Perhaps I’m a little biased, but I think women-only ministries are a MUST… so, hear me out.
Much of my childhood was marked by women-only experiences. I attended a girls’ grammar school, where I was encouraged to speak up with confidence because my voice and opinions had value. I grew up regularly attending my local Girls’ Brigade group, where I made strong friendships, and learnt about a God who had created me in His image. Fast forward a few years, and I now lead a discipleship and leadership programme for millennial women, called The Esther Collective.
Don’t get me wrong, there were – and still are – times when I doubt myself, questioning my contribution as a woman. But time and time again these experiences remind me that I can, and I will.
There was the time when I wanted to create change by joining the school council, but thought: “It could never be me.” But then I looked around and saw that the sports captain was a woman, the debating team leader was a woman, so why should I ever put boundaries on myself?
There was the time when I was in a university tutorial, sat opposite my male tutor and next to my male tutorial partner, clutching my long-prepared essay, and yet doubting my every written word. But then I was reminded of the Michele Obama quote on my English teacher’s door, telling me that women are smart, too.
And now is the time when I’m preparing to lead my first large-scale church service, and I’m gripped with fear, because most of the services I’ve ever been to were led by men, so can I really do this? But once again I am reminded of that powerful Biblical truth that I first heard at Girls’ Brigade: “There is neither…male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
I have seen and experienced first-hand the benefits of women-only spaces, ministries and programmes.
But why are they so important?
It’s true that we live in an integrated society, and one which in theory is equal. And yet bubbling below the surface is a pay gap of women earning around 10 per cent less than men; more FTSE 100 companies being led by somebody named John than by a woman; and less than three in 10 MPs being women.
And what about the Christian sphere? Most church attendees are women, but only 20 per cent of ministers are women. Recent research on church-attending millennials shows that women are significantly less likely to say that their church helps them a lot to develop leadership skills and experience.
It’s true that we live in an integrated society, but we need spaces and opportunities for women’s voices to be heard, to be strengthened, and to not be drowned out by the dominant culture. Spaces for women to share their experiences, discover their God-given gifts, affirm one another, unleash their leadership potential, and to be unafraid to dream with God.
We need women-only spaces and ministries.
And I’m not talking about a women’s ministry consisting of manicures and knitting, but one that affirms and gives women confidence in their identity and worth.
I’m not talking about a women’s ministry that pigeonholes men and women’s lifestyles, but one that believes women can fill diverse roles in church and society and enables women to believe that too.
I’m not talking about a women’s ministry that is fluffy, ‘nice’, or comfortable, but one that challenges our faith, inspires our growth and ignites our passions.
It’s because of this that this grammar school-attending, Girls’ Brigade member is still advocating for and working within a women-only ministry. The Esther Collective gives millennial women the opportunity to come together, to hear words of wisdom from Christian women leaders, to explore and grow together, and to mentor one another.
There’s still a place for women-only ministry, and I’m glad to be a part of it.
This post is part of our week-long series on womanhood and feminism, curated by Dr Claire Rush.