E-newsletter

Sign up to our weekly newsletter

Home  >  Features  >  'Wis there naebudy else?'

Features

'Wis there naebudy else?'

'Wis there naebudy else?'

Wednesday May 9 2018

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 Very Rev Dr Lorna Hood, first female serving parish minister to be elected Moderator of the General Assembly, tells how initial apprehension turned into a long and fulfilling ministry.


 

It was May 1979, and the shops and streets of Renfrew buzzed with the news that the North Church had chosen a sole nominee.

Such news was quickly followed up with the question – “A wummin? Wis there naebudy else?”

The day approached of the ‘preaching’ to the congregation and a packed church prepared to vote by standing to either accept or reject this young 26-year-old woman minister. The outcome, I was told, was overwhelmingly in favour –  no counting or secret ballots in those days – and I was duly inducted to the charge of Renfrew North on June 26 1979, where I remained until I retired in October 2016.

Looking back, reflecting on this 50th year of the anniversary of the ordination of women to the ministry, I wonder just how much things have changed since  those early days – for better or worse.

I must begin by saying that my journey was a relatively easy one. After that initial apprehension, life in the parish revolved around worship preparation and pastoral care. I have always loved preaching and counted it a privilege to share in all the joys and sorrows of my congregation - something which I very much miss now in retirement.

Having a ‘woman minister’ became a source of pride, and a few years down the line one elderly lady told me she had a confession: “I voted against you”. Adding very quickly: “But I wouldn’t change you for the world.”

Looking back, I can only smile at the questions the vacancy committee asked. Engaged to be married, I was asked if I planned to have children and if I did who would look after them. Much as we are aghast at these questions now, many women were asked similar questions in numerous other professions. When I did get pregnant some five years later, the congregation clapped at the announcement and queued up to do the babysitting.

‘Maternity Leave’ was something the church had not dealt with before and, after some ad hoc arrangements which usually consisted of the then Maintenance of the Ministry Committee saying “Phone Lorna Hood and find out what she did”, the Assembly accepted that regulations should be put in place. Attending that first meeting of the Committee, one senior minister said that our objective was to do the very best for our woman ministers and, in its time and in comparison to other professions, it was.

In her autobiography A Journey of Faith the Rev Effie Irvine, the first woman to be inducted into a parish, speaks about the sadness when ministerial friends no longer spoke to her or her husband once she had decided to apply for Selection School. That was not my experience. Paisley Presbytery had a number of younger ministers with whom I had studied and in fact I had been at school with Bill Hewitt. I never felt I wasn’t treated as an equal. Indeed, it was more a young faction up against an older group unwilling to accept change.

It was only during my year as Moderator that I truly thought about prejudice and the experience of some women over these last fifty years, and that is to my shame. The shortage of ministers has meant that very few ministers, male or female, wait any length of time to be called to a charge. However, the experience of women ministers differs throughout the country. There are still pockets where prejudice due to gender still applies, and I’ve been saddened when I hear some of the stories. Perhaps we reflect a society where as women we have travelled a long way, but still have a long way to go.


Tomorrow: The Rev Fiona Mathieson, minister of Edinburgh: Carrick Knowe

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

The Rev Jean Montgomerie, first woman to convene a committee of the General Assembly, looks back on her journey.

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