In November last year, the Church of England voted against allowing women to become bishops. Nicola Hulks, a Church of England ordinand shares how this decision both rocked and strengthened her sense of calling.
I’m training to be a minister in the Church of England. It wasn’t a longheld dream; faith itself didn’t form part of my life until my early twenties. This vision, this passion for God’s church, crept up on me and suddenly here I am: studying, writing essays, preaching and teaching, preparing to be a leader of God’s people.
God in my life has brought a resounding “Yes.” A “yes” to my past in all its complexities, a “yes” to my upbringing so far from Sunday mornings in the pews, a “yes” to me as a woman–fully feminine–and a “yes” to my future, to my every potential.
This is probably why it knocked me off my feet so forcefully when, within eight weeks of beginning my training, the church issued a loud and public “No” to the ministry of women. The college was unusually subdued as we waited for the answer of the vote on whether women could finally become bishops in our church.
People huddled around laptops together and in front of TV screens watching the painful debates, dredging up old ground and uncovering wounds of the past. People asking questions, long answered in our tradition, of whether we should even be here at all, let alone be allowed into the top jobs.
There was no resolution by the time of our evening prayer service, so we left—hands in pockets, breath forming into clouds of steam in the cold air—and walked to the church together.
We had been praying a vigil for two weeks and the church was covered in signs, translated into many languages, all reading “Your Will Be Done.”
I prayed with intensity, the quiet wondering of the outcome playing in the background of my mind. When the service was over, we returned to the main college building, and the faces of those who had stayed behind said it all.
“The vote fell.”
I heard the words as I turned back round and slammed the door behind me.
The aftermath was thick with support; outrage on the one hand and certainty of a re-vote very soon on the other. Both angry voices and the sadness of those despondent in their own callings were present. Even now the debate rages on. Services are planned to reassure us that our ministries are valid, and yet that “No’”rings heavily … its echo still in my ears.
And the biggest, the heaviest question of all is the origins of that echoing “No.” Was God’s will done? Has God’s resounding Yes to me turned to No? What does this mean for me in this place, in this church, this nation? I worry for the future, for my future, that when that “stained glass ceiling” is smashed, the women below it will be hit by the shards.
And yet, slowly God has rebuilt me. Reminded me of Mary whom He called to sit at His feet. Reminded me of Lydia who led one of the first churches in the world. Reminded me of the great women who have come before me, of the great women who are around me. God has called me to speak for all the things we have to offer as women.
It has thrown me on the Bible, to explore the depths of everything it means to be a Christian, everything it means to be a woman today. It has led me to a place of greater assurance and a place of greater love for those who are lost in simply not being sure. It has led me into the stories of my ancestors and into imagining a new future in which men and women play an equal part.
Through all of this, God is making me strong. Even in the “No” from the Church, God is building me up. And when the “Yes” comes, that resounding, unequivocal Yes of my God and my King—oh, then we will celebrate.
Nicola Hulks is a Church of England Ordinand based in Oxford, England. Outside of the day job she spends a truly remarkable amount of time watching American TV dramas and is currently addicted to Nashville. She writes about the trials and tribulations of church life over at http://nicolahulks.blogspot.com
Image Credit: Sars Richardson