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January & February Offerings
Half the Church:
Reclaiming the Role of Women in the Christian Community
By Margaret Helminska
Last year a celebratory Eucharist was held at The Church of the Advocate, marking the 40th anniversary of the 1974 “irregular” ordination of a group of priests. The “Philadelphia Eleven” were the first women to be ordained to the priesthood in The Episcopal Church. The ordination was deemed “irregular” because General Convention had not yet voted approval for such ordinations. That vote of approval did not come until 1976.
My daughters, ages 17 and 20, cannot remember a time when there were not women priests. For them, the sight of a woman at the altar, saying the words of consecration, and distributing Communion is a natural part of their Sunday morning experience. Yet the struggle to allow women full participation in ordained ministry continues, even within The Episcopal Church and certainly within the broader Anglican Communion. In the Church of England, for instance, recent appointments of women as bishops have been met with protests.
Women’s (and girls’) roles in the ministry of the church have been restricted for centuries. Some of us remember well when girls were not permitted to serve as acolytes, and when many choirs were restricted to men and boys. It was not until the late 1960’s that every diocese in The Episcopal Church even permitted women to serve on vestries.
Yet, women were present among the followers of Jesus and an active part of his ministry. Christianity promised that “there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). As such, women supported early churches, and some women seem to have functioned in ordained leadership roles. What happened to change this, and why? How did women continue to influence the life of the church when no longer permitted active roles in formal ministry? How and why did the restriction of women’s roles begin to change again in the 20th and 21st centuries? The speakers in Half the Church: Reclaiming the Role of Women in the Christian Community will address these questions. The history of women in the church is not simply a history of women, but the history of all of us, for the church is all of us, all one in Christ Jesus.
An Introduction to the History of Women in the Church
Women played an important role in the early Church, but their status had changed by the Middle Ages. Join historian and Redeemer parishioner Margaret Helminska as she reviews the roles women played in Greco-Roman-Judaic society at the time of Jesus, in Jesus’s ministry, and in the early church. How, when, and why these roles will also be part of the discussion.
Hagar, Mother of Other Nations
Though they tend not to get much exposure, some of the most memorable and important characters from Scripture are women. This is particularly true of Hagar, a pivotal character in Genesis. whose story transcends religious divisions and reveals that our understanding of God is often limited. Join Marie Conn, Professor of Religious Studies at Chestnut Hill College, as she explores the “real Hagar,” a woman who complicated salvation history.
“The Devil’s Appetizers”: Women’s Bodies in Christianity
According to ancient medicine, women’s bodies were softer, moister and more porous than those of men, and thus more open to evil influences. Over the course of history, women’s bodies were seen as sinful and in need of control. Join Stefanie Knauss, Assistant Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at Villanova University, as she explores how these negative views of women’s bodies have influenced women’s religious experiences and roles in the Church. She will also discuss positive historical and contemporary alternatives to these views that allow us to appreciate women as fully-expressed Christians.
So Close and Yet So Far: Women’s Ordination in the Roman Catholic and Episcopal Traditions
Roman Catholics and Episcopalians agreed on the issue of women’s ordination for centuries. In the 1970s, however, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States made the decision to ordain women to the priesthood. The Catholic Church has remained adamant in its opposition to the ordination of women, despite the fact that the majority of U.S. Catholics support the idea of women priests. This juxtaposition raises some important questions. What led the Episcopal Church to ordain women? Why has the Roman Catholic Church maintained its opposition to women priests? Will that opposition ever change? Join Dr. Margaret McGuinness, professor of religion and Executive Director of Mission Integration at La Salle University, as she explores these questions.
“To be One With Him in Full Fruition”: Medieval Women, Mystical Theology, and the Church
The Beguines were a group of women in the Middle Ages who, unlike nuns, took no formal vows but, like nuns, lived in poverty and chastity, seeking God. These women lived both alone and in community and worked as teachers, lace-makers, and theologians. Join Dr. Rachel Smith, Assistant Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at Villanova University, as she investigates the medieval women’s religious movement that gave rise to the Beguines and explores the writings of one thirteenth-century Beguine, Hadewijch of Antwerp, whose letters, visions and poetry developed a unique mystical theology that centered around the relationship between love, suffering, and union with Christ in his humanity.
“Thus I am a Feather on the Breath of God”: Abbess Hildegard of Bingen
Born to a noble family in late 11th Century Germany, Hildegard of Bingen was brought up in a monastery where she was enclosed in a cell with an anchoress to learn a life of prayer and obedience. She went on to become abbess and founded religious communities for women at Rupertsburg and Eibingen. Best known today for music she composed and for a series of writings, Hildegard devoted her life to God and had mystical experiences from the time she was three years old. Musician, artist, writer, dramatist, prophet, preacher, theologian, herbalist and natural healer, Hildegard lived a long life of service and was a woman of influence and power in a time when women’s roles in the church were highly restricted and women’s voices generally silenced. Join Margaret Helminska as she concludes our series by exploring the life and work of this fascinating figure.