It seems like an appropriate day to reflect on my research with women in ministry in Ireland, which has occupied my thoughts for over a year now. The final phase of the project is just days away and will involve a twenty four hour session with women in ministry from around the country who will reflect with me on the findings in the WMI report. So far there are nineteen women coming and they come from five Christian denominations. Already they have volunteered to lead prayer and worship, and are in touch about car -pooling. They tell me they are looking forward to the gathering and I am so looking forward to getting to know them over our time together.
These participants are each ministers in their own traditions, whether religious sisters, spiritual directors, ordained ministers, liturgists, educators, preachers or theologians. They are giving their precious time to respond to my report which emerged from questionnaires and interviews with female ministers across the denominations and from four corners of Ireland. An article about the report and a link to the report itself can be found on the Irish Council of Churches website, https://www.irishchurches.org/news-blog/5322/women-in-ministry-in-ireland .
Reflecting on the last year I feel quite overwhelmed by the privilege it has been for me to meet women in ministry through receiving the questionnaires and interviewing women for the project. In researching the experience of female ministers I have depended on them to entrust to me their very personal experiences of God’s call; their journey to ministry; their hopes and disappointments; their spiritual life and the joys and challenges of their day to day ministries and other aspects of their lives. In each woman’s reflections there is a unique expression of discipleship and ministry. There is a unique expression of the fruitfulness of a particular relationship between God and a faithful person. Encountering this in my travels has given me a sense of the depth of what is possible when people respond to God’s call.
The findings are now on public record, but I am personally both moved and challenged by this experience. These ministers are kind and gracious. They responded with thought and good humour to my questions. They are humble and uncomplaining; prayerful, sincere and gifted. They see the Church as it is with all its problems and speak constructively about growth and reform – the ‘truth in love,’ (Eph 4:15).
A vision for Church emerges from this experience. Reading and meeting these women makes me feel that the endeavour of Church can be successful. They spoke about the joy of the Gospel; collaboration, inclusivity and service. They are firmly located in their denominations and traditions but all are open to share and learn with others. Many are active in ecumenism. In my encounters with them I recognise a Church with discipleship at its core and with a theology and praxis of love. This is a Church which gets its sleeves rolled up in communities and recognises the privilege of presence with God’s people. It is a Church which takes humanity as it is and cherishes it. It is a Church which can laugh at itself and be serious about mission and grace. It is not caught up in itself but oriented in wisdom toward transformation in the Spirit. I hope it is the Church we are growing into in Ireland.