I attended the workshop “Women in Worship” with high hopes. The topic was women in worship. Not women outside of worship, not women in ministry in general, but in worship. When Orthodox say “worship,” we mean “liturgy.” This was the only session on the issue of the liturgical participation of women in ministry. It should have been quite good, given that women are participating in liturgy with increasing frequency (though still with painful slowness). What an opportunity to hear reflections on this change, the struggles which remain, and encouragement to creatively persist.
The vast majority of the opening presentation however, said nothing about women in worship.
Before the conference, I was asked to be a “dedicated listener,” sharing my reflections in our final session together. This is, for the most part, what I said, minus ad lib and tears:
The question with which I entered this conference, is how do we have this conversation? I ask this because, as we have seen over the last few days, there is a wide range of thought, comfort, emotion and opinion on this issue. Since it is apparently my call to ask questions, often uncomfortable ones, I would like to present questions which I hope reflect what was said, not simply what I heard.
Saturday gave conference participants the opportunity to attend smaller workshops on a variety of topics, practical and theological. I have attached the schedule, and I strongly recommend that if any of the topics are of interest to your communities, invite these women to come and speak!
Friday afternoon was given over to a panel of four women engaging in active service ministries. Ann Campbell runs a St. Nektarios OCF house at the University of Oregon. Over 60% of our youth leave the Orthodox Church when they go to college. Her job, as she says, is to provide a committed faith-home for students, to be a “midwife for Christian adulthood,” helping students transition into a mature, adult faith.
The afternoon (yesterday, I am a bit behind) was opened to comments. Rather than summarize, I am simply going to post peoples (slightly edited and nameless) comments, some of which I found very surprising:
When I graduated from seminary, all of us, men and women, were given a cross as a sign of the Bishop’s blessing to teach. While I preached before receiving the cross, I discovered that wearing the cross makes a difference, it is the indication of an official blessing from the bishop to serve, indicating reciprocity and responsibility. It makes a difference.
I am grouping the next two talks into one post, partly due to time, but mostly because they are thematically related. Dr. Kyriaki FitzGerald spoke on the connection between Eve, Mary and Us, emphasizing the blessedness of those who hear the word of God and keep it. Dr. Mary Ford offered the diverse lives of women saints, each of whom attained holiness in and through the circumstances of their lives. The common thread through each is freely responding to the work of God in order to abide in God, acquiring grace. Ford’s emphasized that fulfilling our vocation is not necessarily about fulfilling our gifts, but to do whatever is before us with all our hearts.
The conference, after generous introductions, was opened by a video of Juliana Schmemman. Commenting on, and critiquing, Matushka Schmemman feels a bit like publicly questioning everyone’s favorite grandmother. I appreciate her passionate endorsement of action, of participation, and am chastened by her reminder that joy must be a part of all we do and that we must be grateful for even the smallest moments given by a generous God. Likewise, the heart of her sermon (that is what it was, a sermon not a talk or presentation) is about the importance of using our freedom well, to love God and neighbor. Freedom is not simply the motto of the present age, but fundamental to our life in Christ, and it is through freely choosing to follow Christ that we experience, and share joy.