Women in LeadershipFemale Leadership in the Church: Past, Present, and Future

A guest blog by the Revd Dana English, Assistant Curate at All Saints' Church in Rome and one of the organisers of the Female Leadership course.

Thirty women from the Anglican communion, from 16 countries all around the world, gathered in Rome for a week this past summer to ponder together examples of women's leadership in Rome's history, and how those qualities of leadership might, or might not, apply to them in their own continuing ministry today. The women came from the Diocese in Europe, ranging from Turkey to Sweden; Tanzania, Rwanda, Nigeria, and Pakistan; the United States, New Zealand and Australia.
 
After a welcome reception at the Anglican Centre, hosted by the Director, Archbishop David Moxon, and an initial talk by the Rev'd Dana English on recent textual-critical scholarship on the figures of Phoebe and Junia in the New Testament book of Romans, the first half of the week involved visits to sites associated with each of four female leaders in the church's long and rich history in Rome: Agnes, virgin martyr; Paola, companion to Jerome, Hebrew scholar and ascetic, founder of three monasteries in Palestine; Catherine of Siena, visionary, mystic, and diplomat; Francesca Romana, tireless benefactor of the poor in a Rome ravaged by disease and war.
 
The course was facilitated by six women from a range of disciplines: Margaret Visser, author of the classic book, "The Geometry of Love," on the embodiment of spirituality in the Church of Saint Agnes outside the Walls, led the visit to that very church. Her sister, the eminent church historian Dr. Joan Barclay-Lloyd, led the visit the following day to the churches of St. Jerome and St. Lawrence (S. Lorenzo in Damaso---Pope Damasus commissioned the Vulgate translation of the Bible from Jerome), and the rooms of Catherine of Siena in that street and in the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. Dr. Donna Orsuto, professor of medieval spirituality at the Gregorian University in Rome and founder of the Lay Centre, gave an illustrated lecture that evening on the life of Catherine of Siena. The third day the Rev'd Dana English introduced the life of Francesca Romana while Anna Sgobbi, a Renaissance art historian, talked about the unique fresco cycle that depicts Francesca's life in the Convent Francesca founded, and both then continued with the group from the Convent to the Church named for Francesca in the Roman Forum.
 
Each of the first three evenings there was a discussion of the sites visited that morning, and each day was framed by morning and evening prayer, with a eucharist on the final evening, Friday. As the participants were housed at both the Lay Centre and the Monastery guesthouse of S. Gregorio al Celio, worship was held at both places. A tour of the ancient site of S. Gregorio was given, in addition, to highlight the historic connection between Roman Catholics and Anglicans stemming from Pope Gregory's mission to the English in 597, his sending of St. Augustine from that very place.
 
The second half of the course was led by the Rev'd Dr. Lucy Morris from Australia, facilitator of many leadership courses. She led the group in considering qualities of leadership as well as their application in particular situations of ministry today. Small group work enabled each participant to contribute individual situations for the group's discussion.
 
One example of the intense level of discussion during the week was the topic of martyrdom in Agnes's time, the late third century, and how Christians are again being confronted by martyrdom in countries such as Pakistan today. Through the walks in the historic center of Rome, through conversation over meals, through informal gatherings during the afternoons, course participants shared their distinctive backgrounds and their variety of experiences with one another. New friendships were formed.
 
Icon painterOne unique addition to the richness of the week's offerings was the arrival of a Russian icon painter, Sergei, at S. Gregorio, and his willingness to talk to the group about the newly-completed icon the Monastery had commissioned from him. This talk preceded the group's Anglican celebration of the eucharist in this ancient Christian site.
 
The Anglican Centre is serving as a center for a continuing network of thoughts and shared discussion by those on the course on the topic of women's leadership in the church, especially within the Anglican communion. We hope to expand this network through subsequent courses!
 

Dana English, 07/09/2015