Creativity at the Grass Roots: Women-Church Convergence Models Religious Community

Article excerpt

If one reads only the news of official Catholicism, it might appear to some to be a depressing picture. I was recently asked by a Presbyterian leader if I "still" had any relation to the Catholic church. I said I belonged to a local parish haft a block from my home. He professed himself astonished, evidently assuming I would be unwelcome in Catholic circles. I felt like saying, "Catholics are not as deadly as you think they are," but did not. What I could have said is that half of my speaking engagements every year are with Catholic groups.

Although the news from the Vatican appears to be endlessly backward looking, from continual warnings against "relativism" to the reinstatement of the Tridentine Mass, there is astonishing creativity at the grass roots. Indeed the more the hierarchy of the Catholic church appears in stasis or backward retreat, the more freewheeling the creative initiatives that pop up on the ground. One forum for these alternative ministries is the Women-Church Convergence.

Women-Church Convergence is an outgrowth of the Women's Ordination Conference. In response to the ordination of Episcopal women in 1974, Catholics organized the first Women's Ordination Conference in Detroit in 1975. Support groups for the Women's Ordination Conference developed around the country. The conference always defined its goals not simply as the ordination of women, but the "renewal of priestly ministry." By that it meant a more egalitarian and communal model of ministry. But by the 1980s, some began to doubt whether the goal was the reproduction of any separation of clergy and laity.

In 1983 at the third national conference, the Women-Church movement was born. This movement called for women and men to gather in communities for liturgy, study, reflection and social justice work in which all members participate as equals, with no separation of an ordained leader from the other members. A vast variety of Catholic feminist ministries and liturgical gatherings developed over the next 25 years, some of them connected to each other through the network called Women-Church Convergence.

The member groups of the convergence are diverse. Several are feminist task forces of religious orders. Others are regional or national social justice organizations. This includes the Washington-based Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual, which helps interested people form women-church communities. A major component of the convergence is local women-church communities in different cities or regions.

The question of women's ordination versus the community as a whole as celebrants of the Eucharist has reappeared in new form in Catholic feminist circles with the development of the Roman Catholic Womenpriest movement. This movement began with the ordination of seven Catholic women in Austria in June 2002. …