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'We have come a long way'

'We have come a long way'

Thursday May 10

The Church of Scotland this month commemorates the 50th anniversary of the decision to allow women to be ordained to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament.

This week, we are sharing the reflections of women who entered the Ministry at various times over the past half-century.

Today the Rev Fiona Mathieson, minister of Edinburgh: Carrick Knowe, looks at how things have changed since she was licensed in 1987.


We have come a long way since I tried to pay in one of my first expenses cheques and was told that the bank couldn’t pay it into my account.

When I asked why, I was told that I couldn’t pay a cheque made out to my Dad, the Rev F Buchan. ‘But I am the Rev F Buchan’, I replied. I still had to provide proof before the cheque was accepted.

Thirty years later that would never happen, but 1987, when I was licensed as a minister, was such a different time.

My probation was at Greenbank in Edinburgh, where I was treated with respect and encouragement. The experience of being the Churches National Youth Adviser gave me a taste of the breadth of our Church, not just in terms of theology, but also in expressions of church influenced by the myriad of cultures which make up our country – there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ Church of Scotland. I was also told during this time by one young man that ‘if I thought I was called to ministry I must be unstable and in need of psychiatric help’, but he was the exception rather than the rule!

Moving to Glasgow University as chaplain enabled me to really see just how accepting the church was, as for the first time my gender and age were a big issue and I faced challenging times. I came to appreciate the subtle support and encouragement I received from many people in the church, many of them in senior positions. In the mid-1990s stereotyped role models still needed to be confronted. Women in all professions and walks of life no longer simply accepted what was seen as their ‘role and limitations’. Thankfully, unlike my friends in other professions, many of the doors they found themselves pounding on had already been opened in the church.

I learned that to change perceptions and expectations you had to simply get on with ‘the job’ to the best of your ability, trusting faithfully in God’s protection and guidance.

Being female and a minister brought many opportunities, but paradoxically they were also challenging because once we had the opportunity we were under a great deal of scrutiny. It is only now with older eyes I can see the pressure that brought and I am quite amazed I survived to tell the tale!

It wasn’t until the new millennium, when I was applying for charges shortly after getting married, that the full force of prejudice, particularly among the laity in the church, affected me. I was asked some astounding questions by some nominating committees. I was powerless to respond lest I would be seen, as a wise experienced minister who I respected advised, as a ‘difficult strident woman’. But that is 17 years ago.

Now I am settled in a parish with over 30 years of experience, my gender is rarely mentioned. Yes, there have been disappointments, things I have not been asked to do. Was that because of my gender or because of me? I will never know.

I think we have to be careful to ensure that we don’t hold on to past hurts rather than letting them go and looking to the future. Yes, I have faced challenges, but compared to the blind prejudice faced by those who went before me they are not worth dwelling on. I have been given opportunity to serve in so many different ways and places, yes, there have been challenges but then that is part of a life fully lived. The experiences I have had and have been given, have been transformational. For that I am so very grateful to God, and to all those who have enabled and supported me.


Tomorrow: Lynsey Brennan, a probationer, tells how motherhood brings a different perspective to training for the ministry in the 21st century

This article first appeared in May's Life and Work. Download or subscribe here.

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The Rev Dr Margaret Forrester remembers the campaign which led to the ordination of women in the Church of Scotland

Interview with the Rev Susan Brown, Moderator-Designate of the 2018 General Assembly