South African Anglican clergywomen merging ministry and motherhood : exploring presence, praxis and power.
Until recently, feminist research in the area of women’s leadership within churches has been predominantly based on the inclusion case for the ordination of women or for women in other spaces of authority. This thesis sought to shift this debate beyond the argument for the inclusion of women in positions of religious authority and asks what happens when women are in such leadership roles, and moreover when these women are “mothers of the church.” To what extent are the vocations of motherhood and priesthood reciprocal? What are the activities and relationships that constitute the vocations of motherhood and priesthood? How are these activities and relationships embodied within the praxis of motherhood and priesthood? And finally how are new understandings of power being negotiated by the presence and praxis of clergy mothers? These questions were explored through critical qualitative empirical research within the Anglican Church of South Africa (ACSA). The research was primarily grounded within a feminist theoretical framework. Through narrative interviews with seven clergywomen three major themes related to clergy mothers’ experiences in leadership were explored. The first theme explored the “presence” of the clergy mothers in ministry and sought to understand, drawing on feminist theories of embodiment, how female bodies and perspectives might change church offices, pulpits, altars and beyond. The second theme focused on the “praxis” of clergy mothers in terms of formation and ministry, and a feminist theology of praxis was brought to bear on the women’s experiences. Finally the “power” (and sometimes lack thereof) of clergy mothers was explored through the concept of “natality” as opposed to “mortality” – a focus on our embodied realities first, before the “life hereafter” as a key theme in Christian theology. The thesis concludes that the presence, praxis and power of clergy mothers (with new experiences, insights and wisdom) are transforming the structures and manifestations of the Anglican Church in Southern Africa in multiple ways. Clergy mothers are teaching all priests and the laity about the values of sacramental mothering; maternal leadership; and about the importance of making a “preferential option for the children.” These lessons if heeded can certainly be life-transforming for the church. Among the many theological contributions this thesis makes the most significant is the challenge to liberation theological discourse to extend the epistemological privilege of the poor to also including an epistemological privilege to the children. This new option provides the opportunity for liberation theologians to seek understanding through an embodied optic and for the church to practice genuine inclusivity.