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Margaret Rose's address at UNCSW forum

3/6/2006
[Episcopal News Service]  Margaret Rose, director of women's ministries at the Episcopal Church Center, closed the conversation at the UNCSW forum sponsored by Anglican Women's Empowerment that was held March 4 at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. The full text of Rose's address follows:

Your conversation put me in mind of something the wonderful Bella Abzug said quite some time ago about making a difference in the world. You talked about making your faith explicit. She talked about changing the shape of the river. We began today with the river and gathering there. Here's what she said: "Women do not want to be mainstreamed into the polluted stream. We want to clean the stream and transform it into a fresh flowing body; one that moves into a new direction: a world at peace that respects human rights for all, renders economic justice and provides a sound and healthy environment."

For women of faith, water is the right metaphor. In the ever flowing stream is the stream of baptismal water, ever renewing our faith and giving us the courage to move from our private thoughts, our private vision into public action.

That public action is not a conversation about rights. That action is not about "my piece of the pie," but as each one of these women said, about changing the nature of the whole. Our work together is grounded in baptismal respect for every human being and the Gospel promise that Jesus comes that ALL might have life and have it abundantly is the faith that gives us the courage to act. All of us gathered together with many differences claim the bond of communion which gives us courage to change the shape of the river. Make it clean.

So how do we do it? How do we transform vision into action?  A couple of thoughts:

First, we have to do the work of discernment. We have to expose those cultural norms which deny the image of God in any one of us. We have to claim that house allowance when we need it. We have to ask the question whether or not women are the only ones to carry water. We have to discover whether or not it really isn't okay for women to become chemical engineers and also supervise other people.

Second, we have to pay attention to suffering. You heard tonight about scars, you heard about struggle. Suffering and struggle are familiar conversations in our faith. At its very root is a cross. Jesus knew a lot about the experience of suffering. The lives and work of the people here are filled with suffering. Whether it is the stories of rebel violence in the Congo or civil war in El Salvador or abuse in families in Warren, Rhode Island, the struggle has been there. But it is said of course that scar tissue is a lot stronger for the wearing. Our survival then comes out of suffering and it provides the memory, the imagination and the courage to move to action.

Thirdly, we have to claim sisterhood, rejoice in the solidarity that we have with one another in governments where we hear about five ministers being at the head. We celebrate new presidents in Liberia and Chile. We celebrate women who have come to places of power and then we create spaces for others to come beyond.

And then we have to continue to go public, to claim the Gospel of Jesus Christ with that conviction that abundant life is there for all, so that we may speak for what is good for the whole world for women and men alike, knowing that when women's leadership comes to the center, things will change.

When women and men alike are at the table together, the conversation will be different and we too will have countries that are filled with peace. We must know that women's leadership will be shaped by a commitment to seeking wisdom from one another rather than claiming intrigue and power and control as a way to action. Women's leadership also could claim solidarity with one another, claim each of our differences, know the other in new ways and move to a relationship of solidarity rather than hierarchy. When we can begin to do these things, to claim the Gospel as our modus operandi. To claim the Gospel that will give us courage to speak publicly in all the places we are, then we can begin to transform the vision that is within each of us into action that will claim women and men and abundant life for the world.

I give thanks for all the women who are here at this place and especially for you who have spoken publicly today. I am grateful for that voice and know that as we send our voices forth from this place that they will make a difference in the Anglican Communion and in the world.