For the Good of the Church
Unity, Theology and Women
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What do we need to learn and receive from the other to help us address challenges or wounds in our own tradition? That is the key question asked in what has come to be known as 'receptive ecumenism'. And nowhere is this question more pressing and pertinent than in women's experiences within the church.
Based on qualitative research from five focus groups, For The Good of the Church exposes the difficulties women face when they work in a church - sexism, unfulfilled vocation, and abuse of power and privilege, as well as the wide range of gifts and skills which women bring in light of these.
The second part of the book continues to draw on the particular wounds and gifts, which arise in the focus groups. Specific case studies are used to identify gifts of theology, practice, experience, vocation and power.
Against negative prognoses of an 'ecumenical winter', the book reveals how radically different theological and ecclesiological perspectives can be a space for learning and receiving gifts for the well-being of the whole Church.
1 What is Receptive Ecumenism? 11
2 Designing the Research 39
3 Gifts, Wounds and Emerging Themes 58
4 The Gift of Hospitality 89
5 The Gift of Vocation 114
6 The Gift of Leadership 139
7 The Gift of Power 164
Appendix 1 197
Appendix 2 211
"In order to engage with the ‘gifts’ of women working within churches, Thomas set up her research with all the professional skills at her disposal (pp. 39–57); one page in particular requires appreciation and attention from her conversations with women. For, in tandem with the predictable list of ‘wounds’, there is a page listing the ‘gifts’ women from eight church traditions bring to their churches (p. 60). In her identification of such gifts, she is making a case for ‘the good of the church’, but one might well ask whether in its ‘wounding’ response to such gifts, ‘church’ is for the good of women, alas.” -- Ann Loades, University of St Andrews
"This book has been much needed for decades. It creates, in what has been a vacuum, a powerful archive of the work, reflection, insight, pain and joy of women who have laboured for, in, with and between their churches. Its hermeneutic is one of giftedness, but it is unafraid to name the difficulty and woundedness of living a logic of gift in a church-institutional context. It brings the voices and experiences of women into the heart of debates about the future of the churches, and it addresses a long-standing gender blindness in the academic study of ecclesiology. It is a book which is pastoral, theological, political and ethnographic, and in itself it is a gift." -- Anna Rowlands, St Hilda Professor of Catholic Social Thought and Practice, Durham University, UK.
"It would have been enough to tell the fascinating story of a fruitful project with women deeply committed to a wide range of churches, but Gabrielle Thomas does even more. She gives prophetic insights, together with wise, accessible theology, on key issues (including painful ones) relevant to all churches, and in the process she adds an important dimension to one of the most promising Christian movements of our time, Receptive Ecumenism." -- David Ford, Regius Professor of Divinity Emeritus, University of Cambridge
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