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Wrestling with the Church.

Mary Levison led a Velvet Revolution in Scots Presbyterianism and is now the first woman to be a chaplain to the Queen. As Mary Lusk, she won a battle in the 1960s to secure the ordination of women in the Church of Scotland, in circumstances which have some parallels with the present situation in the Church of England. At the time she was a deaconess, but licensed to preach and placed in a ministry -- as an assistant university chaplain -- with functions which would |normally' have been exercised by an ordained man. It was an anomalous situation but, as she says, |it is often through anomaly that the Church moves'.

There is a foreword to her book by Bishop Patrick Rodger, formerly of Oxford (where Mary Lusk was born while her father was Presbyterian chaplain to the university). He suggests that there are many similarities in the present English |arguments and hesitations' -- and, he might have added, anomalies. He warns his fellow-anglicans not to assume that any differences in the theology of ministry make the Scots experience irrelevant. Although the Kirk was (and in most respects still is) conservative and male-dominated, |a great national Church had been persuaded to change its mind'. As Bishop Rodger says, Mrs. Levison was skilful, articulate, patient and persistent with a simple and firm conviction about her calling which refused to be browbeaten or side-tracked'. But she had a wide range of other qualities. They included academic distinction at Oxford and in an Edinburgh theological education supplemented at Heidelberg and in struggles at Basle to follow the Swiss accent of Karl Barth. She had also been a |token woman' on many ecumenical occasions. Her qualities are evident in the book, although parts of it inevitably deal with procedural and theological wrangles long ago. Others are rather unassuming personal memoirs or devoted to specialised Church interests, such as the role of the diaconate.

One thing the book makes clear is that the |revolution' turned out not to be very revolutionary. Scots Presbyterianism has not been over-run by a monstrous regiment of women, nor have most women ministers been aggressively feminist. The ordination of women as elders -- the same term is used in Scotland as for ministers -- may have been more significant in changing the local style of the Kirk. Mary Levison herself renounces any claim to be a |feminist theologian' and, though anxious that men should listen to feminist theology, is unhappy with the |protesting character' of some of it. She is also |content to be agnostic' on whether women make different kinds of ministers from men, in the sense of doing the job differently.

She concludes that |all the wrestling' over women's ordination left no lasting animosity or ill-will -- another point of possible English relevance. Others can decide how far the Scots owe their felicity to a Presbyterian theology of ministry which posed fewer theological obstacles to women, and how far to Mary Levison's gifts and graces.
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Author:Kernohan, R.D.
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1992
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