|The Rev. Ellen Clark-King, priest associate at Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver|
‘Nottata persa e figlia fimmina’ - this Sicilian saying is used colloquially to refer to something that has been a total waste of time. Its literal meaning is ‘a night wasted and it’s a girl’, referring to a Sicilian husband spending the night at the bedside of his wife in labour only to be presented with a baby girl rather than the much desired boy.
Here in cosmopolitan and liberal Vancouver it’s sometimes hard to remember that gender equality is a mere dream in many parts of the world: that there are still parents who choose to abort a female foetus rather than be saddled with a girl child.
But even here women within the Church still often feel marginalized. This has to do both with the structure of the Church, and with the image of God it presents to us. Although the pews of churches throughout the world are dominated by women, to a greater or lesser extent in different cultures, the Church leadership is still overwhelmingly male. In Canada there are a small number of women bishops but their presence is still rare enough to be noteworthy.
The hierarchical structure of the Church is unattractive to many women - and to no small number of men. It seems to reflect a ‘father knows best’ mentality that can stifle the contributions of lay Christians, especially if they happen to be young or old or working-class or female. It has also, until very recently, provided only a male image for sacred leadership and reinforced the subliminal message that women do not reflect the image of God as truly as men do.
Add to this that we address God as ‘He’, talk comfortably of God as Father but not as Mother, and use the title ‘Lord’ so often that it becomes almost another name for God. Someone whose only knowledge of Christian theology came from attending Church services would be left in little doubt that the Christian God is male. I don’t mean to suggest that male language for God is inappropriate; I do mean to suggest that using only male language for God is inappropriate.
A new group that I am hosting at the Cathedral, provisionally entitled “God’s Daughters,” is intended to provide a counter-point to the masculine culture of Church structures and religious language. It is not a new idea for Anglican women to meet together and it may be that, in the future, we will invite men to join us in contemplating the womanly God, and the womanly Church.
However, while expressions like ‘nottata persa e figlia fimmina’ are still in circulation, there is reason for women to gather and remind each other that we are God’s beloved daughters, called to be icons of God to other women and to men.
This article first appeared in Contact, the parish newsletter of Christ Church Cathedral. It has been abridged slightly.