of the wilderness wandering, during the apportionment of land to the tribes. The point at issue is that Zelophehad died without male heirs, and his daughters are concerned that he should still have an apportionment as a heritage to pass on. With God’s guidance, Moses agrees, and proclaims the new law of inheritance. But, though daughters can succeed to the property if there are no sons, in all other cases the heirs are male. If there are no daughters, the property passes sideways or upwards to brothers or uncles. The norm remains firmly patriarchal.

Ordination of women in the United Church of Zambia

The United Church of Zambia came into union on 1 January 1965.

The Church accepts the ordination of women, although at first it was not easy. The first woman was ordained in 1976. I was the fifth to be ordained, in 1990. Although the Church opened the door to 37

women’s ordination, not many women came forward, for fear of male dominance in leadership and that they would not be accepted by members of the Church. There are 61 female ministers working in the Church today. When I applied for training I didn’t know if I would be accepted; furthermore, I doubted if I would be accepted by any congregation. But thank God, I went to the theological college and finished my four-year training. However, I would like to point out here that there were challenges, especially from my male fellow students, who would ask why I was there, and what I was doing, and yet they knew. The perception is that very few women apply for training, because many still perceive it to be a man’s job, and in many African cultures, a woman cannot lead a man. Another reason is that, in rural areas, very few women are educated, due to poverty and early marriages. For every one female student there are five male students. For example, in my class of 1986 to 1989, there were 12 men and we were only two ladies; in some intakes there were no women. Even though the Church has ordained women, only one has ascended to a higher position at synod level, which is the highest court of the Church. We have the first woman General Secretary. We have nine presbyteries, each geographically equivalent to a government province. Each presbytery is headed by a bishop, and out of nine only one is a woman. It is not that we don’t have capable ordained women, as we have very capable women to run these presbyteries, but it is because of the patriarchal society. These bishops are elected among the ordained ministers, and sometimes the majority voters are women. You find that they would rather vote for a man in office than a woman, because of what I have already alluded to. I thank the Church because they have opened doors to women’s ordination, although the European missionaries, who came to Zambia, never admitted women to ordination until much later in 1969.

Fighting for liberation and resisting patriarchy

I would ask a question: Is patriarchy redeemed? The answer could

be yes, because Jesus’s attitude, treatment and teachings were inclusive. The birth of Jesus was a veneration of women, salvation


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is inclusive, hence Paul’s reconciliatory attitude which can be seen in Galatians 3:28, which states ‘neither male nor female’, and recognises women’s leadership as can be seen in Romans 16. Many societies discriminate against women taking part in certain duties because men are considered to be more powerful, intelligent and superior than women. This has, however, disadvantaged many women taking part in development. Women played a vital role in the Hebrew Bible: 1. The creation of humankind. From Genesis 1:26-27 it is evident that both man and woman were created in God’s image; for this reason I believe that the two opposite sexes were not created just to occupy the world, but instead each one had a responsibility. In other words, both man and woman had a duty of stewardship. Therefore, from the patriarchs’ point of view, where women were not counted but considered as property, I strongly argue that it was not Yahweh’s will but instead human thinking and will. Perhaps it was a misunderstanding of some terminologies such as ‘woman to be a helper’, thinking men had greater roles, which was not the case. Both men and women were given the responsibility, as recorded in Genesis 1:26: ‘Then God said let us make man in our own image after our likeness, and let them have dominion over fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air and over cattle and over all the earth.’ This proves that, including women, both had roles to fulfil to make life on earth worth living. That failure by women to carry out their roles can be seen as an offence that deserves punishment. 2. Religious roles associated with sharing God’s work in redeeming Israel. Exodus 1:15-21 shows how some women can be included in God’s plan of saving the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt. They performed the role of saving Moses, a man God used to deliver Israel, just like Mary and Joseph saved Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, from the hand of Herod when they took him to Egypt. Though not in a similar situation but with a similar aim, that is to save the one to redeem the people from bondage, these women played a very significant role as midwives and, at the same time, as partners in God’s saving plan for Israel. Miriam, 39

the older sister of Moses, was also a remarkable woman. She saved Moses’ life by acting as a messenger when she was requested by Pharaoh’s daughter to go and call a woman to take care of Moses. Instead, she went and called her mother, who was Moses’ mother too. The other role women played was that of prophets. Exodus 15:20 describes Miriam as a prophet (sometimes translated ‘prophetess’) who led other women with tambourine and dances and songs to the Lord. Meanwhile, Deborah is described as a prophet: Judges 4:4 records, ‘Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth was leading Israel at that time.’ (NIV) Looking at these and other women in the Bible, it could be concluded that though God always used men in carrying out tasks that need the involvement of human beings, women have always been role players. Therefore, a careful study will show that their stories involve both events of national importance and also intensely personal matters. Comparing the different roles these women played, I feel the United Church of Zambia has set a good precedent where women’s participation is encouraged and, indeed, these women are contributing greatly, although rarely. Like Deborah, the Church has women who are elders, presiding over matters of importance. Today in Zambia, most of the women, especially in rural areas, are involved in agricultural activities, particularly during rainy season. Some women have continued to play economic roles in both rural and urban areas of Zambia. There is no doubt that most women are breadwinners, in that they are much involved in business activities to make sure that the family has something to eat. Even in the church, religious roles are mostly played by women, ie sweeping, decorating, and preparations of church events. Some people are persuaded that a woman’s role is a secondary one, but I feel that those people have a negative kind of view, because of the Old Testament example of women playing primary roles. These women are happy with these roles because men are not there. From this presentation, it can be understood that, though according to the Mosaic Law women in the Old Testament times were perceived as low class citizens and counted together with 40

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the property and belongings which the men owned, it is evident that females were daughters, mothers, sisters, wives and they also baked, were cooks, weavers, and so on. We will soon discover that behind each woman stands the Lord himself, always loving, always faithful, always in control, always working out his perfect plan, now revealed to us in Jesus Christ.

Keep On Keeping On When I feel weary lonely broken threatened I drink of the Well of Stories of Courage Hope Love And am energised by Sisterhood Community Partnership Celebration Pampering I praise and give thanks Knowing that I am Surrounded by an amazing Cloud of witnesses So we keep on keeping on! Patricia Sheerattan-Bisnauth (from the poetry workshop)


Ways of resisting

To counter the patriarchal concept, women have come up with

ways of resisting patriarchy, such as the formation of womenbased organisations, and the development of feminist theology. Subversively, women have come up with organisations to champion equal rights such as Women for Change, Forum for African Educationalists of Zambia – ‘a leading non-governmental organisation in Zambia working to eliminate gender disparities at all levels of education’ – and the Campaign for Female Educationalists which promotes equality in education.1 The United Church of Zambia University, where church ministers are trained, through its response to the national gender policy intends to make all its policies and practices gender-responsive. It is hoped that this will positively contribute to its mission of gender balance, and progressively develop skills, knowledge and approaches to work and academic studies without gender bias, as recorded in Genesis 1:26-27. It also has an unwritten policy to enrol at least three women per year. Theologically, feminist theologians have raised a challenge in order to resist patriarchy. Naturally, God displays humanity as equal and this can be vindicated between sexes. Further, this entails that women and men share equally in the image of God and the joint responsibility of humans for the rule over creation. This theology entails that if women are equal, then God is to be imagined both as male and female. The women’s lens is at work to see to it that the place of women is found. As female theologians in Zambia, we meet to sensitise our fellow women as to how they can be involved in leadership, and hence fight patriarchal dominance. Lastly, attending the conference celebrating Constance Coltman and the pioneers of women’s ministry and leadership is a very good opportunity. This event reminds me that we have to appreciate our pioneers, who helped women’s ministry to spread to other Churches, such as the United Church of Zambia. These are the pioneers who have helped to understand the gospel values, in order to triumph over cultural prejudice, especially in regard to women. They have helped to foster absolute equality of men


42 (accessed 18/2/2021; (accessed 21/9/17); see (accessed 8/3/2019); (accessed 21/9/17).

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and women; they have helped not to keep a woman back from any position of power on account of sex, and to remind us that we are all called to ministry of leadership. This is an encouragement to all women, especially myself, coming from a background full of traditions that hinder women’s leadership. Thank you.


’ve long been deeply moved by Anthony Gormley’s installation of sculptured figures looking out to sea from the beach at Formby, Merseyside. The figures in this painting are cut up from a tabloid newspaper representing how manipulated information can shackle people to a fear of other, yet at the same time yearn for a better future.  Sarah Moore (from art workshop)


The Life of Jo Ahra, ‘Mother of Gwangju’, ‘The Godmother of Democratisation’ and the implications of her life-giving to the Korean Church. by Min Heui Cheon Translated and Summarised by So Young Jung


o Ahra is also called ‘Godmother of Democratisation’, and her pen name ‘Sosimdang’, which means ‘immaculately innocent’, shows us how pure and noble her life was. She was a devout Christian, a female activist, and a pioneer in social welfare. She was always standing up for and working for marginalised neighbours in all the darkest times. The darkest times of Korean modern history can be divided into three periods: Japanese colonisation (1910-1945), the Korean War (began on 25 June, 1950), and the Gwangju (a city in South Korea) Democratisation Movement period (18-27 May, 1980). Jo Ahra dedicated her whole life to working for the advance of the Kingdom of God in Korea. Moreover, she never gave up her will for the Kingdom of God whatever the difficulties. This article is about her achievements in those three difficult times, and will demonstrate the Korean Church’s contribution and reflect on the three ‘dark ages’. Finally, I will give my thoughts on the Korean Church’s task for the future based on Jo Ahra’s last dream, ‘Peaceful Reunification of Korea’.

Japanese colonial time


o Ahra was born in March 1912, during the Japanese colonisation. She entered Gwangju Speer Girls’ High School and joined a secret association ‘Baekcheongdan’ for Gwangju, a student movement for the freedom of Korea. On graduation from the school, she became a teacher at Yiil School, teaching Christianity for women. After teaching for two years, she was accused of instigating a secret movement for the freedom of Korea, for which she served a onemonth prison sentence and was dismissed from her post. 44

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In 1936, she was apprehended by Japanese police again, and spent a further month in jail.1 This was because the Speer Girls’ High School, where she was a school reunion president, refused to visit the shrine to the Japanese king for worship and change their original names into Japanese ones. The school was shut down in the same year, as was the YWCA two years later for the same reason. However, when Korea was liberated from Japan in 1945, Jo Ahra took on a leading role in reconstructing Gwangju YWCA and the school, and they were rebuilt in 1945.

The Korean War

Soon after the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, Jo Ahra

founded Sungbin Women’s Quarters to protect war orphans and Honam Shelter as a night middle school to educate the orphaned girls. She opened Byeolbit (Starlight) school, a night school for poor and unprivileged women, in 1961. The school helped women ravaged by poverty. She also opened Gyemyeong Women’s Quarters for women prostitutes in 1962, and taught them hairdressing, typing, dressmaking and needlework to equip them for paid employment. She and Gwangju YWCA became a centre of the women’s movement in Gwangju.2

Gwangju Democratisation Movement


hen she was 69, Jo Ahra was taken by the martial law troops and served six months in jail for protecting citizens suffering discrimination because of their membership of the Citizens Settlement Committee’ during the Democratisation Movement. The final statement Jo Ahra made in the military courtroom at this time was echoed by many: ‘All of this will be revealed some day, as God and history remember. We are innocent, and we are the ones who went in to put out the fire that someone had started. Why does this country not punish the person who started the fire instead of the person who put it out?’.3 Seongsul Kong, The Cartoon of Sosimdang Jo Ahra (Gwangju: the Joara Memorial Project of the Gwangju YWCA, 2007). This cartoon booklet is distributed to schools and libraries, and to visitors to ‘Jo Ahra Memorial Hall’, 3-6, Jejung-ro 46beon-gil, Nam-gu, Gwangju, Republic of Korea. 2 Kong, The Cartoon of Sosimdang Jo Ahra, p 26. 3 Kong, The Cartoon of Sosimdang Jo Ahra, p 35. 1


Her last dream

Jo Ahra, who dedicated her whole life to justice and peace,

prayed for peaceful reunification between the two Koreas in her old age. She participated in the 1992 North-South Women’s Open Forum in Pyongyang, North Korea, as a representative of South Korean women when she was 87. She continued to respond to the demands of history until her death on 8 July, 2003. Jo Ahra was the true mother of this age, who sacrificed herself and raised women and powerless people for the rest of her life with the power of love.

The Korean Churches


ow, I would like to look at the contributions and reflections of Korean Churches at times of national pain, and see what the Church can do to meet the demands of the times toward peaceful reunification, which was the last dream and hope of Jo Ahra. In the modern history of Korea, churches have been focusing on mission. In the oppressive politics of the Japanese colonial period, the Church joined the 1 March movement to free the people and took the lead in the independence movement.4 At the same time, the Korean Church worked on the rural enlightenment movement and education. When the Korean peninsula was in great despair due to the Korean War of 1950, after liberation the Church presented its vision for the future and participated fully in the national revival movement. With the upcoming development and dictatorship of the 1980 Korean military regime and its industrialisation policy, the Church did not hesitate to stand up for the restoration of true human rights and the settlement of democracy when human value was degraded and materialism was covering our society.



See also Seon Yi Lee, ‘Korean Women under the Impact of Imperialism’, in Janet Wootton (ed.) Cultural History of Women and Christianity: The Age of Empire (London: Routledge: forthcoming).

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Despite the effort and devotion of Christian pioneers, for some

time the Korean churches obeyed world powers and dictators in the name of God, and focused on the rapid growth and expansion of the Church. However, the reflection of the Korean churches that a new identity must be established as a body of Christ caused deep repentance, and in this regard, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Korea (PCK) has conducted ‘A Decade of Life Saving Campaign’ (from 2002 to 2012) and an extension of this, ‘Ecumenical Decade of Healing and Reconciling LifeCommunity Movement’ (2012-2022). Two of those had the ultimate goal of converting the existing ‘Church Growth centred ministry’ to the ‘Life saving centred ministry’6 and seeking healing and reconciliation in the social community (Ephesians 2:11-16), social justice and peace (Isaiah 42:1-4)7 and, finally, peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula. Through these prayers and efforts, from local churches to Synod and General Assembly, the Korean Churches have been cooperating to play the role of light in the darkness and friends standing beside the socially weak, and ultimately to do their best to achieve the peaceful reunification between South and North Korea which was Jo Ahra’s final life dream and vision.

5 6 7

So Young Jung. The Presbyterian Church of Korea (PCK) English homepage (previous version) (accessed 29/9/20). The PCK homepage (latest Korean version), The theological document of ‘Ecumenical Decade of Healing and Reconciling Life-Community Movement’ (accessed 18/2/2021).


Story by Martha Kroes

I come from a farming family, where both my parents were

quite poor. They had a violent upbringing. I was their first child, and they tried very hard to make a good family life, though they had not had a good role model for themselves. My mother had psychological problems, and I cared for her. From my youth on, an attitude of caring for others became my second nature. Yet another side of me awakened at high school. I joined the committee preparing the weekly morning prayer on Monday. Regularly I was standing in the pulpit preaching in front of 700 pupils. I was shy and nervous, but felt I had to do it, and actually loved it. OK, I thought, I would probably get married and have children, as I had a boyfriend. I was also getting good grades, so my mother said I could go on to study. The relationship ended, so I set my mind to study – but I didn’t know what. My teacher of religion said, ‘What about studying theology?’ I had never seen a woman minister in the pulpit. Could I become a pastor? I went to university, the first in my family to do so – I had to cross that border. During my studies I met my husband. He was six years older than me, and became a minister when I was still studying. The more his congregation saw me as the pastor’s wife, the more I struggled to have a life of my own. I engaged in feminist theology, and groups of women and faith outside the congregation. Meanwhile, I tried to finish my studies – and I was almost there when I got pregnant. After that, I was fully involved in caring for my children, and doing voluntary work in church, social organisations and the children’s school. But when the two youngest were coming to the end of their education, I got involved in a group for Celtic spirituality. We explored new ways of celebrating at the intersection of faith and daily or seasonal life for people who didn’t feel at home in a church any more. I enjoyed this. It was the kick in


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the backside that I needed, to stop caring for other people: now it’s my turn. Four years ago, I started to train for ministry. I very much like the practical training, but there was still a lack of selfconfidence: deep inside of me I was afraid to let people see me, to show myself. I was greatly helped by a professor who used to talk about two buckets full of water, the one perfectly whole and the other full of holes: ‘Maybe you feel you are the bucket with holes. But hey, you see and feed the flowers and all creation around you!’ This gave me a lot of confidence. Bearing with me, my life full of holes made by vulnerable experiences, I will become a minister who can make the lives of people and creation more beautiful and meaningful. In the end, I feel that this time of study is very important for me. It is an enjoyable chance to become a minister who may be seen as she is.


took inspiration from Barbara Kruger’s work by mixing a visual image that became almost iconic for the Conference with text from the day’s newspaper. What are supplements for a woman? Is it about beauty and health? What about education or edification? Do we need to be shaped or ‘added to’ or do we already have what we need? Do we supplement others? Did Constance supplement her Oxford College and the Congregational Church, or was she fundamentally changing its character? Where do female pioneers still feel supplementary or an ‘add-on’? Suzanne Nockels (from art workshop)


‘Just because she is a woman…’ by Carla Maurer

In 2015, the motion picture Suffragette was shown in cinemas up

and down the country. The movie tells the story of the struggle of British women to get the right to vote. At the very end of the film, a timeline appears that shows when women’s suffrage was achieved in countries throughout the world. Great Britain was among the pioneers in the early 20th century, and in the decades thereafter women’s suffrage was introduced across the globe. There was a little astonished outcry in the cinema audience when the list came to the 1970s, and Switzerland appeared! The right of women to vote was introduced on the federal level in Switzerland as late as 1971, and the last Canton that was finally forced to adopt the federal law, the Canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden (very close to where I grew up), allowed women to the ballot box in 1991. I was 11 years old. The history of women’s ordination and admission to church leadership in the Reformed Church of Switzerland is interlinked with political developments. Although women were ordained as early as 1918, almost at the same time as Constance Coltman, women were only admitted to take office and effectively lead a parish from the 1960s. Prior to that, the role of ordained women was to be an assistant to the local minister, as they were not allowed to officiate at communion or baptisms. When women were finally admitted as leading ministers, they could not get married until well into the 1980s, as it was thought impossible for women to lead a parish, look after household and husband, and raise children. Their male colleagues were, of course, not affected by this restriction. Half a century on, we tend to take women’s leadership in the Reformed Church of Switzerland for granted, yet women in 50

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ministry are still sometimes looked at with suspicion. In 2014, the President of the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches publicly raised his concerns about the ‘feminisation’ of church ministry. In an interview in the Swiss magazine Die Weltwoche published on 20 November, 2014, he said that he was not against women in ministry, but if only women were to preach, everything would change: the topics, the images and the phrases. ‘At some point men would stay away from church’, he said. Many readers, both male and female, were naturally outraged by the idea that women should be responsible for the absence of men from the church pews. This fear of the ‘feminisation’ of church ministry is in no way unique. A friend of mine who ministers at a Reformed church in an Eastern European country has had similar experiences. She prefers to remain anonymous out of fear that her outspokenness could have negative consequences. When she went to study theology, there were only two places for women but 12 places for men at the faculty of theology. Consequently, women had to perform much better than their male counterparts to be admitted to pastoral training. The reason was that the church did not want ministry to be ‘feminised’. Some of her professors said that they did not think being a pastor was for women. What if she were to be sent to a rural congregation on her own? Who will cut the wood for her in winter, or if she is very cold? How can a woman lead a funeral? After my degree in theology, I went to work in Strasbourg for the Conference of European Churches, an organisation that brings together churches from across Europe and from all denominations. Later, I joined the Ecumenical Forum of European Christian Women (EFECW) and was a member of the coordinating committee for four years. As a theologian, my outlook has always been ecumenical, yet I soon realised that being ordained and a woman was often looked at with suspicion, confusion or incomprehension in the ecumenical context. Let me explain this with a few examples. I was ordained in September 2012. At the time, I was involved in the leadership of the EFECW, and led a number of projects which is why I went to ecumenical meetings several times a year. We used to share what was happening in our lives, and especially when one of us got married or gave birth to a child we shared the 51

happy news. I remember the many good wishes that I had received for my wedding day. After my ordination, however, when I wanted to share this important day in my life with my friends, this was met with awkward silence by some. For me personally, to share the experience of my ordination with my ecumenical friends would have been so much more important than sharing my wedding pictures. I came to realise how deeply influenced we are by the doctrines of our Churches that, even among women, we could not always openly speak about our call to ministry. On another occasion, I remember talking to an Orthodox friend from Belarus. We talked about work, family and our countries, and she explained to me that coming from an Orthodox background she just couldn’t quite get her head around the fact that women could be ministers or priests. It was just unthinkable for her. We had a very honest and insightful discussion, and I appreciated her openness. My friend thought it particularly unimaginable for a woman to baptise a child. After two days, however, my friend suddenly came up to me and said: ‘You know what, I have been thinking about this, and I have changed my mind. I can now even picture a woman priest baptising my child, there is nothing wrong with this.’ On another occasion, I was sitting at a table next to a Greek artist. She was not a churchgoer, and was very surprised that female ministers even existed, and so we started chatting. She asked me if I would also officiate at Holy Communion, which I confirmed. Then she asked: ‘What do you do when you have your period? Are you still allowed to officiate at communion?’ This question shows the real root of why so many Churches exclude women from seeking ordination: it has to do with women’s bodies. Women are pregnant, give birth and breastfeed their babies. Women go through cycles of hormonal treatment, have miscarriages or abortions. Women have their period and menopause. Human sexuality, one of the greatest taboos in Christianity, becomes visible in women’s bodies. The mother of the friend I mentioned earlier, who is also a minister in the same Church from the first generation, was not elected in one parish as her predecessor had warned the congregation ahead of the election that she might have children and go on maternity leave. 52

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Subsequently in her professional life, my friend’s mother felt she had to prove herself and work harder than any of her male colleagues. The evening before she gave birth to her daughters, she was running up and down stairs during the church service, just to prove that she was capable. I have had both negative and positive experiences as an ordained woman. Of course, I have seen patronising attitudes. But, most astonishingly, several times, I have experienced how the simple fact that I am a woman has changed someone’s perception of church completely, and opened a door for people who have long turned their back on church. I am sure that other ministers, male, female or other, who do not meet the stereotypes of the white male heterosexual minister, have had similar experiences. Female ministry in churches has been a theological battleground for centuries, and we should treat that for what it is: an expression of a deeply patriarchal society that we are all part of. There is a risk, as in all parts of life, that women turn against each other instead of standing against injustice and discrimination together. Some find it hugely challenging to accept women ministers and priests because of the deep-rooted patriarchal theology of their Church. There are also women who feel called to ministry but cannot seek ordination in their Churches, which is a very painful process in the biography of a woman and, indeed, a waste of talent and resources for the respective Church. This is the case not only in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, but also in various Protestant Churches that do not ordain women, for instance the Lutheran Church in Latvia and Poland, or the Baptist Church in Slovakia and Croatia. I remember a number of conversations with women who felt the call to ministry, and each one of them would have been such a blessing for their Church, but instead they were ridiculed, patronised and even sacked from their position in the Church for speaking out. Women in ministry, and I am sure this is equally true for transgender people, is a very sensitive issue that can cause a lot of pain, misunderstandings and hurt feelings. I started this paper with an introduction into the history of women’s suffrage in Switzerland. To wrap up my article, I would like to mention the first woman minister of Switzerland. Her name was Greti Caprez-Roffler. On 13 September, 1931, the congregation 53

of the small mountain village of Furna in the Swiss Alps triggered a scandal by electing Greti to become their minister. This was against the law, and the scandal was even reported in Germany. Greti moved to Furna with her newborn son while her husband continued to pursue his work as an engineer in Zurich, for which Greti was broadly criticised. In one of her letters, she wrote: ‘I might perhaps have guessed it, but I did not expect to experience this so clearly: that it is a disgrace to be a woman.’ The village of Furna got in real trouble with the cantonal church administration in Chur which opposed women in ministry. After a few years, Greti was forced to leave, and it took many more years until the first canton introduced a law that would allow ordained women to lead a church. One of the very first women to be admitted as a leading minister was the Revd Ruth Epting, who was also the founder of the Ecumenical Forum of European Christian Women. For me to be a minister and serve a congregation is the most beautiful work in the entire world. I hope the day will come when no woman minister has to prove her ability because of her gender, instead that we can fulfil our calling with joy, selfconfidence and determination.

Story by Judith North

I was brought up in Christian family. I belonged to a strong

youth group at church, and was encouraged to take part in leading services from an early age. When I was about 15, when the group took a service, I drew the short straw, and had to do the sermon. My father was a lay preacher, and he helped me to put the sermon together, and do it. Some of the deacons in the church, quite elderly men, asked if I had thought about going into ministry. I was at grammar school at the time, but not overly academic. I got my O Levels, but failed my A Levels. My qualifications enabled me to go into nursing. I wanted to do more overtly Christian work, but nursing was a good alternative. I have done 40 years in nursing, and it has given


Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

me the opportunity to help people. Even though talking about the Christian faith is a taboo, I could talk to people coming to the end of their lives, or hold a baby with cystic fibrosis though the night and let the parents know that it had died in my arms. This was at the time that parents could only visit for a few hours. These were great privileges. Eventually I moved back home, to the village I was born in. I married and had a family, and took a ten-year break in my career. I went back into nursing when the children were old enough. I felt the pull to ministry, but I was married with children, and a husband who travelled the world. My ministry was being alongside people in the village, and bringing people to church. Sometimes it was three or four years before some people would come to church with me. A few years ago, one of the women in the church told me that she felt the call to ministry. She had been blind since the age of three, but I had known her when she had sight. She had been away to special school and returned to the village. This was just as the TLS (Training for Learning and Serving) course was starting. The Revd David Jenkins came from London to talk about it, and the woman asked me to go with her. I spent a whole evening talking it through, and before I realised, I had signed up for it too! We did TLS together. It gave her and me the confidence to go back to where I was in my youth and take the journey from the beginning. I found plenty of support among my friends and my Synod. They encouraged me to keep going. Though I never got into ministry, I feel that my life has been a ministry in different ways.


Women’s Ordination for a ‘Discipleship of Equals’1 by Luca Badini Confalonieri The debate among reformers in the Roman Catholic Church

The context of the debate about women’s ordination is a broader

discussion in the Roman Catholic Church, between traditionalists and reformers, who see the need for wide-ranging radical change. The question is whether women’s ordination, as a specific issue, should be prioritised, as something requiring urgent action, maybe a catalyst for greater change; or whether it depends on reform of the currently undemocratic ministry of the Roman Catholic Church. Underlying the question of women’s ordination are discussions about what we mean by ‘ordination’ and what is the distinction between ministers and laypeople? These are questions which cut across denominational boundaries, and benefit from discussion in an ecumenical arena. There are also insights to be gleaned from the study of the New Testament and early Christianity. This paper will explore these issues in two main sections: The Priesthood of all Christians; and A Discipleship of Equals.

A people of priests


n 1 Peter 2:5b, it says that Christians are ‘a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God, through Jesus Christ’ (NRSV). It is the entire people who are now called to be ‘priests’ to each other and to the world. What does this priestly service entail more concretely?



Based on Powerpoint presentation at the Conference, a copy of which is available at; see also (sites accessed 15/8/19).

Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

James Dunn argues that ‘Paul saw all ministry and service on behalf of the gospel as priestly ministry, ministry which all believers could engage in and which was not limited to any special order of priests’.2 This means that charitable giving, prayer, and every act made in service of the good news is included. The importance of these areas of Christian service is given high prominence in the epistles: see, for example, 1 Corinthians 9, where Paul calls for a commitment to giving; and Hebrews 13:1-3, 16: Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering . . . And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. There was no separate Christian ‘priesthood’ in the early Church.3 Romans 5:2 speaks of our unmediated access to grace through Christ. The letter to the Hebrews very specifically suggests that Christians do not need a human priesthood any more. They now have Jesus acting as the eternal high priest for them.4 In the Old Testament, only the high priest could enter into the Holy of Holies. Today, we have the privilege of direct access to God through Christ. We can ‘come boldly unto the throne of grace’ (Hebrews 4:16, KJV). According to Ephesians 3:12, it is because of Christ that ‘we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him’. The letter to the Hebrews 10:19-22 tells us to have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus: ‘Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.’ James Dunn argues that ‘the most surprising development … [is] the emergence of a Christian order of priesthood’.5 In an extended note in The Partings of the Ways, he confesses to: … some bewilderment at the way the argument of Hebrews can be so lightly ignored or set aside by those Christian traditions which wish James Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (London: T&T Clark, 2003) p 546. James Dunn, Neither Jew nor Greek: A Contested Identity (Grand Rapids, MI: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015), pp 8, 814. 4 James Dunn, The Partings of the Ways Between Christianity and Judaism and their Significance for the Character of Christianity (London: SCM Press, 2006), p 119. 5 Dunn, Neither Jew nor Greek , p 814. 2 3


to continue to justify a special order of priesthood within the people of God … To use Hebrews 5:1 to justify or explain Christian priesthood, as the second Vatican Council does, while ignoring the clear thrust and argument of the letter as a whole, seems to me to constitute a form of eisegesis and special pleading which cannot really be justified from tradition.

He goes on: Similarly with the argument that the function of Christian priests is to represent the one true priesthood of Christ, which reads more like a post hoc rationalisation than a defensible justification of Hebrews. For by clear implication it interposes once again a mediator of grace between the believer and God, despite the fact that the concern of Hebrews was precisely to convince his readers that such mediation was no longer necessary. … the argument would most probably have been quite unacceptable to the author himself. In which case, it is no longer simply a matter of tradition interpreting scripture, but of tradition riding roughshod over scripture.6 The New Testament is clear that Jesus is the only true priest. Before Christianity, ‘priests’ were understood as fulfilling the role of mediating between the gods (or God) and humankind. But this role is wholly fulfilled in Jesus. 1 Timothy 2:5: ‘For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.’ In this, Christianity is revolutionary as it rejects the need for human priests: it affirms that only one person can mediate for all people in the world and for all times, and that is Jesus, because He is both divine and human. The New Testament does not offer a fixed list of official ministries but, rather, it displays a variety which reflects a very pragmatic approach to office, with no cultic or sacral overtones. The three main terms used to designate people who were fulfilling specific tasks within the early Christian communities are borrowed from the ordinary, secular domain of civil administration: ‘episkopoi’ (supervisors) with ‘diakonoi’ (assistants), and ‘presbyteroi’ (elders). There is also mention of ‘apostles’, ‘teachers’, ‘preachers’, ‘prophets’, ‘evangelists’, ‘pastors’, and so on.7

6 Dunn, The Partings of the Ways, pp 127-8. 7 Dunn, Theology of Paul, pp 583-4.


Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

Neither does the New Testament offer theological legitimation of the three main terms, but they are described in purely functional terms. Circles of elders and supervisors with assistants are different ways of organising leadership within communities. They are not cultic roles. The emphasis is quite simply on the function fulfilled, rather than on the ‘order’ or ‘status’ of office-holders within the Christian community. To make the category of ‘priesthood’ the decisive one, then, separates us from the first three centuries of Church history, as well as from the testimony of the New Testament.

A discipleship of equals

The earliest Christian communities were house churches,

small groups of a couple dozen people at most gathering in the private houses of well-off patrons. In those kinds of churches, a variety of people are reported to have presided over the common Eucharistic meals: most importantly, prophets, teachers and house church patrons. There is unambiguous scriptural as well as historical evidence that such roles have been fulfilled by women, too. It is, therefore, almost certain that women who were apostles (Junia in Romans 16:7, according to the majority of exegetes; probably Philippians 4:2-3), prophets (Acts 21:9; 1 Corinthians 11:5), teachers (Acts 18:26; see 1 Timothy 2:12), deacons (probably Phoebe in Romans 16:1; also probably 1 Timothy 3:11), or house church patrons, would have taught and presided at Eucharistic meals.8 All are equals, all have gifts, all should use their gifts by ministering to each other and the world. The title of this section is inspired by Elisabeth SchüsslerFiorenza. The phrase appears in one of her earliest books, In Memory of Her. Here she argues: If it was no longer circumcision but baptism which was the primary rite of initiation, then women became full members of the people of God with the same rights and duties. This generated a fundamental change,


See Dunn, The Theology of Paul, pp 586-93.


not only in their standing before God but also in their ecclesial-social status and function.9

She continues: Paul’s interpretation of the baptismal declaration in Gal 3:28 in his letters to the community of Corinth unequivocally affirms the equality and charismatic giftedness of women and men in the Christian community. Women as well as men are prophets and leaders of worship in the community.10 In her later book, entitled Discipleship of Equals, she writes: All Christians – women and men – have become cultically purified, sanctified, and elect through Christ’s expiatory death. ... Not cultic priesthood but the ‘gifts’ of the Spirit are decisive for ministry in the church. All members of the Christian community are called to exercise their ‘spiritual gifts’ for the building up of the ‘body of Christ’, the Christian community. Since the gifts of the Spirit are not restricted to a certain group within the community, everyone is able and authorised in the power of the Spirit to preach, to prophesy, to forgive sins, and to participate actively in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Thus all members of the people of God, by virtue of their baptismal ‘priesthood’, have the capability and right to exercise liturgical and ecclesial leadership functions.11 At heart, this is a ‘Charismatic’ Ecclesiology.12 In house churches, members divide tasks informally, on the basis of their skills and gifts: humanly acquired or divinely bestowed, but in any case recognised as such by the community. The best strategies for living as Christians and advancing the Kingdom in their local context are discussed and agreed in common. When a goal lies outside their reach, a decision can be taken to ask for the cooperation of neighbouring house churches or, in a structured community, of the higher level (eg regional grouping, diocese, and so on). The scriptural evidence supports the position Pentecostals affirmed in their dialogue with Roman Catholics:

Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her: A feminist theological reconstruction of Christian origins (London: SCM, 1983), p 210. 10 Schüssler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her, p 235. 11 Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Discipleship of Equals: A Critical Feminist Ekklesia-logy of Liberation, (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1993), p 34. 12 Dunn, The Theology of Paul, pp 552-71. 9


Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher Pentecostals recognize that a charism of teacher/pastor is recognized or can be given to a person at the laying-on of hands, but they do not consider that at ordination the power of the Holy Spirit is bestowed to the person being ordained. Instead, ordination is a public acknowledgment of a God-given charism which a person has received prior to the act of ordination.13

Catholic theologians Michael Himes and Richard Gaillardetz recently agreed that ‘you [don’t] ordain someone and suddenly they are empowered to perform a ministry’, but rather ‘you recognize the charism already present and then you ordain the person’.14 The presence of Christ, which constitutes the church, is mediated not simply through the ordained ministers but through the whole congregation, that the whole congregation functions as mater ecclesia [mother church] to the children engendered by the Holy Spirit, and that the whole congregation is called to engage in ministry and make decisions about leadership roles.15

Conclusion: Where does the Roman Catholic Church go from here?


he reform needed is twofold: to finally ordain women to ministry at all levels, and to reform ministry itself, to make it accountable to the community. Part of the solution is education. This is especially so with reference to this issue, where the traditional arguments excluding women from ordination have been shown to be baseless prejudices. Education cannot easily happen without public debate, which at the moment is forbidden by the Catholic hierarchy. Also, education entails learning from other Christians. How can we foster this ecumenical learning? The global conference, occasioned by the centenary of the ordination of Constance Coltman provides an excellent starting point! 13

14 15

‘Perspectives on Koinonia: Report from the third quinquennium of the dialogue between the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and some classical Pentecostal Churches and leaders’, in Jeffrey Gros, Harding Meyer and William G Rusch (eds), Growth in Agreement II: Reports and agreed statements of ecumenical conversations on a world level, 1982–1998 (Geneva/Grand Rapids MI: WCC Publications/WB Eerdmans, 2000), pp 735–52, §85, p 747. ‘Panel Discussion’, in Richard W Miller II (ed.), Lay Ministry in the Catholic Church: Visioning church ministry through the wisdom of the past (Liguori MO: Liguori Press, 2005), pp 89–108 (pp 104 and 105 respectively). Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, An Introduction to Ecclesiology: Ecumenical, historical and global perspectives (London: IVP, 2002), p 134.


Story by Karen Campbell

I was born in Tottenham, north London. My parents are

from Jamaica, and I am one of seven children, so there were nine bodies occupying a small council house. I was always surrounded by siblings, and we had to negotiate ways of getting our voices heard. Although people find it hard to believe, I am actually quite shy by nature! I am definitely an introvert, and my sister describes me as being ‘socially awkward’. I am also a Church Related Community Worker. You might wonder how I can I do this job when I don’t find it easy to talk to people. From a young age I wanted to be an English teacher, but I was talked out of it, and then had no idea what I wanted to do. I did an accounting degree, though I never wanted to be an accountant. In the absence of knowing what would please me, I did what I knew would please my parents. The plan was to do my Masters, or professional accounting qualifications, and take things from there. Then I became pregnant, and everything changed. When my daughter was born, I knew I would not be pursuing an accounting career. I worked part-time, locally, so that I could mainly be at home with her. On a different tack, I had been attending a predominantly Black church, with vibrant worship, and I was surrounded by strong Black Christians. This was the church in which I had been raised – but I felt a bit of a misfit. When I fell pregnant, I felt I would be asked to ‘give an account of myself’, and I wasn’t prepared to do so, so I left. But when my daughter was a toddler I realised I wanted her to have a church upbringing, as I had been given, so I found myself in a United Reformed Church – for no reason except that it was the closest church to my house. Once there, I loved the fact that there were people of different cultural backgrounds and different theological understandings, able to coexist in the same space. Again, it was a largely Black congregation. Soon I was asked if I would like to become a member – which was a new idea to me; I had thought ‘regular


Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

attendance’ was membership! Then I was asked if I would consider becoming an elder. I was instantly certain of my response – ‘No!’ – but I was told to go away and pray about it … and even if the answer was ‘No’, it was still ‘Yes’! I prayed hard, and felt I got no clear answer. So I made a deal: ‘OK God – I don’t believe this is my calling, but I’ll let my name go forward. If, as I expect, I am not elected, that’s fine; but if I am elected, I will serve to the best of my ability.’ I was elected! After a while, people started asking, ‘What about ministry?’ This was huge, and I didn’t want to hear. I didn’t want my life to be disrupted – and I was not worthy. Eventually, though, the voices around me and within became impossible to ignore, and I let myself go forward, but I put all kinds of obstacles in the way – all of which God removed. I candidated and was accepted for the ministry of Church Related Community Work – one of two equal but different ministries in the URC. One thing that never worried me was the question about women being ministers. That is not part of my story. Michael Jagessar, then Secretary for Global and Intercultural Ministries in the URC, invited me to be part of a conversation about the experiences of Black and Minority Ethnic women in the URC, and that was the point at which I became more conscious of racism as an issue in the Church. This hadn’t been a conscious part of my story, either. Having been raised in a Black church, then joining a predominantly Black URC congregation, I realised how privileged I had been in my journey so far. Now I became more aware of the wider story affecting people other than myself. My story is not the same as other BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) women in the Church – many face discrimination, or have to negotiate huge obstacles and gatekeepers in order to progress in the local church or beyond. Some women find themselves a lone Black presence in a white context, or in a minority ethnic group hidden amongst larger minority ethnic groups, so that they feel silenced or invisible, staying quiet in order to simply get along. Bearing all this in mind, I developed a sense of responsibility beyond my own journey. I don’t want to be a 63

role model – that feels very heavy – but as a Black woman minister there are some things I feel I have to take on which, personally, I would rather not; times I have to put myself ‘out there’ even though I’d rather be in a corner doing my own thing! I have learned to speak up and speak out because sharing stories is important so that people can learn from each other’s experiences – those who are struggling can be strengthened by positive stories, and those whose stories are positive gain an understanding of the challenges faced by others. Together we get a better sense of the whole – where we’ve come from, where we’ve reached, and how far we still have to go. Cascades of Grace was set up in response to all of this, with the aim of networking BAME women in the URC – for mutual support and encouragement. Cascades is a small entity, but it’s about hearing the voices of BAME women, mobilising our gifts for the benefit of the whole Church and beyond. There are only a few in the core group but we find ourselves helping and speaking in many different places. That shows that our efforts, however small, are much needed.


Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

Catalysts for Change: Issues faced by women in the Church today1 by Asea Railean

I was born on 12 January, 1969, and am a resident of the Republic

of Moldova, and currently Orthodox Co-President of the Ecumenical Forum of European Christian Women (EFECW). I founded and now lead a charity called Soarta/Fate.2 I am a trained teacher, and Orthodox Theologian, through the Academy of Orthodox Theology of Moldova. Therefore, I can speak about issues faced by women in the Church today as a woman born in the era of the Soviet Union, now living in a post-Soviet country, a woman member of the Orthodox Church under the Russian Patriarchate, and as a woman leader in a European Ecumenical organisation. According to the Orthodox Church, we cannot talk about women’s ordination, or women as leaders in the Church, and we cannot talk about a woman as a priest/pastor. So what is the place of women in the Orthodox Church? Where are they to be found? I will look at this both generally and from the point of view of society and the Orthodox Church in Moldova. Women are seen firstly, by Church and society, as wives and mothers. The Bible says that the primary role of woman as a wife is to be an appropriate aid for her husband (Genesis 2:18). King Solomon says the wise woman builds the house, so the happiness of a home depends largely on the role of the wife (Proverbs 31:1031). A wise wife will do everything for her husband to enjoy authority and respect, knowing that in this way she also will be appreciated and fulfilled (Proverbs 10:23, 28-31). As a mother, the woman is responsible for bringing up and raising children. Even though both parents are involved in the

1 2

Transcribed from the Power Point presentation, given at the conference. (accessed 29/8/19).


education of children, yet, life shows us that the mother has a very important role. In both Church and society, the role of a woman depends on her gifts and calling. God has endowed women with different gifts. Someone may, like Tabitha (of whom we read in the book of Acts 9:36-42), or like Mother Teresa, serve through good deeds and mercies. One woman might be a good nurse or doctor; others might find their fulfillment as good teachers. But the role of a woman in society should not be confused with her role in the family, where she has a duty to be subjected to her husband. She may be a chief executive of a hospital or a school director, but at home she is the right hand helper for her husband. The Church is not against a role for women in politics, but does not encourage it. Women make up about 60% of the active voters (in other words, they decide who is to lead the country), but the legislators are 90% men. We cannot fail to notice that we have a great lack of women’s representation in the political space. Let us imagine for a moment, for example, what a discussion about the issue of compensation for children up to two years of age might be like, if women were 90% of parliament. I still do not understand this imbalance. Why does our society consider men more justified than women to make decisions on behalf of all? Are women less capable than men? Would women make different decisions on policy? If you ask an Orthodox priest about the woman’s historical role in the Church, he will give you a lot of examples from the Bible about the primordial role of women. He will make it sound so beautiful – highlighting the deeds of women and their roles in the past. But if you ask what the role of women is in the Church today, you will often get the answer: ‘Now women are everywhere: out in the world, in engineering, army, police, parliamentarians, politicians, drivers etc. In the Church, they have time just to pray.’ Why should women be involved in the work of the Church? From the beginning, the Bible presents the woman as a responsible part of the family, like Eve, and later in society, such as Deborah and Esther. Even if fallen humanity tries to degrade the role of the woman, in the New Testament we clearly observe from the teaching of the apostle Paul the need to restore the dignity of women, which is to be an appropriate and active help in fulfilling the purpose of 66

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God, which is the salvation of the lost (Romans 16:12, Titus 2:35). But, even more so, the Lord Jesus in the Gospels appreciates the involvement of women in certain activities of ministry and evangelism, for example Mary Magdalene, Martha and Mary. Likewise, the women in our Church have found it good to work together to achieve the purposes that God desires, and to share ‘good news’ both in the Church and beyond. The role of women in the Church can be seen from many examples, pre-eminently that of Mary, the Mother of God. The Mother of God is the one through whom the salvation of the human race has come. From her, the Redeemer of humankind, Christ our God, was born. And so the Church gives the Virgin Mary worship and honour unlike the honours given to the saints. She is ‘more honourable than the cherubim, and even greater than the seraphim’.3 Mary gathered in herself the best of all humankind. She is spoken about by the prophets of the Old Testament and the Evangelists, and we are still speaking about her. God will receive a person who repents even until his last breath, provided he returns with all his heart and honours the Mother of God. She is always kneeling, and praying to the Most Holy Trinity, so if it were not for the presence of the Mother of God in heaven, this world would have been lost for 2,000 years. She is the fourth spiritual face in the heavens. Women have a prominent role in the New Testament, and in the life of the early Church. The women were the first to see the risen Christ. They were witnesses to the passion, suffering and death of the Saviour. The holy Fathers of the Church, especially St John Chrysostom, compare the courage of women with the great fear of the apostles at the cross and the empty tomb. The Gospel of St Mark suggests that in the heart of these women, the love or appreciation of Christ was stronger than the fear of distress (Mark 16:1). They had a special courage on the morning of the Resurrection of Christ which his disciples did not possess. From all these examples, we can see what the role of women in Church has been. But what is the role of women today? With the development of society up to the modern era, the understanding 3

‘Hymn to the Theotokos’, from the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom.


and image of woman have experienced a radical transformation. Over time, Eve’s followers have managed to prove, in the face of even the most misogynistic views, that they are capable of more than housework and raising children. The importance of the woman has grown steeply. She has the right to choose between a career or a family, or both. That all looks very nice, but what are the problems faced today in the Church? What about issues such as abortion, non-traditional marriages, the lack of young people in churches? These, of course, are general issues faced in our Orthodox Church.

You Speak A hint. A whisper. A fleeting thought. The slightest breath. A nudge; a niggle. Randoms intersect, connect, fall slowly into place.

A something – occurring, recurring. Sometimes. All the time. Ignored. Drowned out. Fades in, fades out – but there. Still there.

Coincidence. A silent voice – persistent, insistent. A glimpse; an echo – in heart and mind echoing still.


Through the silence, beneath the noise – in life and love, through highs and lows – still there. Just there. You speak. Karen Campbell, 2015

Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

It is important to distinguish between canonical rules and unjustified stereotypes. The latter can be found in the so-called ‘school of elderly women’ and the attitudes of church leaders (male priests) towards women, and generate a lack of self-confidence among women. In preparation for this presentation, I consulted two people about the problems faced by women in the Church today. My daughter, who is a psychologist, told me that the ‘school of elderly women’ is the most terrible problem; my spiritual father answered me that women don’t have any problems in the Church, beyond the restrictions they put on themselves. Stereotypes include rules such as restrictions on women entering the church in trousers or short skirts, or with their shoulders uncovered; that women should always cover their heads on entering church; that they are not allowed in church during the menstrual cycle, or for 40 days after the birth of a child. Even though most priests, especially younger priests, do not enforce these restrictions, and they are not enshrined in canon law, the stereotypes predominate in the Church. There is a group of elderly women in every church who think that they know the church canons better than the priests, better than the bishops, and they actually allow themselves to make rules in the Church. They are the ones who preserve and control the stereotypes described above. They keep careful watch to make sure that women keep their place, that they never express independent thoughts or personal ideas, or disagree with what the priests have said, or contradict the priests in any way. What is more, only elderly women are allowed to stand in the front of the church, while the young ones must stand at the door. I can give you a concrete case, in a personal example from my life. I was very young, only 25 years old and the mother of two children. I had just started my job in a new city, in a collective of 27 men where I was the only woman. My boss was a very strict, severe man and very often he was allowed to exploit me, requiring me to fulfill responsibilities beyond those that were according to my function.


One day I plucked up the courage to ask him why. He admitted that he was wrong, but he told me not to cry any more, but to go to the church to pray. The next day being Sunday, I went to the church. It was one I had not visited before. I wanted to stay near the front of the church to hear the voice of the priest, to pray with him at the same time, and so I walked to the front of the church. The elderly women began to shout out that I was young and too tall and I should stay near the door, at back of the church. They said they could not see the priest, because I am too tall! But I wanted too much to hear and to pray. I told them: I came to listen to the prayers and to pray. I am deaf, I hear very badly, and would not be able to hear from further back. I want to pray, hear prayers; but I’m deaf. Even though their looks were very unpleasant, I stayed where I was. And now I often go to the church in that place, where I feel comfort and where I can pray. The attitude of church leaders, the male priests, is just as excluding. Priests believe that the role women in the Church is only to pray; the rest is done by the men. Women are not accepted in parish councils, in commissions, theological studies, or elsewhere in the Church. Again, I can offer concrete examples from my own life. In one church, which I have attended for a long time, there was a very elderly priest, who was very open and who respected women. Seven years ago, a new priest started to work there, who was very young. They decided together to create the parish council, and looked for people to serve on it. The elderly priest said that Asea (I) should be on the council. The young priest was unpleasantly surprised. How could a woman be on the parish council? The elderly priest answered him: this is not a simple woman, she is a woman who has done a lot for people, for the members of our church, a woman with authority. And because the elderly priest still insists that a woman should be on the parish council, while the younger man resists the idea, this council has still not been created! However, the biggest problem for women is a lack of selfconfidence. We come from a post-Soviet country, where we grew up with a great fear of saying what we want, how we think and what we can do about it. Women in the Church do not have the 70

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courage to affirm themselves; they do not trust that they will succeed and are afraid to talk to the priests, who do not encourage the enormous role that women could play in the Church. Because women are not encouraged by the (male) priests, who, themselves, do not entrust the women with any responsibilities in the Church, they have no courage, they do not have the selfconfidence to affirm themselves. ‘If we want, we can do a noble work for God. The woman does not know her strength … There is a higher goal for women, a greater destiny. They should develop and cultivate their powers, because God will engage them in the great work of salvation of souls from eternal ruin.’4 So what happened to me? How did I personally achieve my goals? In 2005, I became a member of the Ecumenical Forum of European Christian Women. I went to many meetings of women’s groups; I visited many countries, where I met active women. From them I have learned to trust myself; to have courage; to know how to say what I want; to be active; to work hard to reach my goal; to become a leader! Yes, a leader in the Church, even though women are not allowed to be leaders in the Orthodox Church. I had found a very comfortable place in the Church, being responsible for social work, and helping people in need. In 2015, I became the President of the Social department of the Orthodox Church. Maybe the priests haven’t yet realised that I am their leader for social work, but they strictly follow all my instructions! They fulfill the requirements that I lay down, and often ask for advice and help. I may not be the leader of a church, but I am a leader of priests! Unfortunately, due to lack of financial support it has recently become too difficult for me to continue helping people in need. But I have set an example, which must be followed by other women. ‘The Lord announces the word, and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng.’ (Psalm 68:11, NIV) What we are doing in Moldova? We have set up groups of women in the churches. Their aim is to educate, promote, and sustain women in life as disciples of Jesus Christ and as members of their church; to have self-confidence, to be active and to overcome the problems they face in churches.


Ellen G White, Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 4 (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2002), p 162.


Story by Sarah Moore

Because you’re not the only one: Young Clergy Women

International Had Constance Todd been ordained 100 years later, she would have been eligible for membership of the best international and ecumenical organisation in the world: Young Clergy Women International! I have been a member of YCWI for more than a decade, and served on its board for six years. It was formed in 2007 by the Revd Susan Olsen, minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA), as ‘The Young Clergy Women Project’. Susan comments: My interest in the project is both professional and personal. Professionally, I work at a theological school, and am interested in ways to make transitions to ministry smoother for my students and others. Also, my first masters degree was in the social sciences, and I enjoy the research aspect of the project. On the personal end, I was ordained in my 20s, and remember the searing isolation of those years. Things have changed, but many of the same things are issues for young women. I have stood, and continue to stand, on the mighty broad shoulders of first generation ordained young women, and for that I am grateful. If I can do even a bit of the same, I would count it as joy.5 Susan applied for and, received, a grant from the Louisville Institute, which was used to fund the first YCWI conference in Washington, DC in 2007. That conference birthed the first board, who initially conceived an organisation that sought to promote the voice of young ordained women through publishing two articles a week in an online magazine, Fidelia, and later through a partnership with Chalice Press that has resulted in the publication of six titles along with a co-produced Advent devotional. The concept of creating a membership organisation soon followed, with prospective members applying online and gaining access to a passwordprotected website where they could share stories and support.


72 (accessed 26/9/20)

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Ten years, nine conferences and more than 1,000 Fidelia articles later, YCWI celebrated its tenth anniversary in Vancouver, Canada with about 1500 members on its rolls, functioning primarily through a secret Facebook group. It welcomes into membership women in mostly ordained roles who are aged under 40. The purpose of the organisation has been streamlined into working to equip young women for their ministry; to collaborate with one another and with others in the Church and in our churches outside the group to raise the profile of younger women serving in this way and to support each other; and to transform the Church and the world to be more faithful to Christ’s calling. Young Clergy Women International has literally saved young women’s ministries. It has provided a forum for young women to realise that they are not the only one. It has amplified the voices of young women within institutions that sometimes wish we weren’t in the pulpit, behind the table, at the altar, beside the font, or in the baptistry. It has advocated for young women in General Assemblies, in Synods, and even at the World Council of Churches. But YCWI still has some growing edges. It is predominantly a white and middle-class organisation based in the United States. It aims to be more diverse in terms of race, of church traditions represented, and internationally. I am proud to have been associated with this organisation, and to have had the privilege of being part of its leadership; my ministry and discipleship would not be the same without it.

To find out more about Young Clergy Women International and to access the database of Fidelia articles, visit the website at, follow YCWI on Facebook at, on Twitter @ycwomen and on Instagram youngclergywomen.



Daily worship was led by members of the conference, and included

reflections and activities, using material by participants. We recognised that the narrative of women forms a broken chain, taking as a starting point a reflection by Ann Douglas on her experience of researching for her book on the feminisation of American culture in the 19th century: As I researched and wrote this book, I experienced a confusion which perhaps other women scholars have felt in recent years. I expected to find my fathers and my mothers; instead I discovered my fathers and my sisters. The best of the men had access to solutions, and occasionally inspiring ones, which I appropriate only with the anxiety and effort that attend genuine aspiration. The problems of the women correspond to mine with a frightening accuracy that seems to set us outside the process of history.’1 To help create links in the chain, we listened for the voices of women in our own cultures, and in Scripture: Sophia – wisdom, with god in creation Leah – namer of daughters 2 Lydia – leader of a house church at the confluence of two worlds Mary magdalen – first apostle of the risen christ At our closing worship, we wrote the names of pioneering women on paper strips and made paper chains, linking the narrative of women, known or unknown, widely celebrated or precious to us, mending the narrative, weaving their names back into the wider story of heritage and human life.

1 2


Ann Douglas The Feminization of American Culture (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1992), p 11. See Janet Wootton, Eagles’ Wings and Lesser Things (London: Stainer & Bell Ltd, 2007), pp. 50-1).

Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher Sophia, Wisdom, in whose image we are created, We offer the wisdom of our hands – welcoming home or waving farewell, touch and healing, craft and skill – loving, capable hands. We offer the wisdom of our feet – wild, powerful wisdom that knows the steps of the dance, and keeps on walking, when weary, We offer the wisdom of our lips – sensuous in laughter and song, stretched in righteous anger, or murmuring close words of comfort. We offer the wisdom of our eyes – the gift of discernment in our ways of looking upon the world with the gaze of compassion not the glare of hatred. We offer the wisdom of our wombs – warm dark womanly wisdom, responding to rhythms of life, nurturing life in the darkness. We offer the wisdom of our wealth – worldly wisdom, wise as serpents, weaving patterns of equality and justice from the twisted skein of greed. We offer the wisdom of our minds – wordy wisdom, plans and ideas, intellect and vision, and inspiration and scholarship. We offer the wisdom of our hearts We offer the wisdom of our hearts We offer the wisdom of our hearts.

Janet Wootton Eagles’ Wings, p 18. © 2007 Stainer & Bell Ltd. 75

I was there: Lydia by Lythan Nevard

It is hard to be woman in a man’s world.

When my husband died, I began to be courted by many men in our town. There was an assumption that there was a prize to be won. Not so much me, but the business that we had created. Although we had started modestly, using the small amount of money that came as my dowry, our small business of dyeing and selling cloth had turned into a large, successful company. I had discovered that I was good at getting people to work, good at managing money. If there were any disputes or issues, I was the one who dealt with them. I would fix them with one of my famous steady gazes and they would comply. We owned property, land and slaves. I was now a wealthy, independent woman. I did not want another husband. I grieved the one I had lost. I did not need another. What I did need was a fresh start, and so I moved my household and my warehouse of dyed cloth to Philippi. It was quite a challenge. The men of the market were not sure about dealing with a woman. A few steady gazes and competitive pricing did the trick. I did allow them to call me Lydia, the place that I am from, rather than my given name which was apparently too difficult to say. You have to pick your battles. There was one battle I knew that I could never win. Being a merchant I mixed with all sorts of people, and I became very interested in the Jewish faith. I would listen to conversations about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel and wanted to know more. But when I went to the synagogue to pray and to learn, I was met with stern expressions and fingers pointed to the women’s section. I tried the women’s section. We had to sit quietly and not participate. It was not for me. I tried again to sit with the men. Even my steady gaze would not work. I gave up on synagogue. Instead I decided that I would do things differently. I gathered some women that I knew and we began meeting at the riverside, well away from the men. We would spend time learning psalms


Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

from those who knew them, sharing our lives and praying together. It was surprising what we had all picked up by listening to the men worship. I began to cherish these meetings. Then one day something strange happened. We were in the middle of singing a psalm when two men approached us. ‘May we join you?’ they asked. That was unusual, for a man to ask permission of women. We made room for them to sit down and they told us how they enjoyed our singing. Then one of them asked if he could share his story, and he told us his name was Paul, and about his persecution of the people of the way, and how he encountered the risen Messiah on the road to Damascus, and how his life had changed. And as he spoke, it seemed as if my life was changing. As he told me of the Messiah, of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God. As he told me of scriptures fulfilled and that it was his belief that there is no such thing as Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female within the love of God. As he told me that we are all one in Jesus Christ. As he told me these things, I felt love, overwhelming love. A feeling I thought I had buried with my husband. No, actually this was a different love; this was deeper; this was knowing that I was loved for exactly who I was – Greek, woman, business owner, skilled in a steady gaze. Heir to the promise of love though not man nor Jew. ‘I believe what you say!’ I cried out, getting to my feet. ‘I want to follow Jesus, to be a Christian. What do I need to do?’ Others of our group were rising to their feet as well. ‘You need to be baptised’, said Paul. ‘And look, here is the water we need’, he smiled, as he pointed to the river beside us. And so I was baptised, with my whole household and the other women of my group. I invited the two men to come and stay at my house. At first, they were not sure. I gave them a steady gaze. They came and stayed. And day by day I grew stronger in my faith in Jesus Christ. That was very much needed when Paul and Silas were put in prison. It was such a frightening time, but what a wonderful story they told us of the power of the Spirit when they returned to us, to bid us farewell as it was now not safe for them to stay in Philippi. And so they left. What of me and my household and my purple goods? There is no more said of me in the story of faith. Perhaps I founded a church. A place where women and men, slaves and 77

free could share the stories of Jesus and receive Paul’s letters. Perhaps, as more people became Christian in Philippi, the men took over leadership and bid us women, the first Christians of Philippi, be quiet. As men do. Perhaps I was imprisoned and later martyred for my faith – these were uncertain times to profess faith in Jesus Christ. You will never know. But I am a worshipper of God, a woman of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, famed for my steady gaze, heir to the promise of love. I am Lydia.


chose the pictures of strong women who are rectifying decades (centuries) of portraying of women as meek and mild in order to ‘keep her in her place’. I wanted the colours to be brash and strident, words which are often used negatively about women, but I want us to celebrate being seen and heard, or at least on our way for that to happen, thanks to women like Constance.


Lythan Nevard (from art workshop)

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WORKSHOPS Creative Writing: led by Karen Campbell Poetics of Resistance creative writing workshop 1.

2. 3.



6. 7.

First, we established the ‘rules’ of creative writing – namely, there are no rules! Poetry does not have to rhyme, does not have to be grammatically correct, does not have to look or sound any particular way. It is impossible for it to be ‘wrong’, because it is an outflowing from a particular individual – and only they can know what it is they feel, what they want to say, and how they want to say it. We looked at two examples of poetry/creative writing – an acrostic, and a free-flowing rhyming poem. To get us going, participants were asked to name some attributes which they believe they naturally possess, or have had to develop, in order to be who they are, or do what they do. We jotted these on a flipchart. We then spent time brainstorming the following questions: • What does it mean to be a pioneer? • What/who do you feel you have you had to resist? • What are the obstacles still to be resisted? • What are some of the tools on which you can draw? • What is/has been your motivation/inspiration for resisting, rather than simply going with the flow? Having collected numerous words, phrases and ideas, we took time to reflect, trying to identify what we feel: eg anger/ determination/frustration/responsibility. Which words/ emotions speak most deeply? What else bubbles up? We then put pen to paper, and let the words flow! Finally, we shared our writings with the group.

Poems from this workshop appear throughout the first part of the book. 79

Art Workshop: led by Suzanne Nockels The workshop began with a presentation based on a series of slides, including: Portrait of Miss Cicely Hamilton, 1926, Thomas Lowinsky (1892-1947) Museums Sheffield Collection. Eve, 1929, Edna Manley (1900-1987), Museums Sheffield Collection. A Corner of the Artist’s Room in Paris, 1907-1909, Gwen John (1876-1939), Museums Sheffield Collection. All accessible at: Rapture Series, 1999, Shirin Nashat (born 1957) stills in private collection, video work The Guggenheim. See Object, 1936, Meret Oppenheim (1913-1985), Museum of Modern Art New York. See Untitled (Your Gaze Hits the Side of My Face), 1981, Barbara Krueger born 1945, National Gallery of Art Washington DC. See Is it for real?, 2016, Nazif Topcuoglu, born 1953, location unknown. See Parallels with The Incredulity of St Thomas, c. 1601-1602, Caravaggio (1571-1610), Sanssouci Potsdam. See (Caravaggio) Christa, 1984, Edwina Sandys born 1938, Church of St John the Divine, New York. See christa-edwina-sandys All websites accessed 27/08/2019 80

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Yvonne Campbell (from art workshop) Artworks from this workshop appear throughout the first part of the book.


SERVICE OF THANKSGIVING Thanksgiving Service1 To mark the Centenary of the Ordination of Constance Coltman The American International Church, London 17 September, 2017 3pm

We were grateful for the hospitality of the American International Church, Tottenham Court Road, London, and its senior minister, the Revd Jennifer Mills-Knutsen. 1


‘Celebrating 100 Years of Women’s Ordination’ (accessed 27/9/20).

Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

The service was led by Karen Campbell.

Karen Campbell and Jennifer Mills-Knutsen

The preacher was the Revd Dr Susan Durber. Communion was led by the Deputy General Secretary (Mission) of the United Reformed Church, Francis Brienen, and the Revd Dr Janet Wootton. Communion Servers were Yvonne Campbell, the Revd Martin Spain, the Revd John Proctor and Derek Estill. Music was provided by Alcyona Mick of the American International Church. Pioneer Paths was performed by the Revd Suzanne Nockels, with participants in the Women of the Way: Global Pioneers Gathering. Readers were the Revd Wayne Hawkins and the Revd Ruth Whitehead. Prayers of Intercession were given by participants in the Women of the Way: Global pioneers gathering. Material was written especially for the service by Francis Brienen, Karen Campbell, Susan Durber and Janet Wootton. 83


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Call to Worship – based on Isaiah 43:18-21 The two sides of the congregation stand and turn to face each other across the aisle. Leader:

God says:


Do not cling to the past


Or dwell on what happened long ago


Watch for the new thing I am going to do


It is happening already – you can see it now!


I will make a road through the wilderness


and give you streams of living water


Even the wild animals will praise me


when I make waters flow in the desert


to give water to my chosen people.


We are the people God has made

And we will sing God’s praises!


Hymn: Great God, your love has called us here, as we, by love for love were made. Your living likeness still we bear, though marred, dishonoured, disobeyed. We come, with all our heart and mind your call to hear, your love to find. We come with self-inflicted pains of broken trust and chosen wrong, half-free, half-bound by inner chains, by social forces swept along, by powers and systems close confined, yet seeking hope for humankind. Great God, in Christ you call our name and then receive us as your own, not through some merit, right or claim, but by your gracious love alone. We strain to glimpse your mercy seat and find you kneeling at our feet. Then take the towel, and break the bread, and humble us, and call us friends. Suffer and serve till all are fed, and show how grandly love intends to work till all creation sings, to fill all worlds, to crown all things. Great God, in Christ you set us free your life to live, your joy to share. Give us your Spirit’s liberty to turn from guilt and dull despair and offer all that faith can do while love is making all things new. Brian Wren (born 1936) © 1975, 1995 Stainer & Bell Ltd Tune: Abingdon 86

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Karen Campbell leading worship

Prayer of Invocation We run to you Ever present Ever faithful Eternal God, we run to you. Bear us up in your embrace. Hold us close, affirmed, secure, against the constant throbbing of your heart. We delight in your company. We seek your face. We yearn to be at one with you. By your hand we are nurtured and flourish. Beneath your gaze we thrive and grow. 87

From your mouth flow words of life and love, guidance and promise – proven by yesterdays, alive today, with all the hope of timeless tomorrows. Draw us in with steadfast arms, and gently, firmly, push us on – to break new ground and walk new roads, confident in the power of your inescapable love. Ever present Ever faithful Eternal God, we run to you.

Pioneer Paths, Movement One We are often encouraged to take a particular path in life. It may not be the same as the path God has chosen for us.


Suzanne Nockels and Lythan Nevard

Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

Poem: The Path I look, but not sure what I see. I ponder, not sure what I feel. I yearn, not knowing what I yearn, Which way to turn, just what is real. I walk, tho I’m afraid to tread. I linger, tho no stopping place – Squeeze closed my eyes and hold my breath, Somehow each moment to embrace. They bid me come – ‘This way!’ ‘That way!’ And I’m not sure just what to do – A myriad paths before me turn, But which – which one, is set by You? Some I can see lead nowhere. Fast. Yet others look alright to me – Safe! The way already trod – Are these the paths to set me free? Still others glint, and brightly burn, Glory promised in their light; Their treasures call and beckon forth – But ‘glory’ in whose sight? Some paths do not reveal their way – They twist and turn and disappear, And tho I strain and squint to glimpse, Their way, for me, is never clear. And so I stop. Stand silent. Still. Not knowing which the way to tread; Subdue the noise within, without, And listen for Your voice instead. But in truth, I cannot always hear – Can’t quite discern the lilting sound Above the tumult of my world – And I’m beguiled by steady ground. 89

Yet still, I find, You lead me back – You won’t give in, You don’t let go; You call my name, You call me on, Say ‘Trust Me, for I know!’ And tho I still can’t see each twist and turn, And cannot gauge the journey’s length, I’m reassured that smooth or hazardous I journey not in my own strength. And so, in faith, I take each step – By grace alone seek courage new To lift my eyes from paths below And keep them fixed on You. For I realise You are the path; You are the way; You are my goal; Inspiration, strength, and resting place – Eternal lover of my soul. Karen Campbell, 2017

Suzanne Nockels, Douwe de Roest and Karen Campbell 90

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Pioneer Paths, Movement Two What does it mean to step off the common path and pioneer a new way? What happens to you and the path?

Pioneer Paths, Response Inside your order of service you should find a ribbon. This ribbon symbolises the new, colourful, brave, pioneering paths that you or others have taken. In a moment think of a woman who, like Constance Coltman, set a new route and inspired others or a woman who has encouraged you in your own path. There are pens around the worship space. Please write a name on your piece of ribbon and give thanks to God for her.


Acclamation: We honour the courage and perseverance of pioneering women in every generation These are the people God has made And we will sing God’s praise! We remember the ground-breaking ministry of Constance Coltman These are the people God has made And we will sing God’s praise! We stand with women who have battled for equality and justice These are the people God has made And we will sing God’s praise! We value women of vision, who have dared to make vision a reality These are the people God has made And we will sing God’s praise! We lift our voices with women who break the silence These are the people God has made And we will sing God’s praise! In the company of our sisters and brothers in this congregation We will sing God’s praise! AMEN

Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 This hymn was written for the 80th anniversary of Constance Coltman’s ordination, and has been sung at the 80th and 90th anniversary celebrations. Alongside Constance Coltman, it celebrates Miriam, the sister of Moses, who danced with the Hebrew women on the shores of the Red Sea, and Mary, who met Jesus outside the empty tomb. During the last verse, we invite you to wave the ribbon on which you have written the name of a pioneering woman, as a celebration of their lives and ours.


Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

Hymn: With Miriam we will dance and celebrate the day when sullen seas were swept apart to show the way. The dancers lend us grace to turn from seas of fear towards the unknown wilderness – for God is there. With Mary we will wait, when even hope seems dead, when others rush down roads they say we may not tread. And waiting, strong and still, through all our grief and pain, we hear the whisper of God’s will we hear our name. 93

With Constance we will stand for what we know is right in answer to God’s just demand and searching sight, confronting each abuse that strangles liberty, God help us simply state the truth that sets us free. Made whole, the human race may answer to God’s call, in dance and silence, truth and grace, embracing all. This journey never ends, God’s promise calls us on, until our sisters, brothers, friends may join the song. Janet Wootton (1952) © 1998, Stainer & Bell Ltd Tune: Leoni, God’s Promise

Reading: Matthew 28:1-8

Susan Durber preaching 94

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Sermon (see pp 100-4) This hymn was written for the centenary of Constance Coltman’s ordination

Hymn: The woman whom Jesus once met by the well, despised by the Jews and her own neighbours too, accepting his gift of the water of life, went back to her village believing it true. She told all her neighbours how marvellous he was. They came out to Jesus and asked him to stay. He spoke and inspired their belief in him then; but she was the first to proclaim him that day! Although it was frowned on for men, in those days, to converse with women as equals, yet he ignored such conventions, delighting to share his wisdom with women and men equally. The day Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and met Jesus, risen, she ran to the men to tell them the news they dared hardly believe; and hers was the Gospel that challenged them then. Thank God, for these hundred years, women ordained have shared the whole Gospel: inspired, Spirit-led! Praise God for the ministry women now share; proclaiming the Word, yes, and breaking the bread. Alan Gaunt (1935 – ) © 2017 Alan Gaunt Used by permission Tune: Stowey


Janet Wootton sharing in leading communion

Communion Song: Santo, santo, santo (Anonymous Argentinian) Invitation and Narration In gratitude for the life and ministry of Constance Coltman and in shared communion one with another, with all the saints whom we celebrate today, known by name, or remembered for what they have done, we gather around this table, at the gracious invitation of Jesus who calls us and sets us free. We remember that Jesus, on the night that he was betrayed, took bread, and, when he had given thanks, broke the bread, and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take, eat; this is my body, which is given for you. Do this as often as you eat it in memory of me.’ 96

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In the same way, after the meal, he took the cup, and gave it to them, saying: ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this as often as you drink it, in memory of me.’

Song: Glory to God, glory to God, glory in the highest (Anonymous Peruvian)

Prayers of Intercession

Prayers of intercession led by Karen Campbell, Ellen Nachali Mulenga, Douwe de Roest, Min Heui Cheon and Patricia Sheerattan-Bisnauth 97

Act of Commitment We are witnesses of resurrection, and new ground breaks under our feet. We have seen the tomb of the past and we declare it empty. Guardians of old ways may shake with fear, but we will never be afraid. Christ has been raised, and goes ahead of us, the first one of a new creation. We will run with courage and joy to bring good news for all God’s people. AMEN

Blessing (Catch someone’s eye. Give them a smile, a wave, a nod – some small sign of affirmation and encouragement. Wave your ribbon.)


Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

We have sung. We have prayed. We have given thanks. We have been fed at Christ’s table. Now let us go out into the world – excited and energised – to tear down barriers, remove needless boundaries, and strive for justice in ever more creative and courageous ways. And may the God of endless possibilities surround us, strengthen us, bless and keep us, and journey with us every step of the way. Amen.

CWM Moderator, the Revd Darchonhaia Darnei

Yvonne Campbell with worship participants 99

Sermon: ‘Constance’ by the Revd Dr Susan Durber Readings: 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 Matthew 28:1-8

I can remember the moment when, kneeling at the communion

rail at my local parish church, I first felt a call to ministry. It was strong and beautiful. But it took a while for the truth to dawn on me that I had never seen a woman’s hands break the bread at communion or heard a woman’s voice preach the sermon – and that even the choir at my church was men and boys. I was eight years old, and still innocent of the world. When I came to be confirmed a few years later my sponsor gave me a book about the missionary Gladys Aylward, The Small Woman,1 and I remembered again that call at the altar rail. At school, I said I wanted to be a minister, and they told me to study Latin. At church (and by now I’d found a United Reformed church) they told me that there were women who were ministers, though I never saw one there. And my minister, seeing me take notes during his sermons, said I should study theology at Mansfield College in Oxford. The years-old information book at school told me that Mansfield accepted only men as undergraduates, so I rang them up and they told me, ‘It’s changing next year’. And so they took me in, the college put full-length mirrors in the rooms of the new women students, and I learned at last the story of Constance Todd, who became Coltman, and, at last, I met women who were ministers. Like her, I learned a rather



Alan Burgess, The Small Woman, (London: Pan, 1959).

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Mansfield high-churchiness. Like her, I think, I was reluctant about campaigning or pioneering. Like her, I simply wanted to be allowed to be a good minister, to preach the good news of Jesus Christ and to share the presence of Christ in bread and wine with God’s faithful people and to be part of God’s transforming of the world. And like her, and like many of you I’m sure, I could tell a hundred stories about being a woman and being a minister. I was amused by the stories in the press about the first woman who is a bishop in the Church of Ireland, about the bank telling her the bishop had to sign the cheques and her saying, ‘I am he’. Or about being mistaken for the secretary, though it will be a great day when secretaries are as esteemed as bishops. I will never forget the look on someone’s face when I turned up on his doorstep, back in 1989, to prepare a funeral – long, auburn hair, great with child and dog-collar. ‘Blimey’ he shouted to the back room, ‘The vicar’s pregnant!’ I suspect that, if Constance was the kind of woman I want her to have been, she wasn’t reflecting all day on her ordination day in 1917, that she was ‘the first woman’. I hope she was preparing herself, as any one of us might, for a life of service within the Church. Given the church in London in which she was ordained, I think she must have had a fairly high view of ministry, and that being ordained mattered deeply to her in the kinds of ways that they matter to most ministers. But there must have been many times, even on quite ordinary days, and out of the blue, when someone reminded her that she was ‘the first’, as I, and many of you, have often been ‘the first’ for someone, over many years. These stories of being ‘the first’ did not end 100 years ago, and they still happen today. Even if we get used to being and having women who are ministers, it’s often still a first in some places and for some people. And so Constance’s story is echoed in ours. And it is true for all of us, as for Constance, that our own story does not entirely belong to us, that we all of us ‘mean’ more than we think we do to others. We honour Constance today in a way that, I imagine, she would never have expected. We name and celebrate the extraordinary significance of her life and we discover how our own lives might be signficant too. I suspect that sometimes the whole being ‘the first’ thing, being a pioneer, became a burden for her as much as it was a joy, because it doesn’t 101

end, it’s never finished, there are always more people who have not heard the story yet, who do not know, who haven’t yet experienced what you bring. There are always people for whom you are – in whatever way – ‘the first’. In my own ministry, as I’m sure in many of your lives, there have been times when you were very obviously a kind of ‘first’. I can remember the times when I was the only woman at an ecumenical gathering, or the ‘first’ to occupy a particular place or role. I was the first woman to be a Principal of Westminster College, though of course the story of that college is founded on two lay women far more remarkable than me. And I can remember moments when I’ve realised that, however much you don’t want to think about it again but just get on with whatever the job or ministry is, it’s important for others that you have been a ‘first’. When a group of women from the Council for World Mission wanted to take my photo to ‘take home’ as proof that a woman could be a theological college principal, I knew that I had to overcome my shyness of the camera, that it was important to be brave and bold and proud. When I’m meeting people in my role as Moderator of Faith and Order at the World Council of Churches, I know that it is important for other women, in Churches beyond my own, that I do it well and speak for them and am glad to be a woman in that place. But the most significant kinds of ‘firsts’ are not perhaps always the most obvious. I think that whoever we are as Christian people there will have been those moments when someone says, ‘You know, this is the first time anyone has really listened to me.’ Or, ‘I now know that God loves me, as I didn’t know it before.’ Or, ‘I think I am ready to serve now as an elder’ (or a deacon, or a minister, or a community worker, or a secretary…). Or even ‘This is the first time I’ve really known what it means to follow Jesus Christ.’ Or, ‘So this is what it’s like to be alive.’ These are the moments when you have truly been given the gift of being ‘the first’ for someone, the gift of breaking through the layers of doubt and pain or just dull everyday plodding to find that gift of life that waits to greet us with a new day, the first day of a new kind of life. Rowan Williams once said, stating the kind of obvious thing that is also life-changing, that ‘we are the early Church’. There is 102

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something inevitably ‘early’ about being a Christian, something that says you are ‘first up’ at the moment when light dawns (metaphorically at least!). Being a Christian is about returning again and again to the beginning and being renewed. It’s not about being late (in the sense of dead), but about being early (in the sense of belonging to the light and being alive). Being a Christian is about being there at the first, as the new light of life breaks. The moments when you can be with people as that happens in their lives, whether that’s at a birth or a death or on an Easter Sunday celebration, is truly what it means to be ‘first’. And this is a great and beautiful privilege. And I am sure that it is one that Constance knew as she ministered in different places and churches. Being ‘the first’ in this sense was her daily life as a minister of the gospel; allowing people to find for the first time the healing and hope they need, being a symbol of the new life that God brings to us, holding hands with someone who wakes up for the first time, or for the second first time, to new life. I can remember deeply moving moments in my own life when I knew someone had found something for the ‘first’ time. When I went to Kerala in India with Christian Aid and shared a family home for a few days, I met a woman who could not read, who had not ever travelled more than a few miles from her home, and who endured violence. For her, it was a first time to meet women who could travel without husbands, who could ask questions, eat at the same time as the men, and had the freedom to take action in the world. She told me of her ambitions for her grandchildren, that they should be the first generation to have a fuller kind of life. She wanted them to be the ‘first’ in her family. She and her family changed my understanding forever, and our visit changed hers too. I can think of women I know now who are taking first steps to finding their own worth after a bruised childhood and a low sense of their own worth. There are so many ways in which, even 100 years on from the ordination of a woman in a British church, our churches and our communities are still distorted by the kind of sexism that leaves many women feeling that they are ‘second’ or even ‘last’. We need to tell Constance’s story to inspire us all to put those women ‘first’ and to transform a Church and world that still today has this so wrong. Fighting for the ordination of women, 103

for women who can preach the word and break the bread, makes sense if it is part of fighting for a world in which women can eat bread each day, treasure their own bodies, cast their votes, learn skills and make their own decisions. Constance used her privilege as an educated, middle class, white and ordained woman, as a minister of the gospel, to work in poor communities, where women needed to be lifted from the last place, or the second place, to be first. In the story of God’s good news that we tell, women have often been ‘the first’. It was a woman who welcomed the presence of God into her flesh to be born among us. It was a woman who challenged Jesus to take God’s love out to the Gentiles, because we also are children of God’s creating and love. It was women who were the first to be given the gospel to proclaim. Constance Coltman was one of these ‘first’ women. As well as beginning something new, she stands in a great line of tradition, of women who learned and dared to be ‘first’, a line which we can join too today. I wonder what the parents of this woman that we honour today as a pioneer were thinking as they chose her name. They didn’t know what their new baby would do with her life, or that so many years ahead she would be fêted. But I think that Constance is a great name for a pioneer, a great name for a Christian. To be constant, to be faithful, to endure, is what many of us will need if we are to go on being ‘firsts’. The grace and the ministry and the faithfulness are not known solely in one great day or one moment, but fulfilled in years of keeping going. Constance was a first, but she endured through decades of ministry. Constance was a first, but she gave her energy and commitment to mentoring those who would come next. Constance was a first, but she drew on the best of the past to create something new for the future. Thanks be to God for Constance Coltman, servant of the Christ who was the first one of a new humanity and who continues to renew us his people. So, please go on being ‘firsts’, on every one of your days – because I am sure as anything that, like Constance Coltman, you are first in God’s heart, every one of you. Amen.


Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

DAUGHTERS OF DISSENT: CELEBRATING CONSTANCE COLTMAN Public lecture and panel discussion Saturday 16 September Dr Williams’s Library, London by Kirsty Thorpe1

Athena Peralta

Patricia Sheerattan-Bisnauth


See article at pp 16-31 of this volume for the basis of her lecture.


The event began with a hymn written for the occasion

Hymn: O God of grace and jubilee, the bond by which you set us free is found in the fidelity of saints who’ve gone before. Yet faithfulness is also found when we are bold to break new ground – attentive to the clarion-sound, the call that’s quashed no more. For Christ, who walked in Galilee, addressed his summons equally; to pauper and to Pharisee he made your purpose known. And still your Spirit won’t be tamed, but seeks and speaks through those once shamed – that all your people may be claimed afresh, by grace alone. So give us, Lord, the eyes to see, in change and continuity, the Church that you would have us be, obedient to your call. Raise up, we pray, in every place where people meet to seek your face, a constant servant of the grace * that knows no boundary-wall. * this line, when sung, may be heard as … a Constance, servant of the grace … Text © Dominic Grant 2017. Tunes: Saffron Walden (six verses), Easter Time (three verses) 106

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The Spirit Groans… Still I Dance by Patricia Sheerattan-Bisnauth There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28

I was born and raised in Guyana, South America, and the

Caribbean. Guyana is called a melting pot of cultures, with six ethnic groups and a larger percentage of mixed ethnicities. We have five officially recognised faith communities, Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Rastafarians and Baha’is, which live peacefully alongside each other. Many households have a mixture of ethnic groups as well as faiths. Poverty levels in most Caribbean countries are quite high, with women carrying a disproportionate burden of poverty relative to men. Many households are headed by women, as there is a notable degree of male absenteeism in the home. Women are more likely to be the main caregivers in the family, and therefore carry the greater burden of managing a household, sometimes in harsh conditions of poverty. Christianity plays a major role in the Caribbean. Christian practices sometimes foster a reverence for males in society by creating paternal figures of leadership and protection. Females, however, are given a role of healing and care-giving while, at the same time, are the physical embodiment of social values and morals. Furthermore, some elements of religious practice are discriminatory in nature towards women, and serve to keep them in subordination to men. Gender consciousness begins at an early age when children are socialised into these norms and gender divisions. Their toys are usually sex-typed, for example, little girls are often given dolls and kitchen utensils, while boys are given trucks and guns. In Caribbean homes, it is common for boys to be waited upon by females. Duties assigned to boys are usually outdoor tasks, whereas the females are responsible for indoor chores. 107

In general, boys are allowed to play outside and roam the streets while the girls are left to ‘help around the house’. Thus, we come to have a division between ‘de house female’ and ‘de road male’. There is a common saying: ‘You tie your heifer; I will loose my bull.’ The message is that the public space is man’s domain and not that of the female; males will often position themselves on a street corner and vie with each other in their moves to embarrass and harass girls and women passing by. They also boast about their conquests of girls and women. Street harassment is very prevalent and not fully recognised as a problem. This is borne out in the different experiences my brother and I had when we were growing up. My grandmother would be always checking on me, but not on my brother. For the boy, there is freedom; for the girl, restrictions. The girl is victimised and villainised. The public space is a solely male domain, and females must stay within the confines of their home. Even today a ‘good girl’ is seen as one who does not go outdoors. Caribbean Churches have emulated society’s norms and models of gender construction. Churches have also been influential in the legitimisation of power relationships being gendered, which is used to wield power and control of men over women. For example, wedding vows include: ‘Wives must obey their husbands.’ I can’t recall when the realisation first hit me, but I knew that these rules I kept bumping into from age 12 onwards – ‘Be careful what you’re wearing’, ‘Be careful with whom you’re seen in public’, ‘No, don’t stay out late’, ‘Be proper’, ‘Not too much teeth when smiling or laughing’, ‘Learn to make a good roti’, and so on – were unfair and only thrown at me because I was a girl. Later on, while studying liberation theology, I would learn what I already knew: that the Caribbean was still pinned to Victorian guiding principles and norms for general conduct, intimate partner relationships, maintaining patriarchal rights of men as heads of households and women as child bearers and cooks, Christian heterosexual marriage and nuclear families as the God-given order, and sexual diversity as a damning curse. There is no denying the fact that the Caribbean is a patriarchal society in which power, status and privilege are bestowed upon men, and where masculinity is valued more than femininity. 108

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Thus, within most of the Caribbean family types, we still see evidence of gender inequality, with males often being the dominant members. I was born and raised in this context at a time when the struggle for independence had gained momentum. Guyana achieved independence in 1966, but the struggle continued with political instability, ethnic and political division, and US interference. The early post-independence years were very challenging as Guyanese lived in a period of dictatorship, severe poverty and gender discrimination. As early as my formative years in Sunday School, I began to develop a critical gender consciousness, questioning the systems of oppression in Church and society. With experiences of gender injustices and how these become normalised in our society, I developed a critical lens and was unaccepting of this situation, in which power, status and privilege are bestowed upon men, and where masculinity is valued more than femininity; where Christian heterosexual marriage and nuclear families are the God-given order. Gender consciousness requires a critical examination of the ‘whole structure of Father ruled society: aristocracy over serfs, masters over slaves, kings over subjects, racial overlords over colonised people’.1 I began to question this preponderance of dominance, which was connected with ethnicity, class, sexual diversity, positional, geographic and other forms of divisions and power struggles. I ensured that I used every opportunity to read my society critically and to reject this paradigm of power.

Gender-based violence


ne of the most critical areas is the death-dealing situation of domestic and sexual violence. This is notably high and widespread in Guyana, with about one-third of all women being victims of domestic violence. The home can be the most lethal place for many Caribbean women, filled with violence, fear and, possibly, death. 1

Rosemary Radford Ruether Sexism and God-talk: Towards a Feminist Theology (London: SPCK, 1983), p 61, cited in Mary-Anne Plaatjies Van Huffel, Patriarchy as Empire: A theological reflection, Department of Ecclesiology and Church Polity, University of Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch, South Africa, p 2, (accessed 2/9/19).


Women are more likely to suffer abuse, both physical and sexual, in their homes – away from the public eye – perpetrated by men known to them. When I was growing up, our next door neighbour’s home was a place of violence when Harry would often beat his wife Zahora (not their real names) very badly. We heard the impact of the physical blows that he gave her while their children screamed and begged for him to stop. Sometimes he would grab her by her long hair, pull her down the stairs, and beat her with pieces of wood and, sometimes, even the machete. One evening at about six o’clock, Harry beat up Zahora very badly. She was so broken. I was about 14 years of age when I decided that something must be done. Who better than the bearers of the law? I gathered information and one morning, following a night of severe physical violence which resulted in a miscarriage, I encouraged Zahora to make a report and accompanied her to the police station. From that day, I was no longer welcomed to the home by Harry, but Zahora and I remained friends. At first, my parents were very upset about my role because they were afraid about implications for me. However, the best result was that the physical abuse by Harry subsided. It is sad but true that the Church is not always a safe place for women. Too often, the Church has dealt with violence against women by minimising, trivialising, invisibilising or externalising it. We have sometimes aided in the perpetration of psychological, emotional and spiritual violence by blaming victims for being responsible for the acts. Some churches advise such victims to be good wives and avoid the husband’s fury. Others isolate them at a time when they most need support. We need to be more forthcoming from the pulpits and church educative instruments. I think there is a very good role for the Church to work with men in a process of conscientisation and transformation, and to join in partnership with women in campaigning to end violence against women and children. This will move men on from seeing themselves not only as perpetrators but, more importantly, as a part of the solution. Men need to work in partnership with women to build communities of resistance against the culture of domination and control, transforming hierarchies of power into relationships of partnership and solidarity. 110

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My faith

My faith is fashioned through struggles and joy in this multifaith

context of a patriarchal, unjust economic, political and sociocultural situation, and also, importantly, inspired and energised through stories of resilience. For example, my grandmother, was the head of her household and played a significant leadership role in our family. She was a significant influence on me, along with other women and a few men, including my father who modelled partnership in our home, sharing fully in household work and caregiving, taking a firm stance on the education of his girl and boy children equally, and who opposed early marriage. At the age of 17, after completing high school, as I sought to discern where God was leading me, I felt very strongly the call to serve in the Church. I was engaged with the political situation in my country and was committed to the movement for democracy and alleviation of poverty. One fine day, at a congregational meeting of my church, I boldly stood up and shared my call to serve as a pastor, to the shock of some persons, while my peers found it ridiculous because clearly it was not a thing to be taken seriously. But the minister and session were interested in hearing more. Thus the process began.

My Journey Journeying through life underlined by faith; dare I step out in a way that’s different to everything I’ve known, happy to thank God for giving me the push? Now to travel onward – out into the world, ready and willing, trusting the Lord, who will lead me home. Judith North (from the poetry workshop) 111

It was my reading the Bible with eyes for gender justice which revealed to me God’s liberating message. I was very intrigued by the revolutionary work of Jesus, who had defied the oppressive system of his day – the culture, the political system and a pietistic and uncompassionate religion, which was harsh on women – not too far from my situation. It was during these anxious, but also energising, times that I truly felt a deep sense of call to participate in God’s mission of liberation and building a partnership of women and men that would include all genders in our community of believers. Grounded in Reformed theology, I understand justice and righteousness as key biblical attributes of God, with biblical justice inextricably tied to God’s love, mercy and compassion and based in the God-humankind relationship. I celebrate the hope of Christ – in our world, bringing healing and enabling transformation, reconciliation and unity in all places where people are broken and hurt. I believe that the God of life is at work in the world, making the impossible into possibilities, and ugliness of violence and injustice into beauty and freedom. I see signs of God’s work in many communities of change: climate justice activists, and campaigns to end violence, poverty, gender, racial, caste/tribe and religious discrimination. The many circles of women, youth and also men, reading the Bible, praying together and supporting each other, are signs of the movement of the Spirit. My vision for the Church is to live out the fullness of its call to be the body of Christ, called to communion, committed to justice. I am the first woman to study theology and to be ordained to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament of the Guyana Presbyterian Church. In the Caribbean, some Churches (African Methodist Episcopal Zion, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Congregationalists, Anglicans and some Pentecostal Churches) have accepted women in ordained ministry, but there are still gaps between women and men at the top decision-making levels. Generally, women’s ministries are seen primarily in the areas of social welfare, fundraising and taking care of domestic needs. There are double standards for women and men in the Church in the areas of sexual morality, salaries and promotions. Women in 112

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ministry lack networks of support, and often find themselves in difficult circumstances if they leave the Church. Caribbean women are resilient and hopeful. Our approach has been to ‘stand on crooked to cut straight’, meaning that one needs to go against the grain and take a different approach to reading the Bible. Our foreparents did this. Our history has taught us to be courageous and joyful for all blessings – great or small. Caribbean women are resilient, innovative, life-affirmative and full of humour. We enjoy community life and many festivities – celebrating community activities, which include religious ceremonies and festivals and also family celebrations, such as weddings.

CONSTANCE Controlling diversity and manipulating difference Only makes me more resistant Not to confine me or close me down Set me free to be sage or clown. To stand crooked and see A new way round, to break divisions and find New ground. Chasing the promise that in God we Encounter each other, so I can be me.

Wayne Hawkins (from poetry workshop)

Caribbean women today are the beneficiaries of our foremothers – these courageous women who dared to challenge customs, practices and a number of negative and inhuman structures in the society of their day, which had hindered their growth and development. Over the years, these women participated in slave rebellions; they struggled for freedom in their own way against colonialism and discrimination, recognising that these struggles were bound up with their quest for the rights of women. To this day, the Christian community still maintains a strong sense of patriarchy. Sadly, a faith which is liberating and justice113

seeking has been instrumentalised as a barrier to the repealing of discriminatory laws and to fostering a culture of tolerance and peace. The struggle for gender justice and partnership continues. I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to join with courageous and progressive women, men, and young people, including LGBTI persons to break barriers and advance gender equality, healing and love. I work for an organisation, the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association,2 which has been at the forefront in bringing sexual and reproductive rights to the public discourse, recognising that it is not a private matter but one for society as a whole. My colleagues and I have often gone against the grain of Caribbean thinking on sex and sexuality, to promote universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, with particular attention to the vulnerable and marginalised. As you can imagine, this has not been without personal consequences. At times, I have been called vile names which I would not like to repeat, and also accused of promoting sin and impropriety. I believe that everyone has a right to live with dignity and to be able to participate in society, to love and enjoy intimate partner relationships with persons of their choice. Sexually discriminated persons do not enjoy these rights. Rather, they are stigmatised, and denied their right to access basic necessities: health, employment, protection against violence, housing, education, leadership, etc.


The Caribbean has many barriers to overcome in order to achieve

justice for women and gender equality. However, there are significant signs of advancement made throughout the last few decades, and there is a greater awareness and recognition that this is a very important aspect in national development. I firmly believe that a community of faith cannot achieve progress unless there is equal participation of women and men. My own testimony is a witness to this statement. I was born and raised in the midst of blatant discrimination against women and girls. I was determined to strive to overcome this discrimination and made a conscious effort to look for opportunities and justice2

114, (accessed 8/3/19).

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seeking persons who would enable me to increase my knowledge, skills and confidence to break barriers against women’s advancement and to work for gender justice. I became very interested in women’s work as my awareness of inequities between men and women increased, from my own experiences at home and within my community. At the age of 17, I became involved in women’s work, beginning with the youth and women’s groups in my church. I began to study theology at the age of 19 at the United Theological College of the West Indies, a regional ecumenical seminary located in Kingston, Jamaica, and became the first woman to be ordained to the ministry of word and sacrament of the Guyana Presbyterian Church in 1984. I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to work for gender justice and partnership at an international level with the World Communion of Reformed Churches. As we celebrate Constance Coltman and her legacy of groundbreaking work in the Church, may we continue to persevere in our work for justice and partnership, participating in God’s mission of bringing about a better world for all. May God richly bless you, and may the ministry of the United Reformed Church and Congregational Federation flourish and shine.


Constance Coltman and the Role of Women in the Economy by Athena Peralta Introduction


oday we celebrate Constance Coltman. She was the first ordained woman in a mainline Church in the United Kingdom. But beyond ministry – or arguably integral to it – Constance Coltman was actively engaged in peace-building efforts during the First and Second World Wars. She also stood up for the rights of women to vote and to exercise control over their own bodies. She was a product of her time, and rose to address the burning issues of her day. This article concentrates on economics, highlighting some of the specific challenges we face as women and, in response, the kind of economy we – women of faith, believers in a God of justice and life – envision and call for: an economy where all people, regardless of gender, class, race (not just a handful of white men), have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). You may ask: What does Constance Coltman or the issue of women’s ordination have to do with economics or the economy? This is a legitimate question – and hopefully I will have sketched an adequate response to it by the end of my contribution.

The age of inequality and ecological crisis

Widening inequality and a warming climate are perhaps the

defining features, as well as the foremost challenges, of our era. The oft-quoted 2017 Oxfam report points out that eight individuals (and they are all men!) now possess as much wealth as half of the global population (or roughly 3.5 billion people). The reality of climate change is becoming increasingly difficult to deny as stories and pictures of devastating weather events increasingly 116

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hog the headlines. If Constance Coltman were alive today, perhaps she would have been a crusader for redistributive tax policies, even a tree hugger? Who knows? But what I would like to underline is that the two crises are not unrelated; indeed, both are rooted in our fundamentally broken economic system. It is an economic system which rewards the affluent and powerful. It is an economic system that externalises social and ecological costs. It is an economic system that is undergirded by the prevailing neoliberal narrative of homo economicus: that is the assumption that the human economic agent is selfish, competitive, independent, rational, objective, etc, and that these (masculine) qualities are inherently superior to qualities of generosity, cooperation, interdependence, empathy, etc. The impacts of homo economicus have been far-reaching and especially damaging for women (and communities) all over the world, devaluing the social reproductive or care work usually assigned to women, entrenching stereotypes and barriers to their participation in economic decision-making circles, and constraining their access to and control over economic, social and ecological resources.

Women’s unpaid care work

Constance Coltman understood that women have always been part

of the Church, including running its day-to-day business, and often on a voluntary basis. She fought for women’s work, particularly women’s ministry, to be recognised by the Church. Her struggle is a reflection of the continuing struggle of feminist economists to value the economic contribution of unpaid social reproduction or care and subsistence work done predominantly by women. In her groundbreaking book, If Women Counted,1 Marilyn Waring brought attention to the omission of care and community work in the gross national or gross domestic product (GNP/GDP), the penultimate measure of economic output and economic wellbeing as well as guide for economic policymaking. The problem with this glaring omission is this: ‘In a policy environment a very simple equation operates: if you are invisible as a producer in the


Marilyn Waring, If Women Counted: A new feminist economics (London: Macmillan, 1989).


GDP, you are invisible in the distribution of benefits in the economic framework of the national budget.’2 Care and non-market provisioning work – that is, household chores such as cooking and cleaning, gathering firewood, transporting water, tending backyard vegetable plots, raising children, looking after the elderly and the ill in our families and communities – is key to meeting the quotidian needs of families and communities. But it is largely invisible in economic analysis because it is unmonetised. In modern times, neoliberal approaches have cultivated attitudes of calculation and maximisation, and promoted the belief that personal well-being and happiness rest primarily on the accumulation of money and property, and the consumption of material goods. With the capture of our sociocultural imagination, we increasingly equate quantity with quality (more is always, and unequivocally, better) and money with value. And because care work does not generate much income, if any at all, and because care work is women’s work, modern society deems it secondary, or of little or no importance. I must add that our churches have no difficulty in emphasising the importance of social reproduction which, in public perception, is often placed in the moral rather than the economic sphere. But, at the same time, as influential social institutions, churches have also helped to perpetuate the harmful myth that women, more than men, have the primary responsibility for improving and maintaining the standard of family life.3 While Constance Coltman showed that women could care for the household as well as contribute to public life at the same time, it is important to note that her own personal wealth likely enabled her to succeed in both. In contrast, many women today struggle with the double burden of household labour and of eking out a living, in a garments factory in Bangladesh, perhaps, or as a domestic worker in Hong Kong, suffering a poverty of time as much as of income.

2 3

118 (accessed 20/8/19). Maria Riley Transforming Feminism (Kansas City, MO: Sheed and Ward, 1989).

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Women’s absence in economic decision-making arenas

Constance Coltman’s struggle for the ordination of women, for

women to have a say in the life and work of the Church, echoes the continuing struggle of women to have a seat at the economic policymaking table. Much like the Church, the professional fields of economics and finance continue to be very male dominated, Christine Lagarde of the International Monetary Fund and Janet Yellen of the US Federal Reserve notwithstanding.4 Only one woman has ever been awarded the Nobel Prize for economics: Elinor Ostrom.5 The underrepresentation of women in the economics departments of top universities is well documented: only 12% of full professors are female. In the UK, for instance, only 28% of economics students are female, and this proportion is apparently on the downward trend. As economists are often called upon to draw up policy or give policy advice, these numbers are worrisome. The absence of women has an impact on the economics discipline itself. As Victoria Bateman puts it: The questions economists seek to answer, the tools they use to help find the answers (that’s principally maths, rather than the applied topics that research suggests women are drawn to), the standard assumptions they make along the way (that people are emotionless, free and selfish), and the things they choose to measure all reflect a traditional and stereotypical male way of looking at the world.6 Therefore productivity, growth, trade, investment, business cycles, property rights are some of the key topics economists are concerned with, while topics concerning food, water, health, education, social security are deemed ‘soft’ and pretty much sidelined in favour of the ‘hard-core’ economic stuff. Men preside over the financial sector just as much as they do in academic economics. According to a Morningstar research report, women comprise less than 10% of US fund managers. And only 4% of CEOs of the top 500 finance companies are women.7 4 5 6 7

As of early 2021, Christine Lagarde is president of the European Bank, and International Monetary Fund, and Janet Yellen is Secretary of the US Treasury. A second woman, Esther Duflo, was awarded the prize in 2019. Victoria Bateman, ‘We Need a Sexual Revolution in Economics’, (accessed 20/8/19). Morning Star Research Report: Fund Managers by Gender: (accessed 20/8/19).


The dominant role of men in finance has reverberations beyond the industry. While there are numerous explanations for the global financial meltdown of 2007, there is no doubt that greedy bankers and financial traders helped trigger it by taking very risky bets in pursuit of hyper-returns. Complicated financial instruments such as collateralised debt obligations, credit default swaps and other derivatives certainly did a fine job of enriching an already rich financial elite, but these also resulted in systemic instability that led to the near-collapse of the world economy, massive homelessness and widespread unemployment, with women carrying the brunt of the financial crisis. Risk-taking is said to be a masculine trait, and there does appear to be some scientific evidence – taken from spit samples, in fact – that men, fuelled by testosterone, are inclined to take more financial risks than women. So perhaps if there were more women in finance, the global financial crisis would not have erupted with such force, or at all? Again, who knows?

Women’s lack of access to, and control of, financial, social and ecological resources

Constance Coltman was a groundbreaker, but groundbreaking is

not easy, and groundbreakers need all the support that they can get. As an upper-class woman, Constance had access to a wide range of resources (education, finance, land, etc) that enabled her to live life to her full potential, as well as to contribute to society. Not all of us are born to some wealth. Therefore it is the responsibility of the state to provide its citizens with basic resources or services such as clean water, health and education so that they can be and do better. These are nothing less than economic, social and cultural rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But in many of our countries, the idea has taken root that public hospitals and schools – or anything run by government – are invariably inefficient, and must be subjected to market competition and disciplining. In many cases, however, privatisation or the introduction of user fees led to skyrocketing bills and tuition fees, restricting access to such services by already marginalised groups such as single female-headed households and, especially, single black female-headed households. In some developing countries, 120

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such market disciplining has actually worsened child and maternal mortality rates. But the logic of privatisation and commoditisation has not only permeated social services, it has also infiltrated the ecological sphere: nature and its services are now being traded. In many parts of the developing world, global financial flows are enclosing land for extractive activities, industrial agriculture and/or speculation. Such land grabs, propelled by a corporate quest for profits, have displaced people and entire villages in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean from their sources of sustenance and ancestral domains, as well as damaging critical ecosystems. In developing countries, provisioning activities that women are typically responsible for are very much dependent on their access to land, the forests and water sources therein. Activities such as large-scale mining have made it much more difficult for the village women in Nampundwe in Zambia, for example – where I was, barely two weeks before writing this – to gather their daily supply of water and firewood. There is, of course, a connection between the marginalisation of women and the exploitation of nature. Feminist economists recall that women are made responsible for housekeeping and that the value accorded to such work and to the contribution of the environment is similar. Neither social reproduction nor ecology count in the homo economicus worldview that excludes all nonmarket activities. A major implication of this is that non-market impacts are effectively ignored in conventional economic analyses. More concretely, what is typically considered economically ‘efficient’ may actually represent a transfer of costs from the market to the household and ecological realms such that women’s work and the environment are effectively subsidising economic production.8

Re-envisioning the economy through women’s lens


he dysfunction of our prevailing economic system has in large part to do with the amoral, narrow, ahistoric conceptualisation of what the economy is and ought to be about. A rethinking of the 8

Diane Elson (ed.), Male Bias in the Development Process (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1991); Vandana Shiva, ‘Biotechnological Development and the Conservation of Biodiversity’, in Vandana Shiva and Ingunn Moser (ed.) Biopolitics: A feminist and ecological reader on biotechnology (London: Zed Books Ltd, 1995) pp 193-213.


economy from the perspective of women, especially women on the margins, has much to contribute towards promoting economic justice and ecological sustainability and realising the ecumenical vision of an Economy of Life for all.

Economics as a matter of faith and values

To start with, the feminist view of the economy is in line with

Christian teaching in understanding that such lofty things as morality and ethics are not abstract, philosophical concerns that have no place in a ‘neutral’, ‘hard’ or ‘mathematical science’ such as economics. Indeed, it seems obvious – except to economists perhaps – that economic decisions involve value judgements all the time. Therefore, both churches and women’s organisations are demanding economic models that are rooted in moral frameworks that affirm life and human dignity. So feminist economists9 are talking about ‘getting the norms right’ instead of ‘getting the prices right’. They are disputing the consumerist and money-based value system embedded in globalisation processes that is reflected in the commodification of life forms, and the relentless drive for the expansion of GDPs. They are beginning to raise some very fundamental questions about economics: ‘What is value and what is valuable to society?’10 Equity, the removal of discrimination based on sex, race and class, and the realisation of human rights, especially economic, social and cultural rights, is a key concern of the feminist economics paradigm. From a faith-oriented perspective, the overall well-being and dignity of the poor – whether they have enough to eat, are able to send their children to school, can afford medicines, etc – ought to be the foremost gauge of economic success rather than individual utility maximisation, firm profit maximisation and GDP growth. Likewise, for feminist economics, the starting point is provisioning for human life rather than the efficient allocation of resources. Both churches and feminist economists are in agreement that human well-being and fulfilment go beyond money-metric measures of consumption and income.

9 10


Eg Nancy Folbre ‘Barbara, The Market and the State’, Feminist Economics 4(3), 1998, pp 159-68. Lourdes Beneria ‘Globalization, Gender and the Davos Man’, Feminist Economics 5(3), pp 61-83.

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Oikonomia and the care economy

A feminist understanding of the economy is much broader and

richer than the market, and even the material economy. It does not make a hierarchical distinction between social reproduction and the market economy. Not incidentally, the words ‘economy’, ‘ecology’, and ‘oikoumene’ are rooted in the Greek word oikos, referring to management of the household. Likewise, the World Council of Churches (WCC) sees economics as one way of ‘considering large complexes of social and community realities, including personal relationships and expectations, the loyalties and senses of priority that govern the processes of production, distribution and consumption’.11 A key principle of feminist economics is the understanding that unpaid caring or social reproductive labour – which is essentially about the maintenance of human life outside of the market – is a vital part of any economic system. That is, the economy is much bigger than the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services that can be sold in markets. As indicated previously, women’s negative experiences with economic globalisation are very much rooted in the material and moral devaluation and exploitation of women’s reproductive and domestic labour. Interestingly, Churches had picked up the issue of unvalued care work as early as 1992. The differing roles of women and men, and women’s unrecognised and unremunerated social reproduction was identified by the Advisory Group on Oh God, why me? Economic Matters of the I am stricken and torn. World Council of Churches The world doesn’t deserve, as one of main issues in the And yet we’re called to serve. world economy that needs to So though I feel so unworthy, be urgently addressed. The I will strive to follow you. study document on Christian Faith and the World Participants of the Economy Today validates Poetry Workshop the importance of care work: ‘Although such work 11 WCC Christian Faith and the World Economy Today, (Geneva: WCC Publications, 1992) p 7.


is unpaid, it is nonetheless a crucial ingredient in the economy because it holds the social fabric of society, and forms the base for many activities in the economic realm.’12 According importance to the care economy also implies prioritising basic needs, such as food and water, which are inextricably tied up with the daily care work assigned to women. Basic needs make life possible, and constitute economic, social and cultural rights that the WCC and feminist economists believe should not be subjected to free market pricing mechanisms. From this perspective, feminist economists have pushed for, among others, policies that promote food sovereignty and land rights for women, as well as greater investment in social services to ease women’s workloads. In many parts of the world, women are often at the front line of community struggles focused on access to clean drinking water, the provision of adequate housing and land redistribution.

Community, cooperation, and relationality

Feminist economic

thinking has criticised, I am so angry! from both normative and When they stand in my way empirical standpoints, I will change direction, homo economicus or For you, O Lord, are my guide the narrative of the self and light. undergirding the neoliberal You lead me through the paradigm, particularly the challenges, underlying assumption of Give me strength for the struggle, individualism, selfishness And take me to that quiet place and competition that where I am freely me. supposedly drive the economic behaviour of Participants of the individuals, firms and Poetry Workshop nations. The concept of community – sustained by a life-affirming relationship with God and with one another – is a fundamental one to churches. Thus the WCC believes that 12 WCC Christian Faith and the World Economy Today, p 8.


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new economic paradigms should provide a ‘vision of a global community whose interdependence is not reduced to markets and trade’. Moreover, it should ‘acknowledge a common destiny as coinhabitants of the one earth for which we all share a responsibility and from which we should all equally benefit’.13 In the feminist view of the economy, interdependent human actors connected by an intricate web of relationships, rather than the isolated individual, are at the centre of economic analyses. The paradigm recognises that cooperation, rather than competition, may often generate the best possible combination of resources; and that collective enterprise is likely to reap greater benefit than individual effort. Perhaps at risk of over-romanticising motherhood, some feminist economists point to mothers’ unpaid domestic work as hardly fitting into the neoclassical model of rational self-interest. There are, nonetheless, many other examples from various countries and societies of women (and men) coming together to support and protect their communities and the environment. As Lourdes Beneria14 points out, it is when we analyse care work that we really begin to ‘question how far economic rationality is the norm and the extent to which models of human behaviour are based on…altruism, empathy, collective responsibility and solidarity’. Therefore we need to construct new economic models that are not based primarily on the selfish, profit-oriented motives of the so-called rational economic man, but on the values of solidarity, reciprocity, relationality and mutuality. Maria Riley argues beautifully and convincingly: Our only hope for a transformed and whole/holy humanity lies in the ability of our creative imaginations and political wills to develop a world structured on the mutuality of all human persons, women and men together … Such structures will recognise, celebrate and enhance both the equality and distinctiveness of being a human being, woman and man alike.15 Friends, I think this is what Constance Coltman dreamed of, and I imagine that she could not have agreed more.

13 (both accessed 12/9/2019). 14 Beneria ‘Globalization, Gender and the Davos Man’, p 67. 15 Riley Transforming Feminism, p 129.


Panel discussion

Q: I was fascinated by the connection between the disciplines of economics and theology, and I would like to know what other connections between areas of academia and thought need imagining in the way you have done; what other ways there are of networking in this way.

Athena: One of reasons we have this economic system which is

not working is that we have been too inward looking. Our culture is embedded in a particular society and political system. You can’t just talk about economics in a vacuum. We need to be learning from each other, drinking from other wells, so to speak. We definitely have a lot to learn from anthropology, and from politics. We assume there is no power in economics, but there is. Before the Enlightenment, economics and theology were closely related. Adam Smith, the founder of modern economics, was also a moral philosopher. In The Wealth of Nations,1 he talked about the invisible hand of the market, and there is speculation that maybe he was talking about the invisible hand of God. Q: Earlier, I sat with Asea from Moldova, and it struck me that what you are saying about Guyana could equally apply to Moldova, and could apply to Britain too. We have so much to learn from one another, and from conversations around the world. Asea and I have known each other for years through the Ecumenical Forum of European Christian Women, and we are aware of other global networks. All together, it builds up into something quite extraordinary – it is impossible to generalise about any single country.



Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (London: 1776).

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Kirsty: We also heard Asea’s story during the conference over the past couple of days.2 It was an enormous revelation to many of us because of our lack of understanding of the position of women in the Orthodox Church. We have heard lots of stories from around the world in these past few days.

Q: I would like to raise a controversial point. Constance, from the end of her training, and as a woman in ministry, seems to have been paid as part of the stipend of her husband. Is the increase in women’s ministry attributable to the fact that they can do it cheaper than men?

Kirsty: That is an interesting question. Constance and Claud may

well have lived on one salary. In most cases, if a woman married a male minister, she nearly always gave up her own ministry and became ‘Mrs Rev’, taking on a more traditional women’s role. ‘Buy One Get One Free’ has been operating in church life for well over a century. It is evident in many cases where women are statistically more prevalent in non-stipendiary ministry and on the margins. It becomes even more challenging now that churches are stretching resources very thin. If two ministers are married, they may have to choose between fulfilling both vocations or living in the same house!


atricia: Churches in Guyana are very poor. Most ministers have other jobs. I work full time as Executive Director for the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association. My ministry of a parish of three congregations is voluntary. The churches cannot offer a living wage. Where there is lower remuneration, you find fewer men and more women.

Athena: this is how the global economy works. There has been

a huge increase in the female workforce, for the reason that global factories want to employ a cheap workforce, and therefore specifically target women, for their ‘nimble fingers’ and because they are cheap. The political advantage is that it can be shown that there are more women active in the economy, but at what personal cost? How much are they being paid, and under what conditions?


See, Asea Railean, ‘Catalysts for Change’, pp 65-71 in this volume.


Q: The phrase in my mind is role model. I want to confirm and commend the power of women who are willing to be role models in God’s economy, and I am thinking about the children who are going to be the role models in the middle of this century. What qualities will they need, and what do we need to develop so that they can subvert the system and change things?


atricia: I am the mother of one daughter, and am aware of the importance of early socialisation. We need to raise our children with a critical gender consciousness. A ten year old at school will have full access to the internet, so a critical consciousness is vital to his/her receiving and processing information. This is not just about gender, but extends to core human values and ethics. We should provide firm grounding for a child to resist the ways that lead into what we are seeing now, to injustice and selfishness. It is important for parents to model that way of living in the economy of the household. We should think what are we modelling in our homes; what do our children see us valuing: electronic gadgets, cars? I was recently having a discussion with children in youth group. They want to get rich quickly. Their sense of identity is linked with a car and the watch they wear, and gadgets, because their parents place a high value on these things.

Athena: We should teach practical ethical management. Love

your neighbour as you love yourself. In the household, how do you practice love for your neighbour when you go out and purchase something? How does that work in the way you run a church?


atricia: One thing that is lacking is appreciation, in the home and family. We should be raising our children to be grateful and appreciative, and to express this generously. This should be modelled by parents.

Kirsty: I have four sons and three granddaughters. I try to instil in them confidence in who they are, not what they own.

Q: I am an economist and former treasurer of the URC. There is a fine line between necessary generalisation and the caricature of 128

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economists, and the WCC position can stray across that line. It is better to start from the position that we are all sinners. Adam Smith argued that everyone had a moral compass and that people start from that point. There is a danger in making economics look like an impersonal system. For example, why is HSBC different? Because the chairman is a practising Christian and refused to engage in some of the practices that other banks did. It is not that long ago that South Korea and South Sudan had the same per capita income. The difference now is that capitalism has been made to work in South Korea. It is spurious to argue that if only women and other unrepresented groups had their hands on the levers of power, it would be different; we would find that we are all sinners. What is important is to teach children to live with a moral compass.

Athena: Yes, the system is made up of people, and one person

can make a huge difference and challenge the system. But the system is also problematic in itself. It is increasingly difficult for individuals to make the right decisions. In order to do that, an individual needs to be in a position of power. Certainly, the head of HSBC made a difference, but you can’t rely on the occasional individual. You need a system that makes it possible for individuals’ voices to be heard, and to make just and sustainable choices. I want to make choices that will have a positive impact on the environment, but as much as I want to, I can’t go bio all the way. The system influences the choices that we can make. For us as individuals, we need a system that supports right choices, for example, taxation policies that push us to really contribute. It is a two way relationship. We can’t just focus on individuals alone, especially where ecology is concerned. Q: There has been a live issue of women in ministry this week. A Christian family has removed their child from a school where another child was changing gender identity. I have just been to a local church where there was a call for more church groups to take the same stand. The Christian voice is seen as morally conservative, not as speaking up for issues of justice.


Patricia: Christian Churches have been on the front line in vicious

attacks of non-heterosexual persons. People are being killed for being suspected of being gay or transgender. We need to go back to the theological analysis of constructs we give. Churches need to go back to talking about sexuality. It is a difficult thing to talk about. I am involved in this issue through my work with Planned Parenthood. Recently, a church leader made a public statement that all gay people should be sent to an island, so that the abomination would be contained! We should engage from a biblical perspective. It takes a movement to address this issue. It starts from how we talk about sex and sexuality in the Church. People still find it extremely difficult.

Kirsty: I was talking to a youth worker. He and his female

colleagues found that quite a lot of the questions from young people are now revolving around gender identity, and they were wondering how much this is because it is in the news, that the normal struggle for identity in adolescence is now identified in gender terms. Here, we are on the cutting edge and don’t understand the issues. We need to learn. This also arises for people working with asylum seekers, where some face being sent home into danger because of issues relating to gender identity. Q: I want to offer a reflection in relation to the centenary we are celebrating. It is bittersweet. On one hand, it represents a wonderful achievement, but I am also conscious that in the URC there are fewer than ten Black and Asian Minority Ethnic women who are ministers in local churches. We celebrate the progress made, the increase in numbers of ordained women, but there is still so far to go for BAME women, and people in general. Added to that, even out of that fewer than ten, very few are British born. The Guyanese context is multiethnic. Does Patricia have any reflections on ethnicity and women?


atricia: Because of the history of Guyana, society is generally highly divided along racial lines. Of the three Reformed Churches, one Congregational and two Presbyterian, the Congregational Union is predominantly African, one Presbyterian Church is 130

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predominantly African and the other predominantly Indian. This is because of the history of slavery and indentureship. In the case of the two Presbyterian Churches, one was established by the Dutch who first settled in Guyana before handing over to the British, who colonised and brought slaves from West Africa through the Middle Passage to the West Indies. After the abolition of slavery, the British brought Indians from their territories in India to provide labour for their sugar plantations. The East Indians were largely evangelised by the Canadian Presbyterian Church and the Lutheran Church. The indigenous peoples are mostly Catholic or Anglican. These divisions are historical, social and political. The Church needs to break these barriers and find ways to model an allinclusive Church.

Kirsty: This relates back to the observation that we are all

sinners. Whenever we think we have arrived at equality, new hierarchies arise.



As we were preparing for the global Centenary events in London, we became aware of other celebrations happening through the summer and autumn of 2017. These took place at Mansfield and Somerville Colleges in Oxford, with links to Constance’s story, and in churches around England.


Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

Service of Thanksgiving To commemorate 100 years since the ordination of Constance Coltman Somerville College Chapel, Oxford Saturday 21 October, 2017 Homily by Mia Smith Reading: John 20:1-18

We are here today to celebrate the life and ministry of a

remarkable woman, and to mark 100 years since she was ordained, the first woman to be ordained into the ministry of the Congregational churches. As I have read about her life, and pondered the auspicious anniversary, I have to confess to the rising of one particular emotion. And that emotion is not a comfortable one. I found myself becoming angry. One hundred years? But 2000 years ago Jesus ordained a woman, Mary Magdalene, as an apostle – one who is sent to tell – to go and tell others about the risen Christ, in fact, to go and tell the men. Mary had lingered at the tomb when the men had gone. And the love she showed then was hugely rewarded. Jesus could have revealed himself first to a man. But John tells us he did not. He honoured a woman. A strange move in a patriarchy, perhaps, which makes it all the more remarkable. It must have taken huge courage for Mary to be obedient, to go and tell the disciples. She must have known that as a woman, her word would bear little weight. She must have feared being dismissed as deluded, or too emotional (any women here heard that one before?), expressing wishful thinking that Jesus was no longer dead. Yet she followed 133

what her Lord had called her to do. Women ever since have faced ridicule and risk in following their calling to ministry. And today I acknowledge the debt that I and my fellow priests owe to women of courage like Coltman, who follow whatever the cost. Yet the question remains – why are we not celebrating 2,000 years of women’s ministry? In fact, why, in the 21st century, why do we live in a world where women are the targets of so-called honour killings, sexual slavery, genital cutting, violence against women, unequal pay, being discussed only in terms of our clothes or appearance, women being the property of their husbands, fathers, or brothers, being denied the right to vote, to drive, to divorce, even when their lives are threatened, and, as the hashtag me too (#MeToo) trend has indicated, facing a constant stream of belittling comments, sexual harassment and assault. As a lifelong pacifist, a supporter of women’s suffrage and women’s reproductive rights, I suspect this is a question Coltman herself might be asking of us. Here’s what she wrote in the Mansfield College Magazine in 1924: Protestantism in its spiritual essence enshrines a conception of the dignity and sacredness of the individual soul, born from its direct and immediate relation to God, which involves the complete spiritual emancipation of womankind. The right of private judgement, the freedom to discover and to declare the mind of God, which the Reformers claimed, could not be confined to one sex alone. Woman has a value altogether independent of her sexual functions, which is derived not from her relationship to man, as wife or mother, but from her relation to God. She is his child, equally dear to his Father’s heart, equally capable of understanding and declaring his will. She shares with man the right and duty of passing on to others any vision or revelation that may be granted to her … If the Free Churches stand fast by the ministry of women they will explicate and strengthen their own position; they may also reveal to others the mind of Christ as concerns the place and function of women in his Church.1



Mansfield College Magazine 1924, pp 137-8.

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A call to ordained ministry is a call to service and sacrifice, not to a position of power or self-satisfaction. Ministry alongside the bereaved and hurting would have been familiar to Coltman, as she faced the pain of death and loss, the injustice of women’s voices not being heard, and the hardships of those who lose their livelihood. As a woman entering into that world of pain, Coltman would have brought something which a man might not. God’s comfort being brought, woman to woman, during the darkest of times. What a gift she must have been in her parish. As our poem ‘The Parson’s Job’2 indicates, holding someone’s pain and anger is hugely valuable, and speaking hope into that place of pain would have been her dark privilege. In our Bible reading, we see Jesus similarly approaching the grieving Mary, coming alongside her with comfort, with hope, and with purpose. Jesus, you see, is a feminist. Dorothy L Sayers, Somerville alumna, said this: Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the cradle and last at the cross. They had never known a man like this man – there never has been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronised; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them either as ‘The women, God help us!’ or ‘The ladies, God bless them!’; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unself-conscious. There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity; nobody could possibly guess from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything ‘funny’ about woman’s nature.3 The women who followed him on earth blossomed in his presence. This is God’s purpose for all of us – whatever our gender – that we flourish. Today we have heard many examples of how Coltman flourished as a suffragist, ordained minister, and pacifist, and as a result, others could thrive too. 2 3 (accessed 12/9/2019). Dorothy L Sayers, Unpopular Opinions, (London: Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1946), pp 121-2.


As we come to the end of our time together, please don’t go away simply feeling that you have celebrated a mere century of something God has intended all along. So I’d like to send you out with this challenge: Where do you feel challenged by Coltman’s legacy? How do you feel about the cause of feminism, about the active and costly pursuit of peace and reconciliation, about the struggle for equal rights? And what will you do about it? Amen.


Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

Stream of Dissent: The power of confluence1 Summary of the after-dinner speech given at Commem., Mansfield College, Oxford 24 June, 2017 by Janet Wootton


onstance Coltman’s ordination was possible because two great radical movements came together in Oxford. She refused to accept that women could not reach academic excellence, and Mansfield drew on its own non-conformist roots to enable her to fulfil her religious calling. Mansfield is a non-conformist College. It started out as a dissenting academy in Birmingham, at a time when only members of the Church of England were allowed to study at Oxford or Cambridge or, indeed, hold any public office. This led to real centres of excellence being established in the new industrial cities during the 18th and 19th centuries, which were rooted in the vitality of developing trade and commerce, science and exploration. The nonconformist Churches were at the forefront of radical movements for reform in politics and education – and religion. When the legislation was passed, allowing non-conformists to enter the two great universities, Mansfield was among the first to make the move, and so was relatively new when Constance Coltman came to Oxford. Although entry was no longer restricted on religious grounds, restrictions on women were still firmly in force, and would remain so until 1920 in Oxford and 1947 in Cambridge! The other radical movement was, of course, for women’s full and equal participation in society: in politics, in work and family, in education and religious expression. Constance Coltman came to 1 (accessed 2/9/19). See also Janet Wootton, ‘Mansfield College, Oxford: Dissent meets the Establishment’, in Janet Wootton (ed.) The Spirit of Dissent: a Commemoration of the Great Ejectment of 1662 (Winchester: Institute for Theological Partnerships Publishing [ITPP], 2015), pp 99-114.


Oxford to study at Somerville, which had maintained a presence for women since its foundation in 1879, and constantly pushed against the maze of regulation and nomenclature which excluded women. Less than a decade after Constance’s time there, their efforts paid off, and women were admitted to the university and awarded degrees. So Constance stands at the confluence of two radical currents. She could still not take her degree, as this was in the gift of the University, but she could take up her ordination, as congregational churches then, as now, are free to call their own ministers. I am proud to claim Constance Coltman’s heritage, as an ordained non-conformist woman. Through campaigns for human rights, and work in local churches, I am aware that discrimination is rarely simple. The same person may be disadvantaged on multiple counts, or a victim of one kind of exclusion while belonging to a group which excludes others. Constance Coltman was excluded on the grounds of gender and religious affiliation, but her class and level of education gave her immense advantages. On the other hand, movements for change are most effective when they are sharply focused on simple agendas, and activists and campaigners are inclined to dismiss other causes as a distraction. History goes on to over-simplify by concentrating on successful campaigns, and therefore contributing to the layers of silence that suffocate less prominent issues. But here is a moment of time when multiple discrimination, on grounds of religious affiliation and gender, was overcome, and the world tilted, just a little, on its axis.


Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

Order of Service To mark the centenary of the ordination to Christian ministry of Constance Mary (Todd) Coltman St Andrew’s United Reformed Church, Sheffield 24 September, 2017

Reading: Jonah 3:7 – 4:111


‘Take notice! A fast is proclaimed for man and beast, sheep and oxen! None may eat or drink, but all shall put on sackcloth and pray to God with all their might. Further, every man is to refrain from lawlessness and any act of violence.’ For, said the king, ‘Who knows whether God may not relent and his fierce anger be appeased so that we escape destruction?’ And indeed, when God saw what they were doing and how they were abandoning their wicked ways, he relented of the evil that he had said he would do to them, and he stayed his hand. But Jonah was bitterly angry and he prayed to the LORD: ‘See now, O LORD, was not this just what I said would happen while I was still at home? That was why I was so eager to fly to Tarshish. For I knew Thee, that thou wert a God full of grace and pity, slow to be moved to anger, but abounding in mercy and swift to relent of evil. Now therefore, LORD, I implore thee, take away my life. I were better dead than alive.’ ‘Are you doing right to be angry?’ asked the LORD. But Jonah left the city and sat down to the east of it to see what was going to be the city’s fate. Then the LORD sent a gourdvine to grow up as a shelter over Jonah’s head and to relieve him 1

Constance M Coltman, The Books of Ruth and Jonah, G Currie Martin and TH Robinson (eds), Books of the Old Testament in Colloquial Speech (London: National Adult School Union, 1920, etc, no.4, 1924).


in his distress. The vine gave great pleasure to Jonah, but at dawn the next day the LORD sent a worm which attacked the vine and it withered away. Moreover, when the sun was up, the LORD sent a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head, until he began to grow faint. He wished he were dead, saying to himself: ‘I were better dead than alive.’ Then the LORD said to Jonah once again: ‘Are you doing right to be angry?’ ‘Yes,’ replied Jonah, ‘mortally angry.’ But the LORD said: ‘You had pity of the vine, although you never toiled over it, nor made it grow. It came up in a night and in a night it was dead. Then should not I have pity on the mighty city of Nineveh, in which are more than six score thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle too?’

Sermon by Fleur Houston Readings: Jonah 3:7 – 4:11 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

It is 24 years ago this month that I was ordained to the ministry of

Word and Sacrament in this church. I remember it as a very happy occasion. John Carter, church secretary, made it clear in his speech that the church was breaking new ground – this was the first time in your history that you had called a woman minister. So I am doubly honoured to be invited back today to mark the ordination 100 years ago of the first woman to be ordained to Christian ministry in the UK – Constance Coltman. ‘God reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.’ (2 Corinthians 5:18) In Christ, Paul says, God has chosen to ignore the hostile ways in which human beings behave; he has actively taken steps to achieve reconciliation. In Christ’s life, death, resurrection, a new age has begun. There is no going back. Distinctions that mattered before, Paul tells the Christians at Corinth, distinctions of gender, sex, status, do not


Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

matter now; for in Christ God has reconciled all people to himself. But just in case the message has not got through – and evidence suggests that it frequently doesn’t – Paul reminds them that he is an ambassador on Christ’s behalf. The message he brings has authority. For he knew that he was sent by God to minister reconciliation, sent as God’s ambassador so that men and women who had fallen away from grace might yet know God’s blessing. This is, of course, a duty laid on all ministers. When a duly ordained minister declares God’s grace in the gospel, she may be seen as God’s ambassador, carrying out her public duty as God’s representative, and with authority. This was how Constance Todd, as she was then, saw her calling; it was a bold, brave decision in 1913 to train for ordination. She was breaking new ground. There had, of course, been women preachers in England for many years before that, but it was unheard of for a woman to undertake training with a view to being ordained to the Christian ministry. Many people still thought that the ministry should be open only to men and that a woman, especially a married woman, should stay at home, mind the house and look after her husband and family. The preacher at her service of ordination on 17 September, 1917, at the King’s Weigh House Church, London, was quite clear that this was ‘a new thing’. He spoke eloquently of ‘the passing away of the old order in which woman was man’s subordinate and the beginning … of a happier age in which man and woman together should build up a nobler world’.2 This new age would be marked by reconciliation between men and women. Equality in educational opportunity was very much in the air. Constance, her sister and two brothers grew up in a ‘scholarly, literary atmosphere’ – and this was at a time when people were still asking if women had brains worth using! Her father was First Assistant Secretary of the Scotch Education Department in Whitehall; he taught Consie, as she was known in the family, to love poetry. Her mother was one of the first women to study medicine and qualify as a doctor. She enthused her daughter with female role models. She went to a school ‘where women are treated like sensible creatures’3 and won an exhibition 2 3

The Christian World, 20 September, 1917. Obituary, Margaret Isabella Gardiner, The Times, 17 February, 1944.


award to that hotbed of feminism, Somerville College, Oxford. When she left in July 1911 with a good second-class honours degree in history, she was unable to receive the degree to which she would have been entitled had she been a man – that had to wait until 1920 when women were made full members of Oxford University. But London University was more enlightened, and in 1915 she was awarded the BD, following that up in 1918 with an hons BD. Then there was women’s suffrage – Constance was clearly not one of the ‘shrieking sisterhood’ as the militant suffragettes were described; ‘she believed women should persuade men to give them the vote and not chain themselves to the railings’.4 In 1918, following the successful passage of the Representation of the People Act through the House of Lords, she was elated. ‘It is no longer a question of women as women being disqualified; the disqualification of sex, as sex, is removed. Therefore we can say that the principle is won.’5 The final hurdle was woman’s ordination, which Constance was to describe as ‘the crown and consummation of the woman’s movement’.6 She herself was a member of Putney Presbyterian Church, but her own Church did not yet recognise women’s ordination. The Congregational churches had, at least in principle, so she approached Dr Selbie, principal of Mansfield College, Oxford. On the basis of her sense of calling and her proven academic ability, she was accepted for training. Well-liked and respected, she enjoyed three happy years, during which she became engaged to a fellow ordinand, a Baptist, Claud Marshall Coltman. They were married the day after their ordination, and so began a lifetime of shared ministry. Their first charge was at Darby Street Mission in the East End of London, a dilapidated, underfunded, struggling outpost of the King’s Weigh House, in an area riven by war and social unrest. Even though Constance had done some nursing training after leaving Mansfield College, she scarcely fitted 4 5 6


Letter, Irene Brown to Elaine Kaye, 19 January, 1986. Pall Mall Gazette, 11 January, 1918. Constance Coltman, ‘Woman’s Kingdom: The annual sermon of the Society for the Ministry of Women, preached in the King’s Weigh House Church, London, on St Hilda’s Day, Thursday 17 November’, 1938, in DP Thomson, (ed.), Women in the Pulpit: Twenty-three sermons and addresses by representative women preachers, (London: James Clarke and Co. Ltd, 1944), pp 60-7, p 61.

Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

in with conventional expectations of a Bible Woman. But despite that, her work with children prospered and the Sunday School grew in numbers both of pupils and teachers. She came to realise that she had a special ministry to women and children. But this was never going to be a settled ministry and on 1 January, 1922, the young couple moved to a new pastorate in Kilburn. Within the year, a storm erupted when Constance’s conduct of a wedding embroiled her in gender controversy. This is how it was reported: ‘The Revd Mrs Mary Coltman introduced a new marriage ritual which she said was not “an insult to women”’ This ritual, of course, omitted the word ‘obey’. Instead, both bride and groom vowed to ‘love, comfort, honour and keep’ and each fixed a ring on the other’s finger, saying: ‘As this ring now encircles this finger, so let my love surround thee all the days of thy life.’7 She was described dismissively as a ‘thoroughly modern woman’ who had ‘smashed a precedent’.8 Nervous guests consulted the Registrar General, who confirmed that there were no legal problems with her service, and she continued to be in demand for weddings. The ministry in Kilburn was short-lived; endowed generously throughout the years by the Callard and Bowser sweet company, the church collapsed and had to close when the last member of the Callard family left in 1923. But Constance’s next three pastorates were happy and settled: Cowley Road Oxford, Wolverton and Old Independent Haverhill, with a final two years before retirement at the King’s Weigh House. The birth of children brought a new dimension to her home and ministry. She was a popular preacher, in demand for baptisms and weddings, and threw herself into Sunday School work and girls’ Bible class. She also significantly supported women who did an immense amount of work, sincerely and inconspicuously, to raise money for the church. So, unusually for a minister, she helped out with innumerable jumble sales, had a stall at bazaars, held a service to welcome Britain’s Railway Queen to Wolverton; and even more unusually, she visited women outside the church in their homes, offering advice about child care and birth control. That was especially daring at a time when the government was encouraging women to have as many babies as possible as part of the war effort. 7 8

Western Times, 27 June, 1922. Iowa Des Moines Capital, 20 August, 1922.


In 1938, Constance preached a sermon on Esther 4:14 to the Society for the Ministry of Women (Interdenominational) where she reflected on that ministry. ‘Our Society’, she said, both in its interdenominational constitution and still more in its supradenominational spirit, is a living example of women’s passionate desire for Reunion … but even Reunion is only the prelude to a still higher end, the conversion of the world … Would the fuller ministry of women hasten revival? Yes, because we are standing for the ultimate spiritual truth about humanity. We stand for the spiritual equality, not merely of women alongside men, but of all human souls in the sight of God … our faith in the supreme worth of every individual soul, in the supremacy of the spiritual over the material, in the superiority of the whole armour of God over the arm of flesh – here lies not only the justification for the ministry of women, but also the eternal foundation of democracy, the true guarantee of freedom, and the only avenue to lasting peace. ‘God’, she continues, has called our generation to the raising of a loftier and more justly balanced social fabric, to the forging of a stronger and more peaceful international order, perhaps even to the shaping of a wider and worthier Church organisation.9 To the end of her life, she was an ambassador for Christ, a minister of reconciliation between heaven and earth, between man and woman. It is a task laid upon us all, especially so those who are ordained. God still empowers us today to proclaim the power of God’s grace in a ministry of reconciliation. For a world held captive to fear, anxiety, social injustice, war, starvation, exploitation, this is good news indeed.

9 Thomson, Women in the Pulpit, p 61.


Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

Celebrating 100 Years of Women’s Ordination in the Congregational Federation and United Reformed Church St John’s United Reformed Church, New Barnet Trinity Sunday, 11 June, 2017 Divine worship led by the minister, the Revd Julian Templeton Preacher: the Revd Elizabeth Welch With the participation of the Revd Dr Ann Jeffers

Readings: Galatians 3:23-29 Luke 10:38-42 Sermon

I am grateful for the witness of Constance Coltman. (I can

recommend the short film which was made specially about her, and which I enjoyed watching.) 1 I was interested to read about the debate in the Congregational Union of England and Wales (CUEW) in 1909 about the ordination of women, and to see Kirsty Thorpe’s comment that at the time, the idea was shelved, because of the opposition in the CUEW council. These issues of what seems like a departure from tradition don’t always get an easy passage!2 Constance Coltman served, with her husband, in six different pastorates. (One of these was Wolverton in Buckinghamshire where my grandfather had been a minister more than 30 years earlier, and where my father, also a minister, was born.) In reading about who she was, I noted the comments about her not being a campaigner, which I could easily have assumed she would be. Rather, she responded with courage and faithfulness to 1 2 (accessed 5/9/2019). See Kirsty Thorpe, ‘Constance Coltman: a Centenary Celebration in Historical Context’, pp 25, 28 in the present volume.


God’s call to ministry and went where she believed God was taking her. One hundred years after her ordination, I find myself wondering how far she knew that she was such a significant pioneer, who would be remembered across the country in these anniversary celebrations. She was a key role model for women in ministry, who broke the mould for women and who was also a role model for ministry itself. I want to make three points about role models: 1. The importance of mould-breaking role models such as Constance Coltman and the need to celebrate these. 2. The significance of women as role models in the scriptures and what these role models have to say to men and women today. 3. The way our supreme role model is Jesus Christ, and the way in which this role model offers inclusivity. The first point I want to make is about the importance of role models. I’ve been ordained 40 years. My calling came during my teenage years growing up in South Africa, where my father was called to be minister at the Central Congregational Church in Johannesburg. During all my early years I remember a close friend of the family, the Revd Dr Unez Smuts, who was the first woman to be ordained in what was then the Congregational Union of South Africa. What was significant about this childhood time was that I grew up taking women’s ministry for granted. It was just ‘there’, it was a matter of fact, it was one of the norms of my life. I started exploring my own call to ministry when I was about 15 and had to fill in a form at school about what I thought I was going to do when I finished. I found myself writing, almost without thinking, ‘Enter the ministry’. My teachers hadn’t had the same experience of Unez Smuts as I had, and they were full of very good reasons why this would be a completely crazy idea, and how many much more suitable options there were for a woman! I persevered, and came to England when I finished high school just after turning 17, in order to further test out my call. As maths was my best subject at school, I got a job training to be a computer programmer. I wanted to take time for prayerful reflection on my call to ministry. 146

Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

My biggest experience of sex discrimination actually came not in the Church, but in the insurance company in which I worked. After about 18 months in their employment, they informed me that it would be a high risk for them for me to continue with the full course of training, as I was so young and might get married and have children. So I left the company. Eighteen months later I had candidated for ministry and began training at New College, London. God had other things in store for me than computer programming! But I’ve always retained an interest in computers. I tell this story to emphasise the need for role models, such as Constance Coltman and Unez Smuts. These two role models and many others, offer an opportunity to celebrate women’s courage and tenacity in crossing what had been well-established boundaries and to give confidence to follow in their footsteps. The second point I want to make is about the need to raise up the scriptural role models of women as an encouragement to many different forms of ministry. I can remember as a teenager being slightly puzzled by the emphasis on men in leadership, and the way in which it was said at that time, ‘Well, all Jesus’s disciples were men – that gives us the role model for leaders in the Church.’ Even in my younger years I was struck by the question ‘Well, weren’t all Jesus’s disciples Jews? If it’s said that Jesus only chose men, why isn’t it also said that Jesus only chose Jews, and that therefore the role model he was offering was both male and Jewish?’ (I always was a precocious youngster with many questions!). There are many scriptural role models of women in a range of ministries. Today we’re looking at Luke’s Gospel and a familiar story about Mary and Martha. Mary and Martha are leading followers of Jesus. Martha is the first person to give testimony to the promise of the Resurrection, as recorded in John’s Gospel, although this is not what she’s primarily known for. Mary and Martha are interesting characters. I can imagine the setting. Martha is bustling about, concerned about having enough food for everyone to eat. She gets grumpy with Mary, who is just idly sitting there at Jesus feet, listening to his words. She goes to Jesus and complains about her sister. We might have some sympathy for her, thinking that it’s a justifiable complaint.


But at this point, Jesus says that Mary has chosen the better way. It’s good to take time to sit and listen and reflect. If we dig behind the scene, we can see that it was normally the men who sat and listened to the rabbi. We might have expected Jesus to listen to Martha and to tell Mary off on two grounds. One, that she was letting Martha do all the work. Two, that it was a man’s job to sit and listen to the teacher. But Jesus does neither of these. Instead he affirms Mary, and in so doing treats her as equal to the men. These two women give role models for the Church today – and role models which are offered not just for women, but equally for men and women. What’s interesting is that the story of Martha and Mary addresses the perennial human issue of the balance between action and reflection in the life of the Christian and the Church. I can remember when I served in Milton Keynes, in the days when it was very much a new housing area, and had the privilege of being part of a team, building a new ecumenical church. I had several experiences of visiting some people who had moved into the area from another part of the country, who would say rather hesitantly, ‘Well, I was so worn out by my last church, I decided to give church-going a break.’ I learnt to refer to WOCS – the worn out Christian syndrome. There is a time for action, and it is important for Christians to be involved in many different areas of service, especially amongst those who are most marginalised, as are so many in our country today. But the story of Mary and Martha comes as a reminder of the need for balance between action and reflection. What’s interesting is that it isn’t just a reminder that there are active people and there are reflective people. It’s a reminder that within each one of us – male or female – there are drives towards action and drives towards reflection, and that we need to discover the most fruitful ways to balance these out in our own lives. Scriptural role models of women speak of the way in which God has always raised up women in his service. These role models speak not just about women, but are addressed to men and women together, to our common humanity. 148

Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

The third point I want to make is about the way in which as Christians, our supreme role model is Jesus Christ and the way in which this role model is a model of inclusivity. The letter to the Galatians, in the passage we read, uses the image of ‘being clothed with Christ’. Here’s a role model that isn’t just at an historical distance from us. Jesus offers us a model that is present with us, in terms of a person with whom we can be clothed, day by day. The passage also reminds us that in Jesus, we all become children of God. We aren’t only young or old, we aren’t only rich or poor, we aren’t only Brits or Germans, Chinese or Americans, Indians or Africans, we aren’t only men and women, we are all equally children of God. The letter to the Galatians goes beyond the separation of men and women, of Jew and Gentile, of free person and slave. For in Christ, all are one. What I’m struck by is that it doesn’t say that in Christ all are the same. There’s a huge diversity in the body of Christ. We glimpsed that last Sunday, on the celebration of Pentecost, when in Acts there was that amazing list of nationalities and languages who all heard each other speak and understood what was being said. In Christ, we don’t have to conform to stereotypes, we don’t have to stay with what might seem like ‘permanently assigned roles’. And it’s the Spirit who opens this up for us – the Spirit who comes to be present with God’s people wherever they are, the Spirit whose presence often takes us in new and unexpected directions, the Spirit who comes to surprise us. As a footnote to this thread, I’m interested in those who argue that the Spirit is the feminine person of the Trinity. This is based on the Spirit being the translation of ‘ruach’ in the Hebrew scripture, which is a feminine noun. In the Greek, pneuma the Spirit is gender-neutral. So the argument goes, why not go back to the Hebrew and reclaim the gender of one of the originating words for the Spirit? But here’s a topic for another day. The letter to the Galatians puts the priority of our human identity as being one in Christ. Taking on the clothes of Christ means putting on compassion and love; a passion for healing and justice; a commitment to a life of prayer and dependence on God. This is our common calling, male or female, slave or free, Jew or 149

Gentile. And if we’re to model this calling in the body of Christ, we need to be visibly inclusive in every part of the Church. For today, I give thanks for Constance Coltman and her role-breaking ordination 100 years ago. I celebrate the scriptural models of women’s ministry as models for both men and women. I pray that the inclusivity which is God’s gift in the body of Christ may yet, by the power of the Spirit, be more widely embodied in the life of the Church and of the world.


Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

Prayers by Dr Ann Jeffers

God of new beginnings, as we celebrate the 100 years

anniversary of the ordination of women, we give thanks for Constance Coltman, and for all who have been female pioneers in ordained ministry. Help us, Lord, to honour and be encouraged by their good examples, that they may continue to grow and develop in the power of the Holy Spirit, who calls us all to use all your gifts ever more deeply in the service of love and re-creation. Encouraged and inspired by the Revd Constance Coltman’s work, especially by her vision of an egalitarian society, we pray for justice for all who are abused, bullied and harassed in society at large because of their gender, class, religion or race. We pray for the reassurance of your presence among us, and your sharing of your passion for justice for all. Inspired by the Revd Constance Coltman’s work on ecumenical affairs, we pray for unity of action among our diverse denominations. We pray for our churches to be distinct, yet united; diverse, yet interwoven. We pray for reconciliation: we remember that God has reconciled us through Jesus Christ, whose love compels us to be ministers of reconciliation. We pray that you help us overcome all walls of division and make us one in you. As the Revd Constance Coltman worked tirelessly for peace and freedom, we pray for peace among the nations of the world, holding before you especially the people of Syria, and all who live in the troubled regions of the Near and Far East. May the Lord’s peace be with them. Through the work of the Revd Constance Coltman, we are reminded that God is the source of life and peace. 151

So we pray for Muslims, Christians and Jews, that God’s power change all our hearts so we become capable of affirming that we are children of Sarah and Abraham, followers of the one God. We pray that those who are estranged join hands in friendship; may nations seek the way of peace together. Strengthen our resolve to give witness to these truths by the way we live. Give to us understanding that puts an end to strife, mercy that quenches hatred, and forgiveness that overcomes vengeance. Empower all people to live in your law of love. With the Revd Constance Coltman, supporter of the Christian Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, we recognise that you have given us intelligence, and the beauty of creation, O Lord. Your gifts were given so we might be stewards of all that is alive. In our arrogance, we have unleashed fearful forces that destroy. We pray that love and not fear rule us now. In your mercy, help us to turn away from destruction, and from nuclear war. Lead us to life again, to the affirmation of all goodness and international disarmament. With your grace, we begin to dismantle bombs, beat our ploughs into ploughshares, and so transform the nuclear nightmare into the peace you have dreamt for us. Hear our prayer, Lord, and guide us in your ways. We give thanks for the pouring out of the Spirit on all flesh, that, like the Revd Constance Coltman, we might be able to break the mould when we need to. Give us discernment to question the wisdom of the world, and give us the strength and the courage to challenge that which we need to change; may we truly work for equality, justice and peace for the whole of creation. May the gifts of the Spirit be revealed in all your people. We pray that the Church may value and respect the gifts of all its members, and use them wisely. May we go out filled with the power of the spirit to proclaim your love and your glory in the world. Amen


Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

THE CONGREGATIONAL LECTURE by the Revd Fleur Houston Dr Williams’s Library, London 16 November, 2017 The Congregational Lecture is an annual event, sponsored by the Memorial Hall Trust and organised by the Congregational Library, usually held at Dr Williams’s Library in London. The theme is normally one of interest to Christians rooted in the Congregational heritage in which Constance Coltman was ordained. The book ends as it began with a historical perspective on the life and legacy of this pioneering woman.


Constance Coltman: Pioneer for today1 by Fleur Houston

Christian ministry is exercised in a particular time and place;

ministers are embodied and the people to whom they minister are so as well. They are affected by cultural norms and expectations, which extend deep into an individual’s subconscious and outwards into the shaping of society. The most significant of these expectations have to do with gender. Where ministers do not live up to normative conceptions of femininity or masculinity, they risk being held accountable for it. And power comes into play. But are there innate differences between men and women? Have women superior spiritual qualities? Can a partnership between men and women transform society? Can power be subverted? In what follows, I shall use a method popularised by anthropologists,2 seeking to show how ‘ideas, events and institutions interact and change through time’3 by focussing on a case study: the exercise of ministry by Constance Mary Coltman (1889-1969). This is not to maintain that her ministry as the first woman to be ordained in a mainstream Church in the UK can be taken to typify all women’s ministry – quite the contrary, for each person’s ministry, whether male or female, is distinctively different from that of another – but that it can illuminate some of the themes and constraints. From childhood on, Constance had a thirst for learning at a time when people could still ask if women had brains worth using.4 Consie, as she was known affectionately in the family,

1 2 3 4


The Congregational Lecture (London: The Congregational Memorial Hall Trust (1978) Ltd, 2017), reprinted with permission. See Victor W Turner, Schism and Continuity in an African Society (Manchester: MUP, 1957); Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973). Renato Rosaldo, Culture and Truth: The remaking of social analysis (Boston: Beacon Press, 1989) pp 92-93. Jane Robinson, Bluestockings (London: Penguin Books, 2009) p 70.

Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

was imbibing a ‘scholarly, literary atmosphere’.5 She was born in Ealing, Middlesex, the eldest of the four children of Emily and George Todd, and spent much of her childhood in a spacious home6 in Putney. Her father was by then First Assistant Secretary of the Scotch Education Department in Whitehall, with a passion for poetry, and Dante in particular.7 She shared that passion.8 We may conjecture how her social conscience would have been stirred by the Inferno, where all wrong-doing, social and political, has a deep religious significance. In Paradiso, she might have pondered over ‘the great Constance’, wife of the Emperor Henry VI, a former nun who ‘found herself recast/upon the world, [yet] … stayed still veiled in heart’.9 Or the bold imagery of Lady Poverty weeping upon the Cross with Christ.10 Or the sublimity of the final rapturous vision of God, when a smiling Beatrice brought her beloved to see ‘the Love that moves the Sun and th’other stars’.11 She spent much of her early life with her family on the continent and ‘loved Botticelli and the other Florentines above all art and Florence above all cities’.12 In the city of Dante, she found works of art which mediated between the reality of daily life and the truths of eternal life. The paintings of Botticelli in particular made the mysteries of faith visible, comprehensible and memorable, addressed to an audience ‘well versed in devotional performance and receptive to graceful variations of a shared language of sacred beauty’.13 Renaissance neo-platonic ideas about beauty and love, and beautiful women in particular, meant that these were seen as spiritual, elevating forces, channels for divine 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12


Letter from Irene Brown to Elaine Kaye, 19 January, 1986 (Westminster College archives). At 22 Colinette Road, recorded in the 1911 census as having 15 rooms, with a cook, a nurse and a housemaid. Irene Brown, 19 January, 1986. Irene Brown, 19 January, 1986. Paradiso, canto 3, 115-118. Transl. Geoffrey L Bickersteth (Blackwell: Oxford, 1981), p 539. The story is used as a basis for Beatrice’s theological elaboration on the will (canto 4, 97-102, p 545). Paradiso, canto 11, 72, p 597. Paradiso, canto 33, p 145. This was ‘the cause or consequence of her Italian studies’ (Irene Brown, 19 January, 1986). Her tutor at Somerville, Edward Armstrong, a leading authority on the Italian Renaissance, described her as ‘one of the best subject people that I have ever had’ (Reports 1907-1909, Somerville College, Oxford, cited by Elaine Kaye, ‘Constance Coltman: A forgotten pioneer’, URCHS Journal, 2 May, 1988, p 137). Patricia Lee Rubin and Alison Wright, Renaissance Florence: The art of the 1470s, (London: National Gallery Publications, 1999) p 289.


grace. The desire to link eternal truth to daily life and the notion that women were by nature channels for promoting spiritual values were leitmotivs of her subsequent ministry. Constance also benefited from more contemporary inspiration. Her mother Emily, one of the first women to study medicine rather than nursing,14 fed her admiration for women such as Florence Nightingale, Mary Kingsley, the Pankhursts, Edith Cavell, Marie Stopes, Eva Curie, George Eliot, Elizabeth GarrettAnderson.15 Constance’s daughter Irene notes perceptively: ‘All these people made it more possible for her to open another door for women – less shocking for her – more normal – almost traditional.16 The first door was already wide ajar. In the face of lingering prejudice, dedicated teachers were encouraging promising girls to head for academia, and ‘petticoat pioneers’ with a thirst for scholarship were taking the risk of mutating into bluestockings by attending university.17 In this respect, Constance was true to type. In September 1903, aged 14, kitted out largely with a uniform from Harrods,18 she enrolled as a new pupil in the Upper IV at St Felix School, Southwold, Suffolk. St Felix was a recent foundation;19 the ambition of the founder, Margaret Isabella Gardiner, being ‘to make a school where women are treated like sensible creatures’.20 The school archivist observes: ‘Constance seems to have been one of those pupils who fell pretty much below the radar. The school magazines of that era pretty much focus on drama, music and sport but I can find no reference to her participating in any of these activities.’21 She was, however, clearly studious. In December 1906, 14

15 16 17 18 19 20 21


See Constance’s comments on the pioneering ‘first women medical students’: Constance Coltman, ‘Woman’s Kingdom: The annual sermon of the Society for the Ministry of Women, preached in the King’s Weigh House Church, London, on St Hilda’s Day, Thursday 17 November’, 1938, in DP Thomson, (ed.), Women in the Pulpit: Twenty-three sermons and addresses by representative women preachers, (London: James Clarke and Co. Ltd, 1944), pp 60-7, pp 60-61. Constance kept literature on them in the attic which her daughter used to read on wet afternoons (Irene Brown, 19 January, 1986). Irene Brown, 19 January, 1986. Robinson, Bluestockings, pp 4-10. See school website: (accessed 10/4/16). Founded in 1897 with the help of Dr Elizabeth Garrett Anderson; the first four boarding houses and classroom block in Reydon were completed in 1902. Obituary, The Times, 17 February, 1944. Personal communication from Fran d’Alcorn, to whom I am indebted for the subsequent information from the school magazines of the period.

Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

she was Sub-Librarian (Treasurer of the Library Committee); the following year, she passed the Cambridge Higher Local Exams22 in history (Class II, with a distinction in French history) and English literature (Class III), and, in that she had already passed maths in 1906, she was awarded the certificate. She left the school at the end of her Lower VI in July 1907 and joined the Old Felicians, described as ‘pioneers in the Emancipation of Women’.23 In April the following year, she competed for the Coombe Scholarship at Somerville College, Oxford, and was awarded an Exhibition24 for an essay on ‘The advantages and disadvantages of conventionality’, a title which, in the light of her subsequent career, may have been prescient. So, in October 1908, she entered Somerville. Somerville exuded pioneering energy. Unlike the other women’s societies, it saw itself from the outset as a college rather than merely a hall of residence and, under the firm guidance of Miss Maitland and Miss Penrose, was active in campaigning for the admission of women to degrees on terms of equality with men. Its students, according to the college historian, Pauline Adams, ‘acquired the reputation of being “difficult”’.25 The movement for higher education of women was still so new that they were looked upon as curiosities. When Constance left Somerville in July 1911, having completed the degree course with a good second class honours in history, she was unable to receive the degree to which she would have been entitled had she been a man. But in October 1920, when by statute women were made full members of Oxford University, ‘more than 40’ women matriculated and graduated on the same day;26 and Constance was awarded the MA. Somerville students were distinctive in another respect – at a time when enthusiasm for educating women was not invariably accompanied by a desire to grant them the vote,27 the majority of staff and students were committed suffragists. Adams records:

22 23 24 25 26 27

The Higher Local Examinations were instituted in 1869, originally as a qualification for women over 18 who wished to become teachers. Title of school pamphlet. The Scholarship went to another St Felix pupil, Eleanora Pemberton. Pauline Adams, Somerville for Women: An Oxford college 1871-1993 (Oxford: OUP, 1996), p 352. Oxford University Archives: (accessed 10/5/16). Newnham generally held that colleges should hold remain aloof. Adams, Somerville for Women, p 79.


‘By 1910 membership of the Somerville Women’s Suffrage Society … stood at 75 out of a total student body of 94. Its members took part in national demonstrations, and at home organised debates and lectures.’28 There is evidence that Constance supported the cause. On 2 April, 1911, outside university term, the census records Constance and her sister Gladys as students boarding in the post office, Abinger Common; under the heading ‘infirmity’ the word ‘suffragets’ is lightly scored out. This is doubly revealing: the mocking of the census indicates sympathy with the census revolt.29 And furthermore, Abinger was the home of Lord Farrar who, with his wife Evangeline, played an important part in getting the issue of women’s suffrage raised in the House. He was also president of the non-militant Leith Hill and District Women’s Suffrage Society which had nearly 200 members at the time, and hosted meetings in the villages, attracting nationally recognised speakers.30 But Constance was clearly not one of the ‘shrieking sisterhood’, as the militant suffragettes were commonly described.31 For her, social justice was to be achieved by non-violent means – ‘she believed that women should persuade men to give them the vote and not to chain themselves to the railings’.32 When interviewed in 1918 by the Pall Mall Gazette,33 following the successful passage of the Representation of the People Bill through the House of Lords, she spoke of ‘the spiritual significance of Feminism’. ‘The vote’, she said, has become sacramental, it is the outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace. The vote is the outward symbol of the inward change of attitude and temper in the minds of men and women … it is the deliberate registration on the part of the State of 28 29


31 32 33


Adams, Somerville for Women, pp 78-81. Many women refused to be enumerated on the grounds that if they couldn’t vote they ought not to be counted. It was a tactic used by many non-militants as well as militants. People used to engineer to be out when enumerators called or to refuse to hand over their details, and to insist on some sort of comment as to why they were doing so being recorded. For the links between Abinger and the movement for women’s suffrage, I am indebted to Di Stiff, collections development archivist at Surrey History Centre, and Kathy Atherton, who collaborated with her in the production of an online resource on the suffragette movement in Surrey. Robinson, Bluestockings, p 70. Irene Brown, 19 January, 1986. 11 January, 1918; a range of ‘well-known women’ were invited to express opinions.

Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher the recognition of women. It is no longer a question of women, as women, being disqualified; the disqualification of sex, as sex, is removed. Therefore we can say the principle is won.

Apart from the fact that woman’s suffrage was not finally to be accorded on the same basis as for men until 1928, was it misplaced optimism, in the euphoria of the moment, to conclude that the Representation of the People Act marked ‘an inward change of mind and attitude in the minds of men and women’? Startling as such sacramental imagery might appear today, it was not unusual at a time when, for many suffragists, religion was seen as a catalyst for women’s emancipation. In the late 19th and early 20th century, suffrage feminism was linked to church feminism.34 What influences from her student days may one discern on a developing religious vocation? The founders of Somerville were determined to make the college independent of any religious affiliation. While this made it a natural home for the agnostic and free-thinker, it also ‘distanced it at the outset from a university establishment which remained, for many years after the abolition of religious tests in 1871, overwhelmingly Anglican and clerical’.35 Somerville was attractive to nonconformists who, at the turn of the century, accounted for roughly one third of the students.36 These included the daughters of nonconformist ministers, a high proportion of whom would go on to do religious work of some kind.37 The college fostered a strong missionary tradition, ‘and in Edith Coombs, who gave her life in the Boxer Rising of 1900 while rescuing children from her burning mission school … it can, indeed, claim the rare distinction of a martyr’.38 In 1910, Constance was admitted into membership of Putney Presbyterian Church. From childhood on, she had expressed a religious vocation – an anonymous source comments: ‘As a child of six Constance said she wanted to have a church and preach to animals … I suspect she had been hearing a story about St Francis 34 35 36 37 38

Sue Morgan, ‘A “Feminist Conspiracy”: Maude Royden, women’s ministry and the British press, 1916-1921’, Women’s History Review, 22.5, 2013, pp 777-800, p 778. Adams, Somerville for Women, p 352. Somerville College register. J Howarth and M Curthoys, ‘The Political Economy of Women’s Higher Education in Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century Britain’, Historical Research, 60 (1987), 208-231, table 3. Adams, Somerville for Women, p 353.


of Assisi.’39 Her daughter Irene records that she ‘continued to feel that she was in direct communication with God and she was quite sure that God led her to becoming a woman minister and this gave her the confidence to take this innovative step’.40 So, in 1913, she was accepted by Principal Selbie for ordination training at Mansfield College on the basis of her sense of calling and her academic proficiency. Revealingly, her sponsors had different attitudes to ministry; she yet had to find her way between these two poles. Her own minister in Putney, John Cochrane, showed ‘quiet dignity and spiritual sincerity’; his ‘reserved and courteous manner veiled a sympathetic and gentle heart’.41 John Paddon Kingsland, Congregationalist minister at Devizes, was ‘a gifted preacher with an attractive personality’ but also an ‘independent thinker, somewhat left of orthodoxy, provocative and fearlessly outspoken’.42 So Constance was able, unchaperoned, to enter with evident enjoyment43 into the life of the college, and academic achievement followed.44 But this was also a time of crisis. Her years as an ordinand overlapped with the turmoil of the First World War, intensifying her sense of calling as a woman to a ministry of reconciliation. Constance was horrified at the widely expressed tribalism; her family experience was firmly international45 and she was stricken that two such cultured and self-proclaimed Christian nations as Britain and Germany should be locked in deadly struggle.46 She

39 40 41 42 43 44 45



Typescript, undated, Westminster College Archive. Irene Brown, 19 January, 1986. Obituary, PCE Assembly Records 1959, p 131. Obituary, Congregational Year Book 1946, p 446. Kaye, ‘Constance Coltman: A forgotten pioneer’, p 138. She won the Fairburn Memorial Essay prize; she was awarded a BD as an external student of London University in 1915; and in the college results listed for the Easter Vacation 1916, she received alpha minus in Theology, OT and NT and alpha in Church History. In 1870, George had been appointed Principal of the Colombo Academy, Ceylon, and in 1875, he became Acting Director of Public Instruction in the colony; three years later. he entered the Scotch Education Department as an examiner. On Christmas Day, 1912, he died in Rome. (Obituary, The Scotsman, Saturday 4 January, 1913). Constance’s Ellerman grandfather, Jonas, had come from Hanover to Hull where he was a pillar of the German Lutheran church; her uncle John owned the Ellerman shipping lines; her cousin, Annie Winifred Ellerman, after a childhood spent travelling in France and Italy, settled in Paris where she lived a colourful life as the feminist author ‘Bryher’. Notes by Claud Coltman for an address at Constance’s memorial service.

Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

‘mourned her fellow students who died in the war’.47 Only four of the cohort of eight who entered Mansfield in 1913 were to complete the course three years later.48 All four were pacifist.49 Constance, and Claud, her future husband, joined in 1915 the newly founded Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), which described itself as ‘a company of people who seek … to take their part in the “Ministry of Reconciliation” between man and man, class and class, nation and nation, believing all true reconciliation between men to be based upon a reconciliation between Man and God.’50 They attended the first FOR conference at Swanwick when Maude Royden appealed to young people to go and ‘convert England to Christian pacifism’.51 So they set off with around ten others, including Ebenezer Cunningham, later chair of the CUEW (Congregational Union of England and Wales), with a large horse-drawn caravan containing stores, literature and sleeping accommodation for the women. One anonymous participant wrote an eye-witness account of what happened.52 When they reached Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, they were faced with the ‘extraordinary spectacle’ of ‘a crowd, composed of soldiers and civilians, jeering and scoffing at a young woman whilst praying from the Market Cross in Westgate’. The eye-witness thought this to be Constance Todd.53 The correspondent for the Mansfield Reporter takes up the tale:54 They bore with her for a few minutes while she preached the gospel of Reconciliation … but when one of her male companions … said he believed in the Biblical precept, as applied to the Germans, ‘to pray for Irene Brown, 19 January, 1986; Elaine Kaye, Mansfield College, Oxford, its origin, history, and significance (Oxford: OUP, 1996), pp 162-4. Mansfield College Reports 1910-1920. 48 Coltman, Cullen and Evans appeared before the Oxford Tribunal in March 1916 (Oxford 49 Chronicle, 10 March 1916). Although they were entitled to conditional exemption from military service as theological students, Coltman claimed absolute exemption making it clear that ‘the applicants were not applying solely as theological students, but on conscientious grounds’. 50 FOR was doctrinally heterogeneous, prone to personality clashes and found reconciliation hard to achieve: Martin Caedel, Pacifism in Britain 1914-1945: The defining of a faith (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980). Emil Oberholzer, interview of the Revd Claud, the Revd Constance Coltman, 26 September, 51 1967, cited by Sheila Fletcher, Maude Royden: A life, (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989), p 129. Fletcher’s point that Royden could be politically naive (p 79) is well made. Reconciliation, February 1964, pp 25-27. 52 53 Fletcher, Maude Royden, p 131. Mansfield Reporter, 23 July, 1915. 54 47


those who despitefully use you’ then there was a general hubbub … ‘Will all of you who are not Christian please be quiet while I pray’ she asked. ‘Who ain’t a Christian?’ queried several. The young woman, who throughout showed much self-possession, commenced her petition, but there was so much noise that she stopped and said. ‘Will you please uncover your heads while I pray?’ ‘No!’ roared the crowd. Then she proceeded to pray … but could scarcely be heard, for booing and jeering … several people were shocked … and moved away.

Undeterred, the missionaries for peace continued on their way. At Hinckley, they were attacked and the caravan set ablaze by a violent mob of between 2,000 and 3,000 people, persuaded by coverage in the Daily Express that these were spies, financed with ‘German Gold’ to frustrate the war effort. Ebenezer Cunningham said afterwards that ‘Constance Todd (as she then was) walked about the stricken field with self-composure as if she had been at a garden party!’55 Though, as Claud later recognised, this particular student mission to end the war was ‘a forlorn hope’,56 the strength of Constance’s pacifism intensified. The continuing quest for reconciliation between individuals, Churches, society and nations was a red thread in her subsequent ministry. In this, the role played by the King’s Weigh House Church should not be underestimated. On 4 January, 1917 Constance was admitted to membership there; it was there, on 17 September, that she and Claud were ordained to the Christian ministry; there they were married on the 18 September, and in October began a shared ministry in the East End of London at the ‘non-constituted’ Darby Street Mission. There are obvious reasons why Constance was attracted to the King’s Weigh House, this most extraordinary of Congregational churches.57 The appeal of WE Orchard’s passionate pacifist preaching and his public commitment to reconciliation58 is 55 56 57 58


Notes for an address by Claud Coltman (Westminster College archives). Notes for an address by Claud Coltman. Constance, in retrospect, thought that Maude had been shaken by this incident, where preaching peace had led to violence, and that Hudson Shaw had urged on her the need for prudence (Oberholzer interview). Elaine Kaye, The History of the King’s Weigh House Church, (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd, 1967). He was a founder member of the FOR. Kaye, Mansfield College, Oxford, p 163.

Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

obvious. The liturgical range of the Weigh House services was also distinctive. Orchard’s compelling evangelism, honed in East End mission,59 was allied to worship of beauty and devotion which recognised ‘that man is both body and soul, that the soul can be reached through the senses, and the soul must express itself through the body’.60 Both Constance and Claud supported the recently founded Society of Free Catholics61 who met regularly at the King’s Weigh House, and who sought to combine a historic Roman Catholic sacramental and devotional practice with freedom of prophecy and prayer.62 Their daughter observes that ‘This Ecumenicalism – which was even stronger in my mother than my father, who did not like the [intellectual] authoritarianism, ie Catholic Church – was an everyday thing. Their church was THE CHURCH since Christ and we were encouraged to feel at home in all its many mansions.’63 Boundary crossing was a mark of Constance’s service of ordination. First, there was the fact that the ordinand was a woman. There was no official barrier64 – she had completed with distinction the requirements of college training and had received a call to serve as assistant minister at the King’s Weigh House. But to ordain a woman was without precedent. The issues raised for a confused Council of the Congregational Union are well documented elsewhere65 and I do not propose to rehearse them here, except to indicate that her formal accreditation as a Congregational minister was soon to follow.66 Secondly, the fact that the four officiating ministers67 were known to be ‘powerful’ 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67

Kaye, The History of the King’s Weigh House Church, pp 119, 129. From a sermon entitled ‘The New Catholicism’, Kaye, The History of the King’s Weigh House Church, p 122. Kaye, ‘Constance Coltman: A Forgotten Pioneer’, p 141. They disbanded in 1928. Kaye, The History of the King’s Weigh House Church, p 122. Irene Brown, 19 January, 1986. Attempts to establish the Weigh House as a ‘bridge church’ between episcopal and non-episcopal traditions were doomed to failure (Kaye, The History of the King’s Weigh House Church, pp 133-140). The Christian World, 18 March, 1909. Kirsty Thorpe, ‘How this story has been told’, in Elaine Kaye, Janet Lees and Kirsty Thorpe, Daughters of Dissent (London: The United Reformed Church, 2002), pp 173-90, pp 173-7. The Christian World, 4 October, 1917. GE Darlaston, Park Chapel, Crouch End; Leyton Richards, member of the National Committee of the No-Conscription Fellowship and for two years, General Secretary of the FOR; G Stanley Russell, pastor of ‘The People’s Church’, Grafton Square, preached; WE Orchard officiated.


preachers and leading pacifists, was a public and controversial political statement; and, finally, there was the fact that Claud, her fellow ordinand, was recognised that year as a probationer minister of the Baptist Union.68 The fact that Claud was Baptist was perhaps not surprising. Mansfield was at the forefront of the developing ecumenical movement.69 The college had been designed by its first principal, AM Fairbairn, to attract Baptists as well as Congregationalists for postgraduate study, and between 1886 and 1918 there were 24 Baptists who completed a course there of at least two years.70 His transition to Congregationalism was not unusual either, his wife’s situation apart, because the denominations were extremely close at that period.71 It is likely that the ethos of Mansfield House, where he spent a year after leaving the college, would draw him further towards the Congregational body which was formally to accredit him as one of its ministers in 1923.72 To these two, a woman and a man, the one a former Presbyterian and the other a Baptist, was entrusted the ‘ministry of reconciliation’. The partnership was sealed the next day when Claud and Constance were married. And in October their ministry began at the Darby Street Mission, just north of the St Katharine Docks. The area was marked by violence and social unrest. With its marine connections, 68

69 70 71 72


Claud trained at Midland College, Nottingham. The Baptist Year Book 1922 notes that he had been assistant minister, King’s Weigh House (1917-1920), and was now living at 30, Temple Fortune Lane NW4. In 1923 he is listed as a minister in the Congregational Year Book for the first time. In the CYB 1921 Constance is ‘out of charge’, having also served as assistant minister, King’s Weigh House (1917-1920). The CYB 1922 notes that, from 1921, she is ministering at Greville Place, Kilburn. The CYB 1923 lists Claud and Constance, with neat editorial adjustment, as having served at the Darby Street Mission from 1917-1922 with a move in 1922 to Greville Place, Kilburn. Kaye, Mansfield College, Oxford, pp 165-9; John Briggs, ‘Two Congregational Denominations: Baptist and paedobaptist’, London: Congregational Memorial Hall Trust, 2010. Kaye, Mansfield College, Oxford, p 317. At the joint Congregationalist and Baptist Assembly of 1901, JH Shakespeare had announced that there was ‘scope for close union’ (Baptist Times, 19 April, 1901, p 259). Rules Relating to the Recognition of Churches and Ministers (Congregational Year Book , 1922, p 425) were revised on 1 October, 1917, to take into account the case of a ‘Minister from another denomination who has received a call to the pastorate of a Congregational Church’. Claud would have had to be ‘a member of a Congregational Church for not less than 6 months before entering upon ministerial office together with the official certification usually recognised in the denominational connection from which he has resigned, before being recognised as an accredited Congregational minister.’

Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

Wapping was suffering particularly badly in the war. The Tower Hamlets, St Katharine’s and Wapping Mercantile Marine Memorial 1914-1918 was raised ‘To the glory of God and to the honour of twelve thousand of the Merchant Navy and fishing fleets who have no grave but the sea.’ Vicious race riots in July 1917 in Victoria Dock Road were linked to the association of white girls and black men.73 A huge demonstration on Tower Hill in August 1918 was called by the National Union of Police and Armed Officers in sympathy with Tommy Thiel, an East End policeman sacked for Union activities. In 1920, when Lloyd George proposed military action against Russia, there was large-scale dissent. Men at the East India docks refused to load a ship (Jolly Roger) with ammunitions for the Polish army, and East End railwaymen refused to carry a cargo of weapons bound for the docks. Union members began to withhold labour in pursuit of closed shops, forcing every employee to join a union. Wages were depressed, there was strict rationing, rent strikes were common, female munitions workers saw their jobs disappear or be given back to returning soldiers, many of whom had no job, no home, and broken families, and were faced with the Poor Law, the workhouse, or begging in the streets. What was the role of mission workers in all this? Cashdollar’s observation is revealing: ‘While mission workers rejected the extremes of competitive capital on the one hand, they rejected the necessity of class conflict on the other … They believed themselves to be in the business of reconciliation, of building community.’74 But the task was not straightforward. Hugh McLeod observes that in the East End ‘preoccupation with keeping afloat in a cruel environment produced an indifference to questions about the meaning of the world and a good deal of scepticism about most schemes for changing it’.75 Book-learning was generally held to be hopelessly impractical.76

73 74 75 76

There were outbreaks in the summer of 1919 as elsewhere in the UK. Charles D Cashdollar, Spiritual Home: Life in British and American Reformed congregations, 1830-1915 (University Park, PA: Penn State Press, 2010), p 183. Hugh McLeod, Class and Religion in the Late Victorian City (London: Croom Helm, 1974), p 48. McLeod, Class and Religion in the Late Victorian City, p 47.


Did the fact that Constance was so obviously not a conventional Bible Woman in the mould of the Ranyard Mission77 prove a barrier? She was, after all, well educated, white, middle class; far removed, it would appear, from the Bible Woman, who was typically working-class, drawn from the neighbourhood and given basic training as a missionary-cum-social worker, with a view to turning the ‘city’s outcast population into respectable, independent citizens through an invigoration of family life’.78 True, given the expectation that medical work would complement religious and social services,79 Constance ‘took instruction in nursing’ on leaving Mansfield in 1916; but any who were expecting a ‘Bible nurse’ would have been disappointed, for here again the key rule was that ‘a poor woman is the best agent for carrying [the Bible] to women in those depths’.80 However, there are occasions when gender can speak more loudly than education or class.81 And it was Constance’s experience throughout her ministry that her gender gave her a privileged entree into the lives of women. She seems to have had an ability to relate to women from a variety of backgrounds. This is well illustrated by a reminiscence by Harvey Merchant of Haverhill. When bombers started on London a large party of women were evacuated and brought to Haverhill to shelter in the hall at West End Congregational Church. One woman was berserk and threatened others with a knife. The others refused to be with her. Police and social folk failed to disarm her. Mrs Coltman came to the rescue and not only pacified, but took her to her house and gave her a bed. Members of the Council said it was the bravest thing they ever knew.82 At a practical level, the Darby Street premises were dilapidated, and had for years been a considerable drain on the Weigh House congregation.83 Nonetheless, within the severe limits of space and budget, there were attempts to meet the material, 77 78 79 80 81 82 83


Founded by Ellen Ranyard in 1857, the Bible and Domestic Female Mission became known as the Ranyard Mission in 1917. Frank Prochaska, The Voluntary Impulse: Philanthropy in modern Britain (London: Faber and Faber, 1988), p 49. Prochaska, The Voluntary Impulse, p 49. Cashdollar, Spiritual Home, p 198. Prochaska, The Voluntary Impulse, p 49. Cashdollar, Spiritual Home, p 200. Undated, Westminster College archives. Kaye, The History of the King’s Weigh House Church, p 112.

Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

social, spiritual needs of the neighbourhood. A pamphlet of 1911 lists 24 meetings every week, as well as entertainment and recreation.84 There were religious services, evangelistic work, direct relief to the needy, educational classes, medical services and programmes for women.85 Constance was to allude later to the fact that ‘the woman minister will generally be most successful in such spheres as the religious education of children and adults’.86 Certainly the children’s work flourished during her Darby Street days. In 1918, there were 80 scholars and 12 teachers; in 1919 and 1920, numbers had risen to 101 scholars and 15 teachers.87 Although her request to resign from the Darby Street charge was finally accepted by the King’s Weigh House in 1920,88 there are elements in the missionary model which remained a lasting feature of Constance’s subsequent ministry, notably the vocation to serve the physical, spiritual, and educational needs of women and children and the need to ‘bridge the possibly widening gulf between the clergy and the man and woman of the street’.89 But in the East End the missionary model was changing. Congregations were not necessarily persuaded any longer of the unity between salvation and social betterment. Recreation and entertainment now formed a larger part of the work, while evangelism was de-emphasised and social work professionalised.90 Constance’s desire to relate Christianity more closely to everyday life is reflected in her intellectual activity during this period.91 In 1918, she obtained a BD (hons.) degree from London University on the Study of Religion.92 The degree syllabus ‘sought to combine pastoral Kaye, The History of the King’s Weigh House Church, p 94. Cashdollar, Spiritual Home, p 94. Coltman, ‘Woman’s Kingdom’, p 65. By 1923 there was a falling off: 70 scholars and seven teachers (Congregational Year Book). A previous resignation had been met with a grant of ‘sick leave’ (King’s Weigh House Church Meeting Minutes 1916-1926, 26 March 1919, p 42); Kirsty Thorpe, ‘Constance Coltman: a Centenary Celebration in Historical Context’, Feminist Theology, 2017, vol. 26 (1), pp 8-18; see also pp 16-31 in this volume. Was Orchard’s insistence ‘after about 1921’ (Kaye, The History of King’s Weigh House, p 125) that his assistants and deacons be ‘additionally’ ordained by Bishop Vernon, the self-styled Bishop of Mercia, a contributory factor in the decision by the Coltmans to leave the King’s Weigh House? Coltman, ‘Woman’s Kingdom’, p 65. 89 90 Cashdollar, Spiritual Home, pp. 203-5. 91 Claud was admitted as a BLitt student on 19 February 1915 (Oxford University Archives: (accessed 1/5/16)). The degree was conferred on 22 June, 1922 for a thesis on: ‘The belief in immortality as a religious sanction for progress’. 92 Third class honours on the basis of study at Mansfield College and private study (Historical Record, Special Collections, University of London). 84 85 86 87 88


proficiency with intellectual openness to historical and philosophical criticism of religion’.93 The subject was a bold choice. She could have chosen to study any of four other subjects: Hebrew and Aramaic, including Syriac; Greek NT and Apocrypha; Church history; biblical and historical theology.94 She had already proved her aptitude for languages and history. But she chose instead to engage with a field which drew on new disciplines: anthropology, sociology, psychology. Exposed to the massive social problems of the East End, she showed willingness to explore new areas of social investigation.95 She also showed a desire to link careful biblical scholarship to the spiritual needs of a society torn apart by war. She contributed to the series of translations of the Old Testament into colloquial English under the auspices of the Adult School Union and the recently formed Society for Old Testament Study (SOTS).96 The editors of the series comment: In a wide experience among working men and women we have found frequent requests for a simple version of the OT … By the generous help of our colleagues in this enterprise we are able to present a translation that is well within the reach of everyone, and that rests upon the best results of modern scholarship. Following the success of an initial translation of the book of Amos in 1921, ‘competent scholars’ were commissioned to translate other books along similar lines.97 One of these was Constance. Her translations of Ruth, Jonah and Obadiah, published in 1924, are faithful to the Hebrew and attentive to 93 94 95

96 97


Ron Clements, ‘The Origins of the Society for Old Testament Study’ in John Jarick (ed.) SOTS at 100: Centennial Essays of the Society for Old Testament Study (London & NY: Bloomsbury, 2017), pp 1-23, p 6. University of London, Calendar 1920-1921, p 24. Opinion was divided as to the value of these disciplines. Selbie wrote in the Congregational Quarterly 1926 (p 359), that the ‘task of the moment’ was ‘to discover a modernist gospel, to preach the Christian message in terms which modern men can receive and understand, and yet retain all its saving and sanctifying power.’ Yet Nathaniel Micklem expressed the fears of many when he wrote in 1927 that Congregationalism was in danger of disintegration ‘through the presentation of a vague and sentimental religiosity without justice, without judgment, without a soul-shattering mercy, without a Redeemer and without God’ (Congregational Quarterly, 1927, p 552; Kaye, Mansfield College, Oxford, pp 183-4). G Currie Martin and TH Robinson (eds), Books of the Old Testament in Colloquial Speech (London: National Adult School Union, 1920, etc). Eryl W Davies, ‘The Society for Old Testament Studies: 1917-2017’, in Jarick (ed.) SOTS at 100, pp 25-61, p 51. The project was abandoned with the appearance of James Moffat’s new translation of the OT in 2 volumes in 1924.

Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

textual issues. They are also readable. She recognised that the ‘sonorous and dignified beauty of our familiar versions … too often convey a sense of remoteness from present-day speech and problems’.98 In her introductions to each book, she links what she says to current debates about the OT and its concern with tribal loyalty.99 Ruth, for instance, was ‘a positive reminder, in an age of narrow and bitter patriotism, that one of the noblest heroines of Hebrew history had been “one of ’em darned furrin wummin”’.100 The book of Jonah ‘had a moral with a very pointed national application’.101 And she reflects how ‘racial hatred … has [rarely] found a more vehement and vindictive utterance than in the short prophecy of Obadiah’.102 Yet he ‘helped sow the seed of belief in the sovereignty of God. He set it in the exceedingly bitter soil of national rancour and revenge, but it germinated through the centuries until at last it flowered into the tree of life, whose fruit shall be for the healing of the nations’.103 Her engagement in writing liturgy, however, was to embroil her in gendered controversy. On New Year’s Day 1922, as ‘the country was buffeted by vigorous blasts’ of wind and rain, Big Ben boomed 12 and ‘youths blew trumpets in Piccadilly,’ 104 she and Claud began their joint ministry at Greville Place, Kilburn.105

98 Coltman The Books of Ruth and Jonah, (1924), ‘Translator’s note’, p 6. 99 The theologian, Charles E Raven was a prominent pacifist and went so far as to suggest that if the OT was to continue to be used by churches, it should be substantially modified. Clements, ‘The Origins of the Society for Old Testament Study’, p 9, esp. n 11. 100 Coltman, The Books of Ruth and Jonah, introduction, p 7. She points additionally (p 9) to Tamar, Rahab, Bathsheba, ancestors of Jesus and all ‘foreigners’. 101 Coltman, The Books of Ruth and Jonah, p 21. 102 Martin and Robinson (eds), Books of the Old Testament in Colloquial Speech, no. 5: Constance Coltman, The Books of Joel, Nahum, and Obadiah, ‘Introduction’, p 35. 103 Her scholarly capability was recognised by her fellows. In 1930, she was deputed by the recently constituted Society for the Ministry of Women (Interdenominational), to send a letter to Convocation at Oxford University urging that women be allowed to take the DD degree. 104 The Sphere, 7 January, 1922. 105 They found a church in acute financial difficulties. The Deacons’ Minute Book records fairly often gifts or loans to members, worshippers and their relatives (McLeod, Class and Religion in the Late Victorian City, p 83). Since its formation in 1858, it had depended virtually exclusively on the support of the Callard confectionery family, but the last Callard left Kilburn in 1908, and in 1923, when expenses were cut to a basic ministerial stipend and minimal upkeep of the fabric, the church was dissolved (McLeod, Class and Religion in the Late Victorian City, p 190, note 11).


A storm of a different nature was to break five months later, when the ‘girl-minister’ officiated at the wedding in Greville Place of Miss Ethel Minnie Parker and Mr Arthur HH Draper of St John’s Wood.106 The press were quick to seize on the fact that this was ‘said to be the first wedding ceremony to be performed by a woman in this country’.107 The Western Times elaborated further: 108 The Revd Mrs Constance Mary Coltman … has made history by revising the marriage ceremony and omitting everything which implied inferiority of woman, or that marriage is in any way an unclean thing. This first ‘revised’ wedding she used on Saturday last, and Mrs Coltman read the sentences as follows: ‘Marriage is ordained of God for the exalting and perfecting of love through the union of body, mind and spirit; and for the calling of men and women into partnership with His own creative love. It was hallowed by our Lord, both by His presence and by His solemn words. It has been consecrated by the faithful keeping of men and women in every generation.’ Both the bride and bridegroom plighted their troth with a ring, and as each placed the ring on the other’s finger, said: ‘As this ring now encircles thy finger, so let my love surround thee all the days of thy life.’ The word ‘obey’ was not used and husband and wife took precisely the same vows to ‘love, comfort, honour and keep, in sickness and in health’ and to ‘cleave unto each other alone, so long as ye both shall live’. Mrs Coltman’s prayer was: Holy Father, Whose very nature is love, and from Whom cometh every good and perfect gift, we thank Thee for the love that knits man and woman into one. Grant to these thy children that, dwelling in love, they may dwell in Thee and Thou in them. Keep them wedded lovers all their days – pure, passionate and faithful to the lifelong vows they now pledge in Thy presence. Make them kind to one another, tenderhearted, ready to forgive one another. Uneasy friends of the newly married couple consulted the Assistant Registrar General, who confirmed that the only thing that mattered legally were the contractual words; the form of the ceremony otherwise was immaterial. As to the gender of the 106 107 108


Hull Daily Mail, 26 June, 1922. Hull Daily Mail, 26 June, 1922. Western Times, 27 June, 1922.

Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

officiant, while marriages performed by women were frequent in the Salvation Army, a woman ‘has not the privilege of acting as an authorized person within the meaning of the Marriage Act of 1898 … If at the marriage which the Revd Mrs Coltman performed a registrar was present, then everything was in proper order’.109 And Constance continued to perform weddings. The ceremony did, however, attract immediate interest in popular tabloids and regional papers, and unleashed a contemptuous backlash of anti-feminist reporting in the US in particular, where virtually every state gave it coverage.110 While the Tevin Falls Weekly News111 carried the supportive headline ‘English Woman Pastor is Popular with Both Sexes’, and the Oklahoma Standard Sentinel added helpfully: ‘Mrs Coltman has also written a new christening service’,112 most papers saw the ‘one-man ceremony’113 in terms of feminist militancy. Constance had ‘smashed a precedent’.114 She was generally described as a ‘fashionable London pastor’, ‘England’s marrying parson’, a ‘thoroughly modern woman’. Given that by the 1920s daily newspapers were read by the majority of the adult population, the widespread media interest in Constance’s ‘Modern Marriage’ ceremony highlighted not only her role as a female catalyst of modernity, but also the changing roles of women and the ongoing importance of religion.115 As Sue Morgan has suggested, ‘sensationalist coverage by the secular press against a dramatically shifting context of established notions of gender through war and the female franchise provided an important means of normalising religiously transgressive acts’.116 Dundee Evening Telegraph, 3 July, 1922. If there was no registrar then the marriage was still valid, though it would not be recorded. In this eventuality, the couple could draw up a document stating they were married on such a date and place, and have it signed by those present as witnesses. That would answer as a legal marriage certificate. In 1927, the Established Church gave couples the option of equal marriage vows. 110 Was the comparatively restrained coverage in the British press connected to the fact that Constance’s uncle, Sir John Ellerman, afraid of being targeted because of his father’s German origins, invested substantially in a range of newspapers between 1914 and the mid-1920s? 111 20 July, 1922. 112 2 November, 1922. 113 Canton Daily News, 20 August, 1922. 114 Iowa Des Moines Capital, 20 August, 1922. 115 Morgan, ‘A Feminist Conspiracy’, p 779; Adrian Bingham, Gender, Modernity and the Popular Press in Inter-War Britain (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004) p 82. 116 Bingham, Gender, Modernity and the Popular Press, p 794. 109


Some of the thinking that lies behind her marriage liturgy is set out in 1924 in an article in the Mansfield College Magazine on ‘Protestantism and the Ministry of Women’,117 which was to form the basis for the longer chapter which she contributed in the same year to Maude Royden’s book on ‘The Church and Woman’.118 The purpose of her article is stated with authority: ‘Reunion is in the air. If the Free Churches are to be faithful to their own principles in the matter of the ministry of women they must know clearly what these principles are.’ Committed to the priesthood of all believers and to individual liberty in Christ, ‘Protestantism is logically committed to the ministry of women. It has, however, been slow to recognise this implication of its own first principles.’119 The first reason for this is ‘its intense Bibliolatry’, the appeal to the inspiration of isolated texts, especially from Paul’s letters. This attitude of the Reformers had effectively prevented any development of the ministry of women, even though women had preached for some time among the early Brownists and Baptists. Then, the emphasis on the home was ambiguous. On the one hand, it removed ‘the monkish taint of impurity’ which implied that marriage was a lower way of life than celibacy. But it also confined woman to her ‘sexual functions’ as wife and mother. For the Reformers, ‘the ideal woman was the ideal wife’ whose obedience to her husband was sealed by vow in Cranmer’s marriage liturgy. This implies subservience and limitation of freedom. Yet, as Constance points out, Protestantism also ‘enshrines a conception of the dignity and sacredness of the individual soul, born from its direct and immediate relation to God, which involves the complete spiritual emancipation of womankind’. This applies to every woman, whether married or not. It means that ‘woman has a value altogether independent of her sexual functions, which is derived, not from her relationship to man, as wife or mother, but from her relation to God’. She cites brave women preachers in different generations who risked ridicule and persecution to proclaim the gospel. But ‘not any of these were settled pastors. Times have changed; and now that 117 118 119


Mansfield College Magazine 1924, pp 137-42. A Maude Royden, The Church and Woman, with a chapter on the Evangelical and Free Churches, by Constance M Coltman, MA, BD (London: J Clarke & Co Ltd, 1924), pp 80-135. Mansfield College Magazine 1924, p 137; see Fleur Houston, ‘Reformation: A two-edged sword in the cause of the ministry of women’, Feminist Theology, 2017, 26.1, pp 19-33.

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women have access to education and specialised training, they will be able to qualify themselves for the regular ministry, especially for such work as the nurture of the children of the church and the spiritual motherhood of the cure of souls’. On 2 July, 1924, she and Claud, now an accredited Congregationalist minister, began their joint ministry at Cowley Road Congregational Church, Oxford, with a shared stipend of £200 per annum, from which £30 was to be deducted for rent. On the Coltmans’ insistence, their ministry was to be time-limited to four years ‘unless a renewed invitation was given to them not later than six months before the end of four years’.120 There are indications as to what was involved for Constance in practical terms. She said in 1926: ‘In my own church, which I share with my husband, I have practically a monopoly of Christenings, my husband has the funerals, and we share the weddings between us.’121 She was held to be an ‘excellent preacher’,122 and demonstrates an ability to adjust her preaching style to different congregations.123 She organised a Girls’ Bible Class124 and gives some indication as to what was involved. On receiving a letter from a young woman from west London asking how to organise a Girls’ Bible Class, Constance recommends books and gives advice ‘based on my own prolonged experience of such work’: be well-prepared, plan a course of study a quarter ahead; have short and varied courses; involve the girls as much as possible; get to know them during the week; if possible visit them at home and try to organise a ‘practical session’ mid-week. Pray for them each by name every day. And she concludes: ‘Jesus, surrounded by 12 friends on whose training He lavished of His best – there is the picture you will ever have before you. Again and again you also will say to yourself, “I am among you as one that serveth.”’ 125 120

121 122 123

124 125

Church Meeting minutes, 23 September, 1924. Minutes for 27 February, 1928 record an eager invitation to the co-pastors to continue their ministry for a further four years with an increase in stipend to £270. The Coltmans accepted but for three years, to enable the church to get on a better financial footing. On 22 April, 1931, they asked if they might remain without time limit. But a year later (27 April, 1932) they had to resign. Hendon and Finchley Times, 8 October, 1926. Buckingham Advertiser and Free Press, 30 April, 1932. Compare her Harvest Festival sermon on 1 Corinthians 3:9 at Buckingham Congregational Church (Buckingham Advertiser and Free Press, 6 October, 1934) and her sermon on Esther 4:14 to the Society for the Ministry of Women, 17 November, 1938 (Thompson, Women in the Pulpit, p 61). Minutes of Annual Church Meeting, 6 January, 1927. ‘What shall I do? A Farewell Message’, The Sunday at Home, May, 1931.


Motherhood marked a new and significant phase in her life and ministry. Their first daughter, Mary Mansfield, was born in June 1925, followed by Irene Constance in September 1927 and Alan Stewart in April 1931. In each case, a year on, the co-pastors gave a much-appreciated thank-offering to the church.126 It is hard to imagine today how revolutionary it must have been at the time for a congregation not only to have an ordained woman pastor, but one who was married and a mother. There is no indication of any prejudice from members of the congregation, and she seems to have handled her pregnancies with discretion. But not all ecclesiastical authorities thought it possible or desirable to combine ‘the normal work of ministry … with the faithful fulfilment of the duties of wife and mother’.127 In 1933, the opinions of the Bishop of Durham on the matter were vigorously challenged in the columns of the Daily Mail. The Revd Joyce Rutherford, a Congregationalist minister attached to the London Missionary Society, described Henley Henson’s attitude as ‘thoroughly Victorian’, pointing out the illogicality of the fact that the churches send hosts of women to foreign countries on missionary work but will not use them in the home ministry. There are Congregational ministers who are ideal wives and mothers, and nonetheless good ministers. The 23 women ministers in this country today are all doing great work.128 Taking Constance as a case in point, Claud contributed further: My wife was ordained in 1917 and has worked side by side with me in ministry. She has also found time to bring up perfectly our three children. As a minister of the gospel she has been a better wife and mother.129 The Congregational Union, while continuing to support the principle of women’s ministry, was scarcely encouraging. The commission set up to review the ministry of women in 1934 indicates in its report130 that ‘our Churches are not often disposed 126 127 128 129 130


The ‘beautiful redecoration’ of the ‘primary room’; two pairs of flower-vases; a clock (Church Meeting Minutes: 29 April, 1926; 28 November, 1928; 27 January, 1932). Leeds Mercury, 9 October, 1933. Kingston Gleaner, 2 November, 1933. Kingston Gleaner, 2 November, 1933. Congregational Year Book , 1937, pp 91-3.

Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

to invite women to undertake the duties of the regular pastorate’ and comments, ‘It may be that there are reasons for this which ought to be overcome.’ But no further exploration of these reasons is proposed. Of the 17 women ordained since 1917, 13 are in pastoral charge. Their experience is generally happy, and their ministry ‘effective and valuable’. These all testify to friendly relations with male colleagues and church members. All agree that women and men should receive the same training; all stress that they would not be satisfied with any form of ministry which did not allow them to exercise the call to preach. The commission concludes nonetheless: owing to the state of feeling and opinion in our churches the difficulties and disappointments … are so great as to forbid the encouragement of women generally to enter the ministry at present; but where a woman has shown tried capacity for such service, has exceptional ability, and is so certain of her vocation that she is prepared to run all risks, it would not be right to put any obstacle in her path … it is only as women are able to prove their distinctive worth that any change of attitude and action can be expected. The Commission betrays biological and social determinism. No judgement is offered on the fact that churches were found to provide a smaller stipend for women than for men, despite Constance’s eloquent critique of the practice.131 The report questions whether women should receive superannuation on the same basis as men, for ‘it is at least doubtful whether a woman could physically sustain the strain of ministry to the same age as men’ and the report concludes: ‘It does not seem desirable for a woman to continue in a pastorate after marriage as the claims of the pastorate would not seem to allow such discharge of the duties of the home as necessarily fall on a wife and mother.’ She might, however continue to preach. But what is, is not necessarily what should be. The perspective reflected in this report is one where the male minister is normative. A pattern of disesteem of women is institutionalised,132 placing them at serious economic disadvantage and impeding parity of participation in ministry. There is no ideal 131 132

Royden, The Church and Woman, pp 115-116. Constance shared one stipend with her husband, supplementing it from her private resources. Nancy Fraser, Fortunes of Feminism, (London and New York: Verso, 2013), pp 175-6.


of women’s flourishing, no vision, and a reluctance to accept the evidence of what women in ministry can and ought to be. For women in ministry to flourish under such circumstances, interdependent mutual support was necessary.133 By 1926, there were sufficient ordained women ministers to form the Union of Women Ministers, who held their first annual conference in 1928 at Cowley Road Congregational Church with Constance as its first president. But the matter of the admission of women to the ministry was one which affected the whole Church; the question was one of principle: ‘to attain the ideal that in the ministry of the Church of Christ no distinction should be made between men and women’.134 So the Society for the Ministry of Women (Interdenominational) was formed with Maude Royden as president and Constance one of seven vice-presidents, along with Charles Raven and WE Selbie. Constance was to serve the Society ‘with devotion and generosity to the end of her life’.135 It was made clear from the outset that the Society was ‘not in the narrow sense of the word “feminist”’. It ‘stood for a fundamental principle, for the recognition of spiritual values, believing that the present position in the Church is contrary to the mind of Christ.’136 Yet as Constance was to reflect in her sermon to the Society ten years later, ‘Free Church folk were mostly apathetic … feminists as well as other people, largely failed to realise that woman’s entrance into the ministry of the Church must be the crown and consummation of the Woman’s Movement.’137 In 1929, while recuperating from a serious attack of diphtheria,138 Constance embarked on a world-wide ministry to ‘all sorts and conditions of men and women’.139 For the following two years, she contributed a problem page for Christian women entitled ‘What shall I do?’ to The Sunday at Home, a weekly publication by Cristina LH Traina, Feminist Ethics and Natural Law: The end of the anathemas, (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1999), p 45. 134 Hon. Secretary’s Report to Annual General Meeting, 23 May, 1930. 135 Letter to Claud Coltman, 26 April, 1969 (Westminster College Archive). She learned Swedish to correspond with Swedish women pastors and gave lessons in Greek (letter from Lady Stansgate to Claud Coltman, Westminster College Archive). 136 A memo to that effect was signed by Anglican members to be placed before the Lambeth conference. 137 Coltman, ‘Woman’s Kingdom’, p 61. 138 Cowley Road Church Meeting minutes, 23 January, 1929. 139 ‘What shall I do? A Farewell Message’, The Sunday at Home, May 1931. 133


Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

the Religious Tract Society. These pages are rooted in everyday life, with a Christian application. There is a wry and revealing selfawareness. The project appears to have been remarkably successful – she received hundreds of letters ‘from all over the globe’ all of which she answered personally, selecting one or two each week that might have wider interest to readers:140 a deserted wife,141 a single mother,142 the ‘intimacies of home relationships’.143 She replies to a young woman wondering who to marry: ‘Thank God you realise that only a good man can make you happy; but your future husband should also be personally attractive to you’ and to the mother of a ‘difficult boy of 6’ she offers advice ‘as from a fellow mother, facing the same sort of problems herself and very conscious of her own shortcomings’.144 In May 1931, the column comes to an abrupt halt. ‘Increasing family claims compel me to relinquish for a season a task which has certainly been a labour of love but which has now grown beyond my capacity to fulfil.’ 145 Her third child, Alan, born on 1 April, needed special care, and Constance chose to nurse him at home.146 And so, on 27 April, 1932, the co-pastors tendered their resignation after eight ‘very happy years, and full of content, rich in experience and ever abounding in good-will on the part of the church’. For ‘domestic reasons’ they needed a larger manse and the benefits of ‘country life’ for the children. Accounts of Constance’s years in Wolverton suggest a settled ministry. The congregation had a new lease of life. Congregations increased, and there was new activity in every branch of the Church’s work. ‘Mrs Coltman’, we are told, ‘is an enthusiast for work in the Sunday School, and the scholars have already begun to show signs of greater interest by regularity in attendance’.147 There were sermons, talks and addresses. She wrote children’s stories.148 She supplied ministry for a year at Stony Stratford.149 140 ‘What shall I do?’ 1929. 141 ‘What shall I do? Seventy Times Seven’, March 1930. 142 ‘What shall I do? Accident or Design?’ September 1930. 143 ‘What shall I do? Making a Christian Home’, January 1931. 144 ‘What shall I do? Practical Problems’, February 1931. 145 ‘What shall I do? A Farewell Message’, May 1931. 146 Irene Brown, 19 January, 1986. 147 Northampton Mercury, 5 August, 1932. 148 Bucks Advertiser and Free Press, 16 December, 1939. 149 Bucks Advertiser and Free Press, 28 March, 1936. Report of the meetings of the North Buckinghamshire Congregational Union at Bicester.


Her ministry to women continued to take shape. This was, in part, advocacy. When the North Bucks Congregational Union discussed proposals for raising stipends in the context of a reorganised Congregational Union, she spoke cogently about both schemes and pleaded successfully, ‘as a woman and a mother that children’s allowances should be taken into account’.150 But she also subverted current attitudes towards women. Even though women raised significant sums of money for the church, they were often disregarded. Constance helped ‘forward the effort’ of the ‘lady workers’ in their fundraising for the organ and the cleaning of the church – with her children, she ran a stall at a jumble sale,151 she supported the Bon Bon bazaar, the Oriental bazaar, the Garden Party, the efforts associated with the visit of the May queen; and she conducted a ‘goodwill service’ to welcome Britain’s Railway queen to Wolverton. Was this, as Claud was later to suggest, a revalorising of traditional activities, a deliberate and public gesture of regard for the work that other women were doing, often unrecognised, in the Church?152 Unusually also for a minister, she ‘took a course in midwifery, possibly at Great Portland Street: birth control, fertility, weaning, etc’,153 and visited women in their homes, scales in hand, to give practical as well as spiritual advice.154 For a minister, and a pacifist, this was to enter a political arena. Concerns had been growing since the 1930s not only for the welfare of the nation’s children but also for the size of the population;155 motherhood was being promoted as a contribution to the war effort and a form of war service. State support was given to population growth. Childbirth was spoken of as the equivalent for women of military service for men.156 To promote motherhood as a ‘sought vocation instead of a more or less unexpected happening’ was a direct challenge to the prevailing ethos.157 150 151 152 153 154 155 156 157


Northampton Mercury, 28 September, 1934. Bucks Advertiser and Free Press, 21 April, 1934. Nottingham Evening Post, 8 November, 1946. Mansfield College Reports 1910-1920, p 7; Irene Brown, 19 January, 1989. Constance was probably influenced by Marie Stopes’s general preoccupation with compatible sexuality within marriage. Angela Davis, ‘Wartime Women Giving Birth: Narratives of pregnancy and childbirth, Britain c. 1939-1960’, Studies in the History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, vol. 47, September 2014, pp 257-66. Omi Morgenstern-Leissner, ‘Hospital Birth, Military Service and the Ties that Bind Them: The case of Israel’, Nashim, 12 (2006) pp 203-24, p 203. Belfast Newspaper, 17 October, 1928.

Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

Constance was a popular chair of meetings. She was president of the Wolverton Women’s Guild,158 and president too of the Wolverton and District Sunday School.159 There was laughter at the meeting in 1936 in Bicester of the North Buckinghamshire Congregational Union when Claud was elected president. In returning thanks, he said: ‘the honour came to the church’, and the executive were very much in two minds whether the chairman should be Mrs Coltman or himself. It was not the first time that they had been discussed in their rival capacities.160 Her style of chairmanship emerges from her presidential address to a Labour Women’s rally at New Bradwell: ‘The ideal chairman, she suggests, like the ideal child of Victorian days, should be occasionally seen, but never heard more than was strictly necessary.’161 When in 1940 they left Wolverton for Haverhill, there were tributes to the ‘fine work which the joint pastors have done in the service of the Congregational church’ and to their popularity in the town. ‘Wolverton is,’ Claud responded, ‘the most friendly town I have ever known’.162 The same warm relations were a feature of their wartime ministry at the Old Independent Church, Haverhill. A member suggests:163 I am sure God sent them [here] when they were most needed. She continues: They helped the forces’ wives when they were in difficulties. They were very dedicated to all their efforts in this church and very often people were helped out of their own pockets. They listened always to every problem and their house was always an open door. A great many regiments passed through for a cup of tea, rolls, biscuits and chocolate, and always a sympathetic ear at the end of the day. Soldiers appreciated her conduct of church parade which was ‘less bossy and military than usual’.164 Constance formed the Sisterhood and Claud the Brotherhood for retired men – the younger men were nearly all in Japanese prisoner of war camps.

158 159 160 161 162 163 164

Bucks Advertiser and Free Press, 8 October, 1938. Northern Mercury, 5 May, 1939. Bucks Advertiser and Free Press, 28 March, 1936. Northampton Mercury, 8 February, 1935. Bucks Advertiser and Free Press, 2 March, 1940. Letter from Iris Forge to Elaine Kaye, undated (Westminster College archive). Irene Brown, 19 January, 1986.


Constance was ‘a great help to bewildered evacuee families to whom she made her house a haven’. In 1946, the Society for Equal Ministry of Men and Women in the Church (Interdenominational)165 addressed a questionnaire issued by the WCC on the life and work of women in the Church. Claud spoke of the gains which had accrued by the opening of the Congregational Church to women. ‘There had been an enriching of the whole conception of the Church and ministry’, he said, and it had led to a higher regard for the work that other women were doing in the Church. Generally speaking, the preaching of women was more human and more personal than men’s. It was closer to daily life, with a better understanding of women’s experience and needs. The entry of women had hallowed the co-operation between men and women at home and had helped to make the Church a spiritual home. It had resulted in a better balanced church.166 Constance retired from her final pastorate in the King’s Weigh House in 1948, nine years before Claud. She continued to support the ministry of women, tutored women in Greek and theology, travelled, and promoted the cause of peace. In 1969, the Kenosha News, Wisconsin, reports,167 ‘The first ordained woman Congregational minister died recently after 50 years of service. The Revd Constance Coltman was active to the end.’ The narrative of Constance Coltman’s ministry is inseparable from a larger framework of feminist thought which raises complex questions about sexuality, gender and power. How far do these affect the ministry of women today? The idea that there are innate differences between men and women is deeply rooted. Preconceptions about sex differences are deeply ingrained in our society, even though they do not stand up to scientific scrutiny.168 Women are held to be less robust than men, more empathetic, less intellectual; they are intrinsically gifted with selfless devotion; they ‘make such good pastors’.169 This is linked 165 166 167 168 169


The Society for the Ministry of Women (Interdenominational) changed its name to this in 1942. 8 November, 1946, Nottingham Evening Post; Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail. Kenosha News, Wisconsin, 30 July, 1969. The Guardian, 9 August, 2017 reports the sacking of a computer expert for ‘advancing harmful gender stereotypes.’ His views were vigorously defended on internet chat sites. Peter Selby, ‘They Make Such Good Pastors’ in Richard Holloway (ed.) Who needs feminism? Men respond to sexism in the church, (London: SPCK, 1991), pp 125-34.

Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

to the claim that women are naturally nurturing, an ‘earth mother’ brand of biological determinism. But to examine such claims against the background of social and institutional power is to ask: do they empower women or do they underwrite subordination?170 The myth of women’s pastoral gifts is, as Peter Selby suggests, a ‘myth of origins’ and, as such, unchangeable. It takes precedence by implication over those other ministerial attributes evinced by Constance’s ministry: theological learning, missionary outreach, teaching and preaching, leadership of worship. ‘To be trapped by a myth of origins in a role that is apparently positive is still just as much to be trapped. To root a person’s vocation in her biology is in itself an act of oppression.’171 No less essentialist is the ideology of women’s superior moral sensibility which underpins much suffragist and pacifist discourse, and also the debates around women’s ordination. It was envisaged that these innate gifts would spill out from the home to transform a conflicted world. ‘These are a woman’s true weapons’, Constance affirmed, ‘and today as then, they alone can save a desperate situation …’172 But of course, they couldn’t, and this line of thinking is no longer reliable. Stanley Russell, who preached so eloquently at Constance’s ordination service, about a new age travailing at its birth,173 reflects soberly in 1936: Looking at public affairs … promise has been miserably disappointed by performance … After all the pother to get the vote, women have done little or nothing about it, and the possibilities of international and social amelioration it represented have been sadly shadowed. He continues, revealingly: It is … possible that the Victorian woman, by her mere womanliness … was actually doing more for the softening and elevating of life than the woman who has entered what was hitherto the male department of existence, and, while a woman’s brain is absolutely equal to ours, it is different, and works by different methods.174 Where women were thought to possess certain characteristics and men others, a balanced society, it was supposed, would 170 171 172 173 174

Traina, Feminist Ethics and Natural Law, p 9. Selby, ‘They make such good pastors’, p 126. Coltman, ‘Woman’s Kingdom’, p 64. The Christian World, 20 September, 1917. Stanley Russell, The Road Behind Me (Toronto: Macmillan, 1936), pp 275-6.


maintain ‘equal respect and spheres of influence for each’.175 Women and men would enjoy equal power and authority without eroding gender differences. These early feminists ‘wished to preserve cooperation between women and men in all aspects of communal life, even as they sought to dismantle patriarchal institutions and restructure society in its totality’.176 The ‘new civilisation’ Russell had hailed in 1917, heralded by the Coltmans, was one where ‘men and women will be in partnership’. This would also involve a common rational and spiritual transcendence of the body which Susan Parsons describes as ‘a unity of mind, body, and spirit, deeply and intimately connected to a community’.177 The norms are drawn from a picture of human being or society not as it is, but as it is intended to be. The attractions of such a scheme are obvious, but there is more than a hint of overrealised eschatology. It risks being ahistorical. On the one hand, the attention to bodily differences encourages a focus on sexual oppression at the expense of race or class oppression (or even the development of toxic justification for these). And in implying that there is a perspective from which we can perceive the way things are, it ignores deep differences between women.178 Sojourner Truth had borne 13 children, worked the fields and seen those children sold into slavery. Her plea:179 ‘Ain’t I a woman?’, to an audience composed largely of white middle class women still resonates. Are there ways in which philosophical ideas, physically embodied, offer a creative way forward? Judith Butler argues convincingly that what had been perceived as ingrained sex traits are, in fact, culturally conditioned. Culture in this sense permeates all of society – it distinguishes the human element in social life from what is simply biologically driven, it carries meaning and value.180 175 176

177 178 179 180


Traina, Feminist Ethics and Natural Law, p 1. Karen Offen, ‘Contextualising the Theory and Practice of Feminism in 19th Century Europe (1789-1914)’, in Renate Bridenthal, Susan Mosher Stuard, Merry Wiesner-Hanks, (eds), Becoming Visible. Women in European History (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998, 3rd ed.), pp 327-55, p 332. Susan Parsons, Challenging Women’s Orthodoxies in the Context of Faith (Aldershot & Burlington VT: Ashgate, 2000) p 128. Sheila Greeve Davaney, ‘The Limits of the Appeal to Women’s Experience’, in Clarissa W Atkinson, Constance H Buchanan, Margaret R Miles (eds), Shaping New Vision: Gender and values in American culture (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1987), pp 42-9, p 42. Ohio Human Rights Convention, 1851. Stuart Hall, Jessica Evans and Sean Nixon (eds), Representation (Los Angeles and London: Sage, 2nd ed. 2013 (1997)).

Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

This meaning is continually being constructed. The construction of gender is part of a living process, something in which one participates. Gender is constructed in the act of performing it.181 There are obvious connections here with theatrical performance. We might claim that preaching is performative in the sense that preaching is a type of performance; we might even suggest that performative qualities of the leader of worship have become more important as congregations expect to be entertained in church. But this need not detain us here. More interesting for our purposes is what Butler describes as performative discourse, the various ways in which gender is dynamically created through language.182 Her crucial insight is that this occurs through repeated speech, writing and other discourse. It is never static. There is room for agency: the creation of gender can be altered. What are the implications of this? First, the example of hate speech is instructive. Women ministers are, like women in other professions,183 liable to misogynistic abuse. The perpetrator is undeniably responsible, but he isn’t solely responsible. He is keeping alive discourse that is already in circulation.184 The context in which these aggressive insults cause harm is also available. That is often institutional. It is uncomfortable for an institution to accept that discourses which it circulates help maintain a misogynistic context, especially so if that institution is a Church. Churches cannot seal themselves off from the rest of society, but there is room for resistance. They can continually expose or interrupt the ways misogynistic language is reinforced. And they can actively promote women’s agency within and without the Church.

181 182 183


Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: feminism and the subversion of identity (London: Routledge, 1990), pp 140-2. Her work on performativity is based on Austin, interpreted through the lens of Derrida. This gives rise to some ambiguity. Claudia W Ruitenberg, ‘Discourse, Theatrical Performance, Agency: The analytic force of “performativity” in education’ in Barbara S Stengel (ed.) Philosophy of Education, (Champaign IL: The Philosophy of Education Society, 2007), pp 260-7, pp 266-7. Professor Mary Beard is well known for her robust response to Twitter trolls. Judith Butler, Excitable Speech: A politics of the performative (New York: Routledge, 1997) p 80.


Then, secondly, language is the medium in which meaning is produced and circulated.185 But language is not always just written or spoken. It is one system of representation amongst others.186 Clothes are an important vehicle of meaning; they function as symbols, they represent the meaning we wish to communicate. There is an intimacy between clothing and body.187 Take this description from the Belfast Newsletter188 in 1928 of the first conference of women ministers: The service was conducted by the Revd Grace Newbolt of Banbury, a petite bob-haired woman wearing an academic gown over her modish costume. She was accompanied on the platform by ten other women ministers from the Unitarian, Baptist and Congregational Churches, the only denominations who admit women to their ministry. All but two of the women wore academic dress, and most of them were shingled and wore light stockings and short skirts. This is a good example of the ways in which a particular form of representation can be subverted and transformed. Ministry was still associated in most people’s minds with the disembodied masculine figure, but in the way they dressed, these ministerial women found ways of managing their femininity so as to construe themselves as persons with power and authority. How are we to understand the role of women in society in a way that is truly universal, while remaining sensitive to the fact that we are human beings? This question is at the root of contemporary feminist scholarly debate.189 For instance, both Judith Butler and Martha Nussbaum agree that the notion of power is central. Both agree that power is oppressive. But while Nussbaum maintains that power prevents flourishing and that the way forward is to articulate and challenge it in all its forms,190 Butler, drawing on Nietzsche and Foucault, maintains that we cannot distance ourselves from power structures that 185 186 187 188 189 190


Stuart Hall, Jessica Evans and Sean Nixon, Representation (Los Angeles: Sage, 2013). p xix. Hall, Evans and Nixon, Representation, p xvii. Elaine Swan, ‘On Bodies, Rhinestones, and Pleasures: Women teaching managers’ (Management Learning, Vol. 36 (3) 2005) pp 317-33. Belfast Newsletter, 17 October, 1928. Julie MacKenzie, ‘Refiguring Universalism: Martha Nussbaum and Judith Butler – an uneasy alliance’, Australian Feminist Studies, 24, (2009), pp 343-58. Martha Nussbaum, ‘The Professor of Parody: The hip defeatism of Judith Butler’, The New Republic, 220 (1999), pp. 37-45.

Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

are embedded in our culture. ‘What this means is that there is no opposition to power which is not in itself part of the very workings of power … that “emancipation” will never be the transcendence of power as such.’191 Power is necessary for a person to flourish. It is as liberating as it is oppressive – there is no way out of the paradox.192 While it is possible to refashion the normative shackles, the task is never complete.193 This is the key issue in any consideration of the ministry of women. The rootedness of ministers in the lives of the people they serve exposes them to cultural norms and expectations about gender. Gender is entangled with power; when women are seen to transgress these norms, they are susceptible to oppression from within and without the Church. This can limit the free exercise of their calling to minister. However, the rootedness of ministers in the service of God is empowering. It gives a radically countercultural, prophetic edge to what they say and do. As in word and deed they faithfully proclaim a liberating gospel of hope, love, joy, peace, they testify to the transformative power of God who ‘hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden’.194

191 192 193 194

Linda Nicholson, Feminist Contentions: a philosophical exchange (London: Routledge, 1995), p 137. Judith Butler, The Psychic Life of Power (Stanford CA: Stanford University Press, 1997), p 2. Butler, The Psychic Life of Power, pp 64-65. The Magnificat, Luke 1:48.


CONTRIBUTORS Contributors of original work created for the centenary Designation as in 2017: many have served and continue to serve in other capacities, as well as those listed here. Dr Luca Badini Confalonieri: Director of the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research – promoting gender equality and shared decision making in the church. Francis Brienen: Deputy General Secretary (Mission) of the United Reformed Church. She was a member of the planning group for this conference. Karen Campbell: Church-Related Community Worker in the United Reformed Church, working in Luton. She was a member of the planning group for this conference. Yvonne Campbell: General Secretary of the Congregational Federation. The Revd Dr Min Heui Cheon: an Associate Pastor at Gwangsan Church and former Executive Secretary of the Partnership & Ecumenical Relations, of the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (PROK). The Revd Dr Susan Durber: United Reformed Church Minister in Taunton and former Principal of Westminster College, the first woman to serve in that capacity.


Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

The Revd Alan Gaunt: United Reformed Church Minister and hymnwriter. The Revd Dominic Grant: United Reformed Church Minister and hymnwriter. The Revd Wayne Hawkins: CWM Mission Secretary: Europe Region, a Congregational Federation Minister and Former President of the Congregational Federation. The Revd Dr Fleur Houston: United Reformed Church Minister. The Revd Dr Ann Jeffers: Congregational Federation Minister and Senior Lecturer at Heythrop College, University of London. Martha Kroes: a Member of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands and studying at the Protestant Theological University in Groningen. The Revd Carla Maurer: a Minister of the Swiss Reformed Church serving in London and a former member of the Co-ordinating Committee of the Ecumenical Forum of European Christian Women (EFECW). The Revd Sarah Moore: United Reformed Church Minister and member of the Young Clergy Women International network. The Revd Ellen Nachali Mulenga: Minister from the United Church of Zambia. She has focused on gender justice issues, studied at the University of Birmingham and is now completing her PhD. The Revd Lythan Nevard: United Reformed Church Minister. The Revd Suzanne Nockels: Congregational Federation Minister and Learning and Development Enabler for the Congregational Federation. 187

Judith North: United Reformed Church, and convener of the International Exchange Reference Group. Athena Peralta: from the Philippines; responsible for the Economy of Life Project of the World Council of Churches. Programme Executive for Economic and Ecological Justice, World Council of Churches. Asea Railean: from Moldova; Orthodox Co-President of the Ecumenical Forum of European Christian Women. The Revd Patricia Sheerattan-Bisnauth: Executive Director of Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association and the first woman to be ordained in the Guyana Presbyterian Church. The Revd Dr Mia Smith: Chaplain of Hertford College, Oxford. The Revd Dr Kirsty Thorpe: United Reformed Church Minister and former Moderator of the General Assembly. She was a member of the planning group for this conference. The Revd Elizabeth Welch: United Reformed Church Minister and former Moderator of the General Assembly The Revd Dr Janet Wootton: Congregational Federation Minister, Director of Studies for the Congregational Federation. Former President of the Congregational Federation. She was a member of the planning group for this conference.


Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

Select bibliography Adams, Pauline (1996) Somerville for Women: An Oxford college 1871-1993. Oxford: OUP. Caedel, Martin (1980) Pacifism in Britain 1914-1945: The defining of a faith. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Coltman, Constance (1924) ‘Post-Reformation: The free churches’, in A Maude Royden, The Church and Woman, with a chapter on the Evangelical and Free Churches by Constance M Coltman, MA, BD London: James Clarke & Co Ltd, 1924, pp 80-135. Coltman, Constance (1944) ‘Woman’s Kingdom: The annual sermon of the Society for the Ministry of Women, preached in the King’s Weigh House Church, London, on St Hilda’s Day, Thursday 17 November’, 1938, in DP Thomson (ed.), Women in the Pulpit: Twenty-three sermons and addresses by representative women preachers. London: James Clarke and Co. Ltd, pp 60-7. Coltman, Constance M (1924) The Books of Joel, Nahum, and Obadiah, G Currie Martin and TH Robinson (eds), Books of the Old Testament in Colloquial Speech, London: National Adult School Union, 1920, etc, no.5. Coltman, Constance M (1924) The Books of Ruth and Jonah, G Currie Martin and TH Robinson (eds), Books of the Old Testament in Colloquial Speech. London: National Adult School Union, 1920, etc, no.4. Feminist Theology, (2017) 26.1 (September), https://journals. (accessed 12/9/2019). Fiorenza, Elisabeth Schüssler (1983) In Memory of Her: A feminist theological reconstruction of Christian origins. London: SCM. Fletcher, Sheila (1989) Maude Royden: A life. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Houston, Fleur (2017) ‘Reformation: A two-edged sword in the cause of the ministry of women’, Feminist Theology, 26.1, pp 19-33


Jones, Ian; Wootton, Janet and Thorpe, Kirsty (eds) (2008) Women and Ordination in the Christian Churches: International perspectives. London: T&T Clark. Kaye, Elaine (1968) The History of the King’s Weigh House Church. London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd. Kaye, Elaine (1988) ‘Constance Coltman: A forgotten pioneer’, The Journal of the United Reformed Church History Society 4.2, in vol. 4 (1988-1992), pp 134-45. Kaye, Elaine (1996) Mansfield College, Oxford, its origin, history, and significance. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Kaye, Elaine (2004) ‘Constance Coltman’, in HCG Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press 2004, volume 12, p 800. Kaye, Elaine; Lees, Janet and Thorpe, Kirsty (2004) Daughters of Dissent. London: The United Reformed Church. Marshall, Catherine E ([1915] 1987) ‘Women and War’, in Margaret Kamester and Jo Vellacott (eds) Militarism versus Feminism: Writings on women and war. London: Virago, p 39. McCarthy, Carol (1986) ‘Ordained and Female’, The Baptist Quarterly 31.7 (July) pp 334-6. McLeod, Hugh (1974) Class and Religion in the Late Victorian City. London: Croom Helm. Morgan, Sue (2013) ‘A “Feminist Conspiracy”: Maude Royden, women’s ministry and the British press, 1916-1921’, Women’s History Review, 22.5, pp 777-800. Riley, Maria (1989) Transforming Feminism. Kansas City, MO: Sheed and Ward. Robinson, Jane (2009) Bluestockings. London: Penguin Books, 2009. Royden, A Maude (1924) The Church and Woman, with a chapter on the Evangelical and Free Churches by Constance M Coltman, MA, BD London: James Clarke & Co Ltd. Ruether, Rosemary Radford (1983) Sexism and God-talk: Towards a Feminist Theology. London: SPCK. Selby, Peter (1991) ‘They Make Such Good Pastors’, in Richard Holloway (ed.) Who needs feminism? Men respond to sexism in the church. London: SPCK, pp 125-34.


Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

Snyman, Kevin (2015) Constance. watch?v=PpFfb8QhpgI (accessed 27/9/20). Snyman, Kevin (2017) ‘Celebrating 100 Years of Women’s Ordination’. (accessed 27/9/20). Thorpe, Kirsty (2003) ‘Daughters of Dissent’. London: The Congregational Memorial Hall Trust (1978) Ltd. Thorpe, Kirsty (2014) Tour of East London. watch?v=Ibe4db1S6ZA (accessed 27/9/20). Thorpe, Kirsty (2017) ‘Constance Coltman: A centenary celebration in historical context’ Feminist Theology, 26.1 (September), pp 8-18. Thorpe, Kirsty (2017) Sunday Worship at programmes/b094s0jn (accessed 12/9/2019). Waring, Marilyn (1989) If Women Counted: A new feminist economics. London: Macmillan. Who Are You Looking For?: Easter liturgies for the WCC Ecumenical Decade, Churches in Solidarity with Women, 1988-1998 (1988) London: British Region of the Ecumenical Forum of European Christian Women and the Women’s Interchurch Consultative Committee. Wootton, Janet (ed.) (2007) This is Our Story: Free Church women’s ministry. Peterborough: Epworth. Wootton, Janet (2015) ‘Mansfield College, Oxford: Dissent meets the Establishment’, in Janet Wootton (ed.) The Spirit of Dissent: a Commemoration of the Great Ejectment of 1662 (Winchester: Institute for Theological Partnerships Publishing [ITPP], pp 99-115. Wootton, Janet (2017) The Daily Service at programmes/b09546dt (accessed 12/9/2019). Wootton, Janet (2021) Cultural History of Women and Christianity: The Age of Empire 1800-1920. London: Routledge.



Baptism: act of theology of Baptist Birth control Bodies, women’s Brienen, Francis Brown, Antoinette Campbell, Karen Caprez-Roffler, Greti Chamberlain, Elsie Church of England/Anglican Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI/CCBI) Class Clothing/liturgical dress Coltman, Claud Communion/Eucharist Congregational Federation Congregational Union of England and Wales Congregational Council for World Mission (CWM) 192

29, 50-2, 73, 143 59-60, 77 7, 11, 112, 142, 164, 172, 184 29, 114, 134, 143, 178 36, 52-3, 69, 101, 172, 174, 182 9 24 11, 12-13 53-4 30 7, 11, 24-7, 112, 131, 137, 159, 176 6 26, 40, 73, 104, 109, 116, 120-2, 138, 151, 161, 165-6, 182 37, 108, 134, 184 10, 21-30, 127, 142, 161-4, 169, 173-4, 178-80 37, 50-2, 59-60, 73, 83, 86, 96-9, 100-1, 104, 112 32, 115, 145 25, 27, 28, 145, 161, 163 8, 16, 20, 22-30, 49, 112, 130, 133, 138, 142, 146, 153, 160, 162-8, 173-4, 178-80, 184 10-11, 102, 109, 174

Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

Cowley Road Congregational Church, Oxford 29, 143, 173, 176 Darby Street Mission Durber, Susan

22, 26-8, 142, 162-7 8, 9, 13,

Economic/working Life Ecumenical Forum of European Christian Women (EFECW) Education Ethnicity/race

20, 23, 27, 33, 35-7, 40, 45, 62, 76-8, 111, 114, 116-25, 126-9, 137, 165, 175, 182

Fageol, Suzanne Fellowship of Reconciliation Feminism Free Church Funerals

7 21, 30, 161, 163n58 6, 19, 26, 29, 42, 48, 117, 121-5, 135-6, 142, 158-9, 171, 176, 180-5 8, 24-5, 30, 134, 172, 176 36, 51, 101, 173

10-11, 51, 54, 65, 71, 126 6, 13, 24-6, 32, 35-8, 42, 46, 49, 61-2, 66, 111, 114, 119-20, 137-8, 141, 157, 167, 173 5, 11, 62-4, 107-9, 116, 120, 130, 151, 165, 182

Gender roles/spaces 16-17, 35, 42, 53-4, 107-15, 116, 128-30, 135, 138, 140, 143, 149, 151, 154, 166, 169-71, 180, 182-5 Greville Place Congregational Church, Kilburn 29, 143, 164, 169 Houston, Fleur Human rights

11, 14-15 6, 46, 120-2, 138,

Jesus and equality Justice

38, 67, 71, 78, 104, 112, 133-5, 146-9, 151, 173 6, 46-7, 53, 75, 92, 99, 109, 112-15, 116, 122, 128-9, 135, 144, 149, 151-2, 158 193

Kaye, Elaine King’s Weigh House

6, 8 8, 17-28, 141-3, 162-7, 180

Leadership, senior Lees, Janet

11, 13, 17, 38, 51, 59, 65, 71, 73, 82, 101, 102, 174, 176 8

Mansfield College, Oxford Marriage and family life Mayland, Jean Methodist Ministerial training Mission: local transnational

10, 13-14, 20, 22, 25-6, 29, 100-1, 132, 137-8, 142, 160-1, 164, 166 23-4, 27, 35-6, 40, 48, 50, 51-5, 62, 65-9, 103, 107-9, 111, 118, 128-9, 137, 141, 143, 147, 167, 174-8, 182 6-7 24-5, 112 6, 20, 25-6, 32, 38, 42, 49, 51, 55, 141-2, 146-7, 160, 163, 173, 175

Nockels, Suzanne Nonconformity/dissent

9, 12 13, 137-8, 159

Old Independent Church, Haverhill Orchard, WE Ordination Orthodox

29, 143, 166, 179 19-22, 26-8, 162-3 6-13, 16-33, 37-8, 50-4, 56, 61-2, 65, 72-3, 82, 92, 95, 101-4, 112, 115, 116, 119, 130, 133, 135-6, 137-8, 140-2, 144, 145-6, 150, 151, 154, 160-3, 174-6, 180-1 7, 10, 52-3, 65-71, 127

Pacifism Patriarchy/male privilege

6, 21-2, 24, 26, 30, 134, 135, 161-4, 178, 181 5, 17, 21, 35-42, 50-3, 69-71, 107-9, 111, 113, 119-21, 127, 133, 175, 181-2


22, 26-9, 42, 46, 112, 142, 162-7, 181 11, 32, 38, 100, 115, 159, 174

Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

Pentecostal Pioneers Politics and social change Poverty Preaching Presbyterian Priesthood Protestant

11, 60-1, 112 4-15, 16, 19, 24, 27-31, 34, 42, 44, 47, 49, 50, 74, 79, 83, 88, 91, 92, 101-4, 146, 151, 153, 156-7 6, 30, 44-6, 50, 66, 109, 111-2, 125, 126-31, 137, 144, 155, 164, 178 26, 38, 45, 48, 104, 107-12, 118, 122, 127, 165-6 5, 7-15, 20, 21-2, 25-7, 48, 51, 54, 59-60, 100-4, 141, 143-4, 145, 159-61, 164, 172-5, 176-7, 180-3 12, 21-5, 47, 72, 112, 115, 130-1, 142, 164 7, 14, 17, 37, 52-3, 56-60, 65-6, 69-71, 134, 172 24, 30, 51, 53, 134, 172

Reformation Reformed Churches Robinson, Tessa Henry Roman Catholic Royden, Maude

30, 112, 134, 172 50-1, 130 11 8, 10, 17, 28, 53, 56-62, 131, 136 26-7, 30, 161, 172, 176

Selbie, WB 10, 25-8, 142, 160, 176 Sexuality/gender identity 5, 53, 108-9, 114, 130, 180 Shaw, Anna 24 146-7 Smuts, Unez Society for the Ministry of Women 30, 144, 176 (Interdenominational) Somerville College, Oxford 5, 13-14, 24, 132-6, 138, 142, 157-9 Spirit of God 60-1, 77, 80-6, 95, 106, 107, 112, 149-50, 151-2 Stansgate, Lady 30 Stopes, Marie 29, 156, 178n154 Suffrage 6, 20, 24, 26, 50, 53, 104, 134, 135, 142, 157-9, 171, 181 Sunday School/Bible Class 109, 143, 166, 173, 177, 179


Thorpe, Kirsty Tillman, June Boyce Todd, Constance

8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 145, 7 20-3, 27, 72, 100, 139, 141, 161-2

Unitarian United Reformed Church University degrees

24, 184 7-9, 11, 62, 83, 100, 115, 139, 145 24, 42, 48, 119, 137-8, 142, 156-9, 167

Violence/abuse Vocation/call

103, 108-14, 134, 151, 164, 183 17, 23-5, 32-3, 43, 52-4, 55, 56, 60-1, 63, 66, 73, 86, 90, 94, 96, 100, 106, 111-2, 123, 127, 134-5, 137, 140-50, 151, 159-60, 167, 170, 175, 178, 181, 185

Weddings Whitefield Memorial Church Wolverton Congregational Church Women’s rights Wootton, Janet World Council of Churches (WCC) World War 1 World War 2

29, 36, 108, 113, 143, 169-73 13, 24

Zernike, Anne



29, 143, 145, 177-9 6, 37, 42, 59, 113-4, 116, 124, 134-6 7, 9, 13, 6-7, 12, 73, 102, 123-4, 129, 180 17, 19-22, 24-5, 116, 142, 160-5, 168, 171 116, 143, 178-9

Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher

Scripture references

Genesis 1:26-7 39, 42 Genesis 2:18 39, 65, 66 Exodus 1:15-21 39 Exodus 15:20 40 Judges 4-5 66 Judges 4:4 40 Ruth 139, 168-9 Esther 66 Esther 4:14 144, 173 Psalm 68:11 71 Psalm 119:105 33 Proverbs 10:23, 28-31 65 Proverbs 31:10-31 65 Isaiah 42:1-4 47 Isaiah 43:18-21 85 Joel 169 Amos 168 Obadiah 168-9 Jonah 14, 139-40, 168-9 Jonah 3:7-4:11 139-40 Nahum 169 Matthew 28:1-8 94, 100 Mark 16:1 67 Luke 1:46-55 185n194 Luke 10:38-42 67, 145, 147-8 John 10:10 116 John 20:1-18 133-6, 147 Acts 2 149 Acts 9:36-42 66 Acts 16:11-15 76-8 197

Acts 18:26 Acts 21:9 Romans 5:2 Romans 16 Romans 16:1 Romans 16:7 Romans 16:12 1 Corinthians 3:9 1 Corinthians 9 1 Corinthians 11:5 2 Corinthians 5:(16)17-21 Galatians 3:23-29 Galatians 3:28 Ephesians 2:11-16 Ephesians 3:12 Philippians 4:2-3 1 Timothy 2:5 1 Timothy 2:12 1 Timothy 3:11 Titus 2:3-5 Hebrews 4:16 Hebrews 5:1 Hebrews 10:19-22 Hebrews 13:1-3, 16 1 Peter 2:5


59 59 57 39 59 59 67 173 57 59 92, 100-4, 140 145 39, 107, 149 47 57 59 58 59 59 67 57 58 57 57-8 56

Credits p 5: Constance Coltman, Congregational Federation p 14: Global Gathering Participants, Chris Andrews/URC pp 21, 43, 49, 78, 81: Art Workshop Contributions, Janet Wootton p 33: Art Workshop Clay Model, Martha Kroes p 34: Conference photographs, Francis Brienen pp 82-99: Thanksgiving Service photographs, Judith Mbaabu Cover: Sara Foyle and Laura Jones/URC Book design: Sara Foyle/URC Proofreader: Dr Sarah Houlton With thanks to Francis Brienen and Steve Tomkins/URC


Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher The legacy of her courage is a perpetual challenge to the many churches who are yet to embrace the ordination of women. Lydia Neshangwe, Moderator of the Council for World Mission, the first African woman elected into this role My prayer is that as you read this book, you too will be influenced, challenged and inspired by the stories of faith and courage to live out your calling and be true to yourself. Yvonne Campbell, General Secretary of the Congregational Federation, the first woman to serve in this role When a door long barred finally begins to open … the first one to slip through it quietly is easy to overlook. Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher is to be commended for shining a timely light on the life and ministry of Constance Coltman. Kathy Galloway, writer and activist, the first woman Leader of the Iona Community This book is an encouragement for women who are still struggling with women’s ordination and leadership. The Revd Najla Kassab, President of the World Communion of Reformed Churches, the first woman in this role The diversity of ‘voices’ in the book is testament to our calling to shared ministry, secured by our common baptism and the Spirit’s gifting. Kuzipa Nalwamba, Lecturer in social ecumenical ethics at Bossey Ecumenical Institute and Programme Executive for Ecumenical Theological Education for the World Council of Churches, the first woman to serve as General Secretary of the Zambia Fellowship of Evangelical Fellowship In exploring the life of Constance Coltman, and the pioneering ministry of women in a whole variety of contexts, this book reminds us of the real diversity of the witnesses who surround us. Clare Downing, Moderator of the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church

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Constance: Pioneer, Pastor, Preacher  


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