« PreviousContinue »
considering the work accomplished by many married women, there is no reason why a married deaconess should not be able to do much useful work for the Church. It is probable that the removal of the ban on marriage would do away with the objection often felt by parents to seeing their daughters enter a life which pledges them to celibacy, though it is unlikely that many deaconesses would in any case wish to marry.
The marriage question really gains its chief importance from its bearing upon the meaning attached to the ordination of deaconesses; and on this depends too the nature of the functions which by virtue of their office they are allowed to exercise, and which are not permitted to unordained women. These have never been stated ; and it is probable that this indeterminate condition of the order has led to its growth being much slower than was hoped. It does not really afford sufficient scope, except in rare cases, to an able and highly educated woman. The modern girl, eager for wide opportunities of service, sees little more in a deaconess than rather an ordinary, uninteresting church-worker. The public, as a rule, only notices that she wears a distinctive dress, and assumes that she is some kind of nurse, not that she holds any special position in the Church. If the deaconess in the Anglican Church is to perform the work expected of her, her position should be recognised as one of dignity and importance; she must have her defined place in the orders of the Church and her peculiar functions, and her voice must carry due weight in its councils.
If we go on to consider other openings for women in the Church we find that those of a certain temperament in the various sisterhoods offer the kind of life which meets their aspirations. The religious life is a special
. vocation ; it has its own place in the life of the Church ; but it does not meet the needs of those who do not feel called to the secluded life, and wish to live in the world while they serve the Church. In this separation of the religious life from the secular life, there seems to them a savour of mediævalism and unreality. Such women do not wish to keep religion out of any department of life, or to feel that the religious life is a thing apart. To them, worldliness stands for the activities of this life with God left out. They wish for fullness of life, but God brought
in everywhere. They recognise that there are special kinds of work that can best be done by those who live in seclusion, but for them the secluded life has no call, and its emphasis on a special attitude of women as regards men is opposed to the ideal of free comradeship in work between men and women which is characteristic of the younger generation.
Other spheres of work were opened up to women at the time of the National Mission, by the institution of Pilgrimages of Prayer. Women, after some brief preparation, went in small bands, in a simple pilgrim's dress, through the country villages, making a stay of a couple of days in each village, visiting the women, praying with them and giving addresses. Their work has met with so much appreciation that it is likely to continue on a permanent basis. In many dioceses qualified women are being chosen as messengers, who shall be ready, on the demand of the Bishops and clergy, to help in missions, to teach, to give addresses, and to conduct meetings for prayer. Pilgrims and messengers alike give only a portion of their time to this work, and do not regard it as in any sense a profession.
The mission field has offered probably the most attractive opening for women who wish to give their whole life to the service of the Church. But here too they have felt themselves crippled by the way in which the work is organised, both at home and abroad. Too often the ultimate authority rests with councils on which they are not
they are not represented. The difficult problems which confront missionary work, and should be discussed by all workers of experience together, are discussed by men and women separately; and the final decision rests with the men. This practice is no doubt slowly changing, but in many departments and many spheres of work the change proceeds very slowly. Consequently, women are unable to make their full contribution to the solution of urgent and complicated problems; their thinking powers are not called out, and their faculties are atrophied for want of use. The times call for great women leaders and thinkers both in the mission field and on mission boards at home; but too often we seem hardly to have got beyond the days when the chief work of women for missions at home was considered to
be to collect money, and to organise prayer-meetings and working-parties. There remain of course all the usual activities of parochial life, in which women, next to the clergy, have long taken the most important part. But it has been work directly under the clergy, and dependent upon their approval and sanction. So long as the virtues of obedience and submission were considered as an end in themselves, no one questioned this state of things, either in the parish at home or in the mission abroad; but the modern woman asks why she should obey and whom, and to what purpose is her submission. She often feels more capable than the curate; it is possible that she has read and studied more even than the vicar or the head of the mission. If she is to work with the clergy, it must be on a basis of comradeship and co-operation.
The passing of the Enabling Bill has vitally changed the position of women in the councils of the Church. They have been recognised as forming part of the laity. On the parish councils they will be able to take their share in such part of the work of the parish as shall be entrusted to these councils. Here the danger may be that feminine influence will be too much felt, since the ordinary woman is much more interested in Church affairs and has more available leisure, as a rule, than the ordinary layman. It would be disastrous if the parish councils should seem to be run by women; and women
; as well as men must be on their guard against this possibility. The position given to women by the Enabling Bill will doubtless react on their whole position in the organisation of the various Church societies. Their practical gifts will be increasingly utilised ; and it will be more universally recognised that they are fit to be entrusted with other work than the raising of money or the execution of Church embroidery.
But fuller opportunities to share in the administrative work of the Church cannot be expected to satisfy their desires. They can no longer accept in a submissive spirit what is stated to be the immemorial and consistent custom of the Catholic Church. The immense change in the social position of women since the days of the Early Church seems to call for a revision of the principles which then actuated the regulations that
governed the work of women. An inquiry such as that conducted by the Archbishop's Committee may have deep historical interest, but its conclusions as to past practice do not provide decisions valid for all times. Just as the monastic system grew up in accordance with existing needs, so the needs of the present time, and the changes in the position of women in the State, now call for further developments. It is of the essence of the teaching of Christ that it meets the needs of all times and of all conditions; it is a living spirit, not a dead letter. Probably it would be generally agreed that no deep and vital change should be made by one branch of the Catholic Church alone. At a time when there is such urgent necessity that a united Church should witness to Christ in a distracted world, few could wish to do anything which would erect new barriers between the great Churches of Christendom. Yet it might surely be possible to make some further use of the ministry of women without involving too hopeless a breach with Catholic tradition.
The exceptional needs of the years of war as well as the National Mission gave an opportunity for temporary experiments which was unfortunately lost through the opposition of the extreme Catholic party. Its members seemed to forget that even in Roman Catholic countries women are allowed to lead in litanies recited both in processions and in church. On the other hand, we owe it to Puritan influence that our churches are no more the homes of the people, but are so often kept with closed doors from one Sunday to another. There seems no reason why the church, the most beautiful and the biggest room in the village, should not be used for all the gatherings of the villagers held for serious purposes, as well as for mystery plays and music and all other objects tending to raise the spiritual life of the village. Some who have been anxious that women should be allowed to speak in the churches have been partly at least moved by the desire to see a fuller use made of the parish church. They would claim too that, as women form part of the laity, they should be allowed to do all that is permitted to laymen.
As laymen are allowed to help the clergy by reading the lessons in church, it might seem reasonable that a suitable woman should be suffered to do the same. Women have been welcomed as soloists at musical festivals in our great cathedrals; and it is not easy to see why to read the Bible aloud should give more offence than to sing its words. The question that has been most debated has been that concerning women being allowed to speak or preach in church. In order to arrive at a sound opinion on this subject, we need to come to a clear conclusion as to the position of the sermon in divine service. English people like to complain about the sermon and to criticise it mercilessly, but for the most part they feel defrauded when they are given a service without a sermon. All thinking people recognise that it is not easy for a hard-worked parish-priest to preach even one good sermon every week ; and often two or more are demanded of him. Yet there may be both laymen and laywomen in his congregation who have a message to give, and who may possibly have time for more reading and study than he has. The hungry sheep look up and are not fed, whilst those with stores of food that they would glady offer sit silent. The people are in deep need of teaching at this time; and the Church should be free to make full use of the teaching and prophetic gifts possessed by its members. Of late years women have been encouraged to engage in serious theological study. The Archbishop of Canterbury has instituted a special diploma for them which can only be won after prolonged and serious study. But those women who have won it can find little opportunity to use for the good of others the knowledge they have acquired, while young men without their knowledge preach sermons which they have hardly had time to prepare.
This again is so opposed to common sense that one asks what are the reasons which lead to the strong objection felt against the preaching of women. It will be answered that common sense has nothing to do with the matter, which has been decided by the age-long practice of the Church. It is stated with truth that the place of the sermon in the Prayer-book makes it part of the Liturgy. But there are sermons also at afternoon and evening services and on special occasions. Probably it would be well to confine lay-preaching to special occasions, but both laymen and laywomen might be