Most modern Western theologians – and not just feminist ones – today would reject the idea that was dominant in the Church for centuries that God was definitely male, and it was part of the natural order that males should assume the positions of leadership.

It was 31 years ago that the Canadian Church began ordaining women, and in 1988 some 90 per cent of bishops attending a Lambeth Conference said they’d respect the decision of any Province to ordain female bishops – though not all would do so (England still is debating).

However, there still are Anglicans – mostly, but not exclusively older ones – still uncomfortable with inclusive language. Some are women. And many of these women are good and faithful Christians.

Ellen Clark-King is a priest (currently an associate at Christ Church Cathedral), decidedly in the mainstream feminist camp, whose first job was as a chaplain and fellow of a college at Cambridge University – not a place of a great deal of serious opposition to her views on gender.

Then she and husband Jeremy (also a priest, now at St. James, Vancouver) decided they wanted to work in a “less academic, less elite environment.” He took a job at a church in the East End of Newcastle-on-Tyne. She volunteered as a non- stipendiary priest at a parish nearby, while continuing work on a doctorate at Lancaster University.

This book is based on her doctoral thesis. Clark-King decided to interview a number of local ‘working class’ women. Methodists and Roman Catholics were included as well as Anglicans from two parishes.

The book may be seen as a dialogue between feminist theologians and the women, who usually rejected the idea that God might be seen as female. Edith, for instance, said that to her “God’s a big man all in white things, grey hair and white beard. Very benign.”

Or Catherine: “He created us male and female for a purpose… I think leadership I see mainly as a male role, and that’s what I see in a priest is a leader, and I feel that is a male role.”

Clark-King shows courage and tenacity in listening to statements like these and trying hard to understand them from her perspective. She refuses to simply dismiss them, insisting that the women she interviewed “speak of God and prayer and life and the Church with heartfelt intensity, humour and honesty.”

She suggests that in some ways thinking of God as male allows the women to think of Him as “a heavenly lover. Having found this love, they are then free to put their energy into living rather than the endless round of romantic search and disappointment.”


The Rev. Ellen Clark-King

Still, it is obvious that she agrees herself with feminist theologians who say omitting female images of God gives us “a hopelessly lopsided view of who God is.”

While Clark-King insists that the “transcendent yet intimate” image of God that the women possess is of great value, she cannot really reconcile it with her own. She is frustrated that she finds it easier to introduce the ideas of the women to theologians; it is very difficult “to introduce the ideas of feminist theologians to the women of St. Anthony’s estate.” (St. Anthony’s was one of the local neighbourhoods.)

“Yet the traffic in theological thinking needs to go both ways if it is to be truly profitable – all parts of a choir need to listen to one another if they are eventually to sing together,” she concludes.

But, as we in this diocese know, that is oh so hard to actually do.