I have recently been encouraged and empowered as a woman leader by the Vicar of Holy Trinity Aylesbury, called Andrew Blyth. There is an energetic, passionate vibe about Andrew, which focuses on supporting and nourishing the gifts of women in the church and particularly those that have the gifting of leadership. I therefore, took some time to interview him on the issue of women in leadership, particularly in the Christian context.
Tell us a bit about yourself, Andrew.
Most importantly, I am married to Nicki and we have two beautiful, teenage daughters! I have been the Vicar of Holy Trinity Church in Aylesbury for the last 9 years and I also have the wider leadership role as Area Dean for the Aylesbury area.
Why do you feel strongly about empowering women to lead in church?
I see the church as a family unit and therefore a family needs a balance of male and female leadership. This is true of other giftings as well; the church needs an equal expression in order to be healthy and to grow.
Women are part of the church as well as men, so if men were the only ones using their gifts, then 50% or less of the church members would not be practicing their gifts. That would be a huge problem. I believe that if women are suppressed at using their leadership gifts, then there will be a suppression of their other giftings too. Without women playing a full part, the church is losing out massively!
Have you always felt like this?
When I was younger, I grew up in a conservative evangelical context; therefore I have not always believed this. In the conservative evangelical context, I was taught that women are honoured but have distinctive roles from men – a more complimentary viewpoint. This encouraged a culture that meant that women were not encouraged and supported to lead or teach. It also meant that sometimes women would not have the confidence to do these things.
My beliefs are the complete opposite now. I am still learning, however. Like everyone, I am on a journey. The change occurred when I went into ordination training and studied alongside women who felt called into church leadership and ministry. My views changed as I experienced these women leading. I knew that my perception had changed and I needed to re-examine this from the Bible. After looking more into scripture and practicing exegesis and hermeneutics, I saw that previously, I had had a limited view of reading the Bible. I concluded from my experiences of women leading and the Bible that women should lead and be able to exercise their gifts.
How do you actively seek to empower women to lead in Holy Trinity Aylesbury?
I preach on the worth of women in the eyes of God and in particular, the issue of self-esteem. I encourage women of different ages and personalities onto the leadership team. Also, I intentionally develop and nurture them into public ministry. For instance, getting them to lead and preach in services.
It is important to nurture a culture where it is OK for anyone in church to ‘have a go’ and not worry about making mistakes. Therefore, I actively coach, prepare, journey alongside, debrief and encourage women as they practice leadership. It is important for women to see out other women as role models and I actively encourage this.
If you were to give any words of encouragement to any women who have lost confidence in leadership – what would you say?
You are crucial to the health of the church and we need you! Be encouraged that in the cultural context of the Bible it is radical in that Jesus and Paul gave women a special place in their lives and ministry. They do not silence them but treat them as sisters. Focus on Jesus and Paul’s leadership in that. You only need to look at examples of Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:1-3), Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2) and Mary (Acts 1:14).
How should we interpret scripture, such as, 1 Timothy 2:11-15?
Be aware of proof texting! It is important that when interpreting to always do hermeneutics and exegesis i.e. what was meant then, before what is applied now. In relation to this specific example, Paul is speaking to Timothy about the pastoral situation at the time in the city where Timothy was. Women there had been very prominent in the leadership of religious cults; I do not believe that it is supposed to be a universal rule.
I find it exciting that Paul is evidently pro-women in leadership. Paul was working alongside women, who held prominent leadership positions. A couple of examples were, Lydia who hosted the first church in Europe (Philippi), seen in Acts 16 and Priscilla, who led and taught in the church in Ephesus (Acts 18). In the Greek translation, Priscilla is placed in front of Aquila’s (man) name in Romans and the Greek did this to give Priscilla the higher significance for her work.
I am reading a book that comments on Paul’s overall attitude to women in positions of responsibility and they say that what Paul means in Romans by ‘helper’, can be translated as ‘Protector’. Paul therefore is not saying that women should be limited as assistants but that they should lead.
What are your thoughts about the result at Synod, not passing through Women Bishops?
I find it very sad. The two wings who opposed this; conservative evangelical Christians and the Anglo Catholics feel they need more security for the proposals being offered. For the Anglo Catholics, it is a matter of the validity of ordination and for the conservative evangelicals, a matter of headship. I think to move forward we need to provide the security but we need to do this quickly in order to honour the women called to be Bishops.
Can you tell us about a woman leader who has influenced you?
It would have to be my friend Rhiannon, who was a fellow student at Theological College. She was the first real model of a strong woman leader, who was entirely confident in her calling. I have met some women who feel that strength is demonstrated by being assertive to the point that it can feel aggressive. Rhiannon is strong and straight without being aggressive and is also a warm and compassionate human being.Lizzie Telfer runs Creatively Empowering; a youth participation consultancy & is a writer. She also works part time as a publishing assistant at Scripture Union.
Sue Edwards, Keley Matthews, Henry J. Rogers (2008) Mixed Ministry: Working
Together As Brothers and Sisters in an Oversexed Society (Kregel).