21 November 2012

Backward Britain (I'm a little angry)

A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun for sorrow will not show his head.
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things. 
Romeo and Juliet

What a bleak morning. Cold, dark, wet. Most appropriate for my mood. I should probably wait until I am in a calmer frame of mind before I attempt to craft some sort of response to the appalling result of the Church of England's General Synod vote on women bishops. 

But, really, what is there to say that hasn't already been said, and said betimes? I've offered my views on the matter in a number of occasions, most notably here: "Girl Power". And although my tone is largely flippant, there is a great deal of seriousness there.

The most shocking points are that the motion was defeated by a narrow margin, a mere 6 votes, and the dissenting constituency was the Laity. Not Bishops (both the current and in-coming Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams and Justin Welby voted in favour of women bishops), not Clergy, but the Laity. Those representing common, every day folk.

As sit here, a Churchwarden and key-holder of my local parish church, I cannot understand how anyone could possibly need to grapple with this issue! Our tiny village congregation is overwhelmingly female, and I am sure we are the rule and not the exception. Of our two Churchwardens, both of us are women; of our Readers, one is male, one female; of Clergy, one male, one female. An absence of women in roles of leadership and authority would bring our little parish to a halt. And, I have no doubt, in this day and age, that we are not unique. In our Benefice of 6 small parishes, half of the Churchwardens are women.

Of course, I am not equating being a Churchwarden with being a Bishop, but my points are that leadership, whether on a day-to-day parish level or diocesan level, is leadership; and that the face, heart and soul of the CofE -- on a day to day level -- is largely female.  

At a time when the Church is asking itself how it can reach out, be relevant and meet the needs of an ever-changing contemporary world, we take a step that appears positively Medieval! "Transform communities, make new disciplines," and etc. How can we do this when the message is quite clear: the contributions of women in the Church are valued - up to a point.

Today's news hurts, and it hurts us all. The Traditionalists and the Evangelicals - a rather odd marriage if ever there was one! - may have won, but at what cost?  

There is one Traditionalist group who call themselves Together 4ward. (Yeah, right.) How can we move forward together on this? As someone who has seriously contemplated -- and continues to contemplate quite seriously -- the possibility of pursuing a vocation within the Church of England, what am I meant to make of this result? Should it give me pause? 

Of course, one does not or should not pursue a vocation with an eye to achieving top tier status, one pursues a vocation to serve. It is a calling to humble action, not an aspirational career move. That being said, how can the Church counsel its women novitiates, mentor or encourage them with a stained glass ceiling above their heads?

And perhaps, this is what the Traditionalists and the Evangelicals wish for most. That women novitiates will be put off, give up, give over and move on. "Why bother", I saw one woman had written on a news comments page, "I'll just become a Methodist." Alas, no! Do not retreat! This needs to be a call to arms! "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!"   

This is a time to demonstrate that women within the Church of England are here to stay, a force with which to reckoned, and we'll not give up the fight! 

08 November 2012

Finding treasure close to home

“Give me the map.” – King Lear

Along with Her Majesty The Queen, Sebastian Coe, and Britain’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes, Shakespeare is having a great year. As the headlining act of the London 2012 “Cultural Olympiad”, Shakespeare’s life and works have featured in heavy rotation across a range of media (stage, screen, television, radio &etc). One of the most outstanding offerings of this landmark ‘Bardfest’ is a stunning exhibition at the British Museum mounted in collaboration with the RSC.
“Shakespeare: Staging the World” focuses on the playwright's world, both real and imagined. It takes us on a journey from medieval England and the forest of Arden, to Venice, Rome and finally to Prospero's magical isle.
Flying in the face of conspiracy theories, such as those espoused by the recent film “Anonymous”, the British Museum’s exhibition confirms William Shakespeare as the author of the greatest works of English literature, and posits Warwickshire firmly as the undisputed site of his inspiration and imagination.
Without doubt, Shakespeare’s Warwickshire origins were extremely important to him, and his works are steeped in references to local places, wisdom, tradition and folklore. His plays reveal a country dweller’s knowledge and appreciation of the romance and reality of rural life. This was delightfully realised in the exemplary British Museum show.
At the heart of the exhibition is the magnificent Sheldon Tapestry Map of Warwickshire. This map was one of a set of four tapestry maps made in the 1580s. They were commissioned by Ralph Sheldon (1537-1613) to hang in his new home at Weston in Warwickshire. The maps were made at the Sheldon tapestry works at Barcheston, Warwickshire. The tapestry works were set up by Ralph's father, William, with the aim of creating a tapestry-making industry in Britain by training locals to become weavers.
This extraordinary work of art – hand-woven in Warwickshire – is a pictorial record of the county in Elizabethan times, showing the River Avon, the Forest of Arden, the hills of Brailles and Burton Dassett, as well as fields, towns, villages and great houses of the gentry. It allowed me to see my world as Shakespeare saw it.
With delight, I surveyed the territory I call home, familiar to me even with archaic, 16th century spellings: Warwicke, Lemmington, Kenelmworth, Coventrie, Stretford, Wasbvrton, Welsborn, Charlcot and Sherborn. Although rendered as Bearfoote, my beloved Barford was indeniably present - immediately distinguishable by its lovely bridge crossing the Avon.
I was surprised to find that this precious artifact, previously unknown to me, is held in the collection of the Warwickshire Museum Service. It can usually be seen in all its glory at the Market Hall Museum in Warwick. As is often the case, it is only in traveling great distances that we are lead to discover and appreciate the rare treasures that lie close to home.
More information
                           “Shakespeare: Staging the World” - Continues until 25 November 2012                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 www.britishmuseum.org