I’m by no means the only person blogging on the Shared Conversations, although so far I’ve only found one, Charlotte Gale, using a blog before the event to reflect on her participation. One of the post-Shared Conversation bloggers is Richard Ashby, whose thoughts appear here. He is concerned about the lack of any clear ‘output’ (sorry, academic terminology from my day job creeping in…!) from the meetings, although different dioceses are coming up with their own local plans. He ends his reflection by mentioning the closing Eucharist, when “It was sad that our further divisions were apparent when four of those present did not receive the sacrament, presumably because the celebrant was a woman.”
This comment sent shivers down my spine. Flashing through my head went a series of images: turning to the person behind me in church to share the Peace, only for him to put his hands safely behind his back and shake his head at me; being a chalice assistant and having people walk straight past me; a friend of a friend who, as a priest (female) had someone try to bite her hand as she offered him the bread.
But, of course, we don’t know why people do what they do. Perhaps that person who wouldn’t touch me objected to the Peace, not to me, or perhaps he just doesn’t touch other people; perhaps the person walking past the chalice believes in receiving the bread alone; perhaps the biter was mentally ill. In the case of the Shared Conversations Richard Ashby attended, where some felt unable to take communion, perhaps it wasn’t because the celebrant was a woman, but because they didn’t feel sufficiently in unity with the other people present (whether they were right to respond by not taking communion is a further interesting theological question). In one other post-Shared Conversations blog, Jeremy Pemberton decided to leave before the Eucharist. He wrote “I was so angered by how I felt I and others were viewed and spoken about that I knew in conscience I was not in a state to receive communion with the community of the Conversation.”
Two conclusions from this. The first, that we can’t assume anything (my husband is prone to saying “to assume is to make an ass out of u and me”). The second, that it’s clear from other evidence that even women priests (legislation passed, 1992… that’s a while back), let alone women bishops (legislation passed, 2014), remain a step too far for some in the Church of England. And applying the first to the second, those who can’t accept the priestly ministry of women are probably coming to that conclusion from different theological positions. In my daily life, I rarely meet people who don’t agree that women can be priests. Once again, the Shared Conversations will take me to a place I don’t normally go…