Faith with little hope

April 25, 1997

The Church of England may not always offer women a very positive experience, says a Warwick University researcher who is investigating faith and females.

In her paper, Learning to Swim When You Were Created to Fly, also presented at Warwick, Sandra Millar describes results from the first 18 months of her study of a group of women for whom Christian faith is important.

She says that even though the Anglican Church now allows the ordination of women, it does not necessarily provide a positive environment in which women parishioners can develop their faith.

Rather than providing an environment in which to expand and share real-life experiences of faith and spirituality, the church, she says, imposes a pre-suggested model of belief.

"I think these people do want a church," says Miss Millar. "But from my research so far I am not sure that these women's experiences of the church are very positive. They do it as part of the package - they feel as though they have to go to church." She cites women who, despite saying the church is terribly important to them, add that they are unable to be themselves while in church.

"The church doesn't always support their learning and development of faith," says Miss Millar. "The church calls itself a learning environment. I would question how valid that is for women. More account needs to be taken of people's real experiences."

According to Miss Millar the church places a particularly high priority on the role of women as mothers and home-makers. Women who work outside the home are often prey to guilt and pressure from within the church, which still uses male-dominated language that does not coincide with women's real-life experiences.

She adds: "The church is still in transition, adjusting to the employment of women priests. Literature about women in management concentrates on the experiences of the successful or would-be successful women, which in church terms becomes a preoccupation with ordination issues. But not every woman wants to be a priest."

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