Halifax Minster
Sunday 20th March 2022

Lent 3 – Jane’s Farewell & Reflection on Monday’s Lent Course No. 3 Gender

Sermon from Revd David Carpenter

In the name of God: our wisdom and our truth.

Well – Goodbye Jane.

I say this with some regret, but also with joy.

Regret because I am losing a colleague, although not a friend. At least I hope not; friendship is something more durable than where your furniture is located.

Joy: Joy for you, because you have come to that next step in a much valued and appreciated ministry and it is for you to now take on responsibly in a new parish, in a different branch of the Anglican Communion, indeed in a new country.

So, it is with regret and joy I embrace you and bid you farewell as you move to Yr Eglwys yng Nghymru.

This Church in Wales – what is the difference between it and the Church of England?

I was once, rather patronisingly, asked that question, and I responded with a single word in reply: older.

The story goes that it was St Augustine who in the late 6th century was sent from Rome to England to bring Christianity to the Anglo-Saxons. He would ultimately become the first Archbishop of Canterbury, establish one of medieval England’s most important abbeys, and so kickstart the country’s conversion to Christianity.

This is not the complete story, so the tale goes.  When he came to the Afon Hafren (River Severn) he met with the Celtic Bishop and discovered that Christianity was long established with its own history and story to tell.

The legend goes that the Welsh bishops in deciding how to meet this emissary from Pope Gregory concluded that if he stood when they met, it was a sign that he counted them as equals and therefore there could be dialogue. If, however he remained seated, then it was to be considered as a sign of superiority and an attempt to usurp independence and to impose conformity to the see of Rome.

I’ll leave you to guess which way all this went, for ultimately the church in this land was to become what we were later to term the Catholic Church under the jurisdiction of the Pope.

That is until the reformation and the subsequent creation of what you and I know as the Church of England amongst other Christian groups through a period of reformation and counter reformation.

This is the brief history lesson over.

Why do I tell you this tale?

Well, it seems to me that much of this, as in so much else, often has to do with conformity. The desire for others to be like us, to get everyone on the same side, singing, as we say, from the same hymn book.

Isn’t it wonderful when people see things as we seem them; conform to our standards and expectations? We seem to favour conformity, or at least the things with which we are familiar, rather than diversity. We seem to distrust difference.

On Monday evenings, over the last three weeks, we have been engaging with the subject of inclusivity.  We have looked at disability, ethnicity and, last Monday, Gender.

At least one stand of thought that has emerged has effectively asked why we see often see difference as disturbing, rather than as ‘gift’.

So, it falls to me today to reflect on last Monday’s meeting and the topic of Gender.

It soon became very clear that ‘Gender’ is a much wider topic than sex.

We began, certainly, by reflecting on what we understood about Sex, Gender, Gender Identity and Gender Expression, but we soon moved on to some disturbing statistics about equality (or should I say inequality) and Gender discrimination. The world’s population is roughly equal in terms of male and female, yet:

  • Nearly 70% of the population living in poverty are women, as opposed to 30% of men.
  • Globally, nearly 80% of those occupied in agricultural work are female, compared with just over 20% of males.
  • Whilst amongst those owning land just short of 100% are men and women occupy a percentage barely above zero.
  • Amongst those involved in government some 20% are women, whilst 80% are men.
  • It is less than 150 years since married women were permitted to own their own property, and only around 100 years since women were first permitted to participate in local government, and to vote.
  • The first woman doctor 1865.
  • The first woman accountant 1909.
  • The first women priests 1994.
  • The first woman bishop 2015 – Only seven years since.

I could go on, but you get the picture. There is a large gender gap.

Equally, I could argue that in their turn men have fought similar discriminations and inequalities.

In the Middle Ages most of us would have been serfs: tied to the land and to the Lord of that manor. Unable to vote, subservient to wealth and power.

For some, there may well be the feeling that little has changed.

So as I reflected, I began to wonder what as Christians we mean by ‘Salvation’?

Is it simply about what happens when we throw off this mortal coil?

Or, is it justice and liberation for all in this life?

I wonder how the women and children, the elderly and vulnerable people fleeing for their lives in Ukraine would answer that question?   What does salvation mean for you?

Perhaps it could be, should be viewed, as he right of everyone to be able to stand tall, speak up, and not be downtrodden?

And where do we as a church stand on this, as part of the Christian family here in Halifax, as we reflect on inclusivity?

Should we, could we, do we view disability, ethnicity, and Gender within a spectrum of diversity and view it as a gift to us all?

Are we tuned in to the amazing, wonderful creative diversity that God delights in and gifts to us?

Do we really take to heart the amazing truth that whoever we are, whatever others are, whatever the gifts, talents, abilities, disabilities, race, creed, colour, gender we are all loved and cherished by God; deserving of recognition, acceptance, and valued for who we are – beloved children of God.

In your heart of hearts, you will know how far we fall short of this heavenly, kingdom ideal.

You don’t need me to tell you that there is much in our world that screams inequality.

  • Many struggle to make ends meet.
  • Many are homeless, helpless underprivilege, undernourished.
  • Many live in the shadow unrecognised and unwanted.

This is far from the world that Jesus envisaged, it is not the model that he calls us to embrace.

We need a better world and isn’t that a Gospel call, a Gospel imperative.

Each person unique, valued and above all saved from the inequalities of disability, ethnicity and gender. Each person a gift to us from God with love.

Finally – Jane, ewch gyda Duw. Ewch gyda’n cariad a’n bendith. (Jane, go with God. Go with our love and blessing.)

Amen.