An online conversation about Called: Women in Ministry in Ireland written by Anne Francis took place this week.
She was joined by Bishop Sarah Groves (Gracehill) and the Revd Canon Elaine Murray (Cork) who offered their responses to the book, followed by a discussion.
Anne introduced the book by sharing that it comes not just from her but from the women who gave their time to share their experience and as such has been a process of curating the voices of women. Research came from her own experience and the experience of others and encapsulates challenges, frustrations, laughter and hopeful times. Those interviewed had chosen ministry as their main life choice in many different forms. Anne also noted that it was important to include all denominations and both jurisdictions of the island because of a history of sectarianism.
The book itself is in three parts — an historical and theological contextual overview, themes emerging from research and thirdly, interviews with different women working in ministry telling their own story in their own words.
It was highlighted that many of the women shared that their experience was not only about gender but they did acknowledge a gendered context for their work. Interestingly, every woman spoke about being and feeling ‘called’ although a question wasn’t asked about this specifically.
Women also shared the desire to see a commitment from churches around women’s flourishing in ministry and noted the ecumenical development influenced and led by women when it often seems that men are more typically appointed to ecumenical roles.
“a starting point for conversations as gathering women’s views on ministry in Ireland has not happened before, particularly across denominations.”
Bishop Sarah Groves, Moravian minister and Vice–President of ICC, shared that she was fascinated that someone was interested in the experience of women when approached to take part in the research. She shared that there is a lot in the book that goes across denominations and takes into account not just difficulties of gender but also the sectarian sphere present in Northern Ireland. She also reflected on how issues of equality in ministry my not be solely due to gender but also include the issue of bullying and having and asserting power/control.
Rev Canon Elaine Murray shared that it was nourishing to be involved. She noted that readers of the book will gain a clearer understanding of the ups and downs of women’s ministry and that it will also help those trying to discern a vocation through reading the stories collected.
The evening continued with further discussion on how those present could relate to experiences shared in the book. There was a sense of agreement in how this has been a starting point for conversations as gathering women’s views on ministry in Ireland has not happened before, particularly across denominations.