Celebrating International Women’s Day: Rev Rosie Addis

March 8, 2024

On International Women’s Day, members of the Scottish Episcopal Church today share their perspectives as we celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.

The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality, and this year’s campaign theme is ‘Inspire Inclusion’.

The campaign states: “When we inspire others to understand and value women’s inclusion, we forge a better world.

“And when women themselves are inspired to be included, there’s a sense of belonging, relevance, and empowerment.

“Collectively, let’s forge a more inclusive world for women.”

Here, we feature a perspective from the clergy, through the Rev Rosie Addis, Rector at St Columba’s Bathgate and St Peter’s Linlithgow, and a member of the Provincial Liturgy Committee.

“As I write this, I have just finished preparing for this evening’s Bible study on the Song of Solomon, also known as Song of Songs,” writes Rev Addis (pictured). “It’s proved to be an emotional and powerful kick start for the piece I have been asked to write for the International Women’s Day, which this year has the title of ‘Inspire Inclusion’.

“The overriding question as I prepared for the study was: ‘Why was this song included in the canon?’ Was it included because it had become an allegory of God and Israel, or was it allegorised because it had been included in the canon? I fear that this evening it will be a very short study! And yet … Song of Songs is a song of praise to our embodied nature, speaking of how glorious it is to be in love.

“It may shock us that erotic literature made it into the canon, but perhaps the most arresting fact is that it is a song which proclaims desire from both a woman and a man’s point of view. And it hit me that growing up in the church – a splash of Church of England, a Baptist youth group, evangelical summer conferences and now thirty years with the SEC – I realise that I have spent a lifetime receiving teaching which skips around the messiness of our lived experience as fleshy, limited human beings; let alone engendered ones.

“As a preacher I admit that when the story of the haemorrhaging woman appears in the lectionary, I tend to divorce it from my own experience of monthly bleeds and end up with a blander take on both her and Jairus’ daughter. As a member of the Provincial Liturgy Committee of the SEC I have participated in discussions around engendered language but have only added to the great tradition of treating everything at a surface level. And this teaching has left me with an image of a male, able-bodied (unlimited) God, even when Father, Son and Spirit is reframed as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.

“The SEC website, under the heading ‘What is Liturgy?’ states: ‘We pray with our bodies; through movement and song the power of God’s Word becomes part of us. That is why Liturgy changes things, is transformative. It is the power of God for bringing about the kingdom of God.’

“We often talk of ourselves as a denomination which places at its heart the celebration of the Eucharist. Where liturgy and the enactment of it enables all to participate and meet as equals around the communion table, this celebration of what God is doing through Christ becomes a sign of a “bodily practice of justice” (Nancy Eiseland, The Disabled God. 1994. p.114). How do we begin to move from the position we often find ourselves in today, to a place where our liturgy proclaims an alternative to the dominant culture, with a reality of whole congregation participation and the Church standing as a prophetic witness to the world?

“Perhaps one starting point would be to begin to share our stories. Or that we begin to think about sharing our stories and then gently test our surroundings to be certain that we can trust those with whom we share. Or that we prepare ourselves to listen carefully to those who are brave enough to trust us with their stories. The phrase ‘dominant culture’ implies inequality, and it is easy on the part of those with power to ignore this and speak as though everything were an equal playing field.

“Prior to ordination I worked as a sign language interpreter for twenty years and saw time and time again the scenario played out where Deaf people were actively encouraged to open up about their thoughts and feelings, only to find that they had participated in yet another tick-box exercise. Nothing changed, and they were left feeling used.

“Over the past few years, as my mobility has fluctuated, I have seen how differently I am treated by my colleagues when using a walking stick and needing to adapt my presiding style or the way I engage in training to accommodate my disability, as opposed to times when I am able to stand and walk unaided. Yet despite these scarring experiences, the call to engage in prophetic imagination continues: to imagine and proclaim a God who has identified with us completely in Jesus; to consider and reimagine in community the familiar Biblical stories.

“As a member of the Provincial Liturgy Committee, I have seen at first-hand that bringing together an increasingly diverse range of people can begin (albeit slowly) to impact on the liturgies produced. There are now resources available to help in times of lament, which can be useful for helping us to commit to being part of God’s work of transforming the world, and although I agree that equality is not just about the use of inclusive language, it does contribute to our image and thinking of who God is.

“To this end, the Committee is in the process of updating the Daily Prayer offices, has continued to amend the Scottish Liturgy 1982, and has begun collating materials suitable for All-Age Worship. We would sincerely ask for those who are using any of the liturgies which are out for experimental use to provide feedback, using the feedback forms available on the webpage.

“Each year the Joint Liturgical Group of Great Britain holds a conference, and this year the topic is ‘Disability and Liturgy’. There will be a webinar on Wednesday 17 April, and details for this and the two-day in-person conference in Scotland on 18 & 19 of September are still being finalised. Although not part of the organising committee, I know that those who are organising the event(s) want to include as wide a range of participants as possible – a time for story-sharing, learning, listening, and re-imagining our worship spaces and liturgies. Information will be available here.

“Time is ticking on, and my Bible study looms. I will leave you with a poem, written by Avery, who blogs as blessedarethebinarybreakers

At That Banquet

there will be straws
at that banquet

and all the bread will be gluten free

and no one will go away hungry because
there was no food that fit their dietary needs

and the table will be high enough.
for wheelchairs to slide easily beneath it

and no one will gawk at those of us
who have trouble sitting still so long
and stand instead, and stomp our feet

and no one will grab our flapping wrists and hiss, “quiet hands!”
(God, I cannot wait to never hear that hateful phrase again)

and Jesus, there you will be,
not at the head of the table

but in the middle of things
breaking bread with hands that struggle a little,
impeded by the damage done to your fine motor skills
when the nails pierced your wrists

and with a wheelchair stationed behind you
that friends can push you in when the chronic pain
in your nail-damaged feet becomes too much

and we will all share in the lopsided chunks
of gluten free bread that is your body
or the cups of juice with straws in them that is your blood

and there will be laughter, oh there will be laughter
loud and carefree

communicated through AAC
or sign language or smiling mouths
as we finally learn what it means to be

truly One: united, not in spite of but through diversity.

More on International Women’s Day:

A Provincial Youth perspective from Phoebe Pryce

A lay person’s perspective from Dr Elaine Cameron