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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Maternal Metaphors Matter

Written by: on May 28, 2019

Emma Percy’s What Clergy Do is a metaphorical glimpse at ministry, which examines the similarities between motherhood and priesthood. Percy’s “integrated life” principle is a key theme in the book that I plan on leveraging into my research on spiritual warfare.[1] I believe the “mothering” traits described by Percy will successfully blend into the armor of God recipe for protection from spiritual warfare. This post will review Percy’s understated egalitarian approach to ministry and focus on her feminine metaphorical language, which lines up nicely with Christ’s arms around us as our metaphorical armor of God.

First, I love my mother and am very thankful for the unconditional love and care she gave to me from the cradle to present time. She gave birth to me unexpectedly on a flight layover in Orlando, Florida while traveling to Scotland to join my father on his first Air Force assignment. Since then, she has always been there for me through thick and thin. Being my mother does not mean she always supported my actions or decisions, but rather first tolerated them and later came to accept them over time and become proud of me, despite her protective intuitions. For example, playing high school football was not one of her favorite things for me participate in because I did break a hand, had ligament knee surgery, and broke ribs. Nevertheless, she was always in the stands cheering for me and my team.  When I joined public safety and military aviation she advised strongly against both professions. Yet again, over time she came to tolerate the danger the jobs exposed me to and expressed her support and pride for her son. To this day, my mom still worries about me, I think that is just the way she is wired. But through it all, she was good enough and her unconditional love, tolerance, and eventual support helped promote my development into the person I am today.

I think Percy’s What Clergy Do is a lot like my mom’s love for me. My mom knew when to hold me close and when she needed to let me go. Percy’s “good enough church” is like that, knowing when to “hold close and let go.”[2] She describes her parish, like a mother, who knew what she needed to grow and develop from a youth into an adult. Percy reflects on how her parish gave her just enough unconditional love, tolerance, and support that helped sustain her quest for knowledge and promote her calling into the ministry.   For example, she writes from her own experiences as a priest, so she uses a feminine pronoun. Otherwise, she is very matter of fact about how she describes male-female roles in her narrative. I liked the way she described her metaphor of mothering as a gender-neutral characteristic that fits the parish priest role and is theologically suited to fit both men and women.[3]

David Warbrick reviewed Percy’s book and said he was very encouraged. Warbrick, a practicing male priest, says What Clergy Do gave him permission to “explore feminine imagery” without feeling awkward.[4] He said he felt “refreshed, not marginalized” by Percy’s theological use of the mother caring for her children metaphor to represent the priest caring for his or her parish.[5] I really connect with Percy’s use of motherhood as a safe metaphor to talk around and dig deeper into the often contentious roles of a parish priest. I wonder if the use of feminine imagery, like a mother holding her arms around her children, could be leveraged into Paul’s soldier metaphor of wearing armor?[6] They both provide protection but the “in the arms of a mother” image might be a good and safe metaphorical space for some people to transition into wearing Christ as their spiritual armor of God for use in spiritual battles. I think I will explore the use of maternal metaphors in my dissertation research.

Feminist Theology published an accompanying article to this book about women and ordination in the Church of England. Percy describes women’s ordination as an “ambiguous welcome” that has been a “long hard road.”[7] Percy says there are “profound inequalities” for women in leadership in the Church of England.[8] For example, the “Act of Synod 1993” allows for Anglo Catholics who are opposed to the ordination of woman priests to preserve their “communion with the universal Church” by putting male bishops in leadership roles over women priests. In other words, this act allowed for the legitimate discrimination of woman priests based on the “grounds of theological conscience.” Percy would say there is a lot of equality work that still needs to be done in England.

Finally, are we integrating our ministry calling into a reasonable and healthy occupational balance and service matrix? I admire Percy for her wise and experienced reflection and self-evaluation as a priest. She says being a priest is not only a divine calling and profession, but “an occupation which takes over the entirety of a person’s life.”[9] Percy measures success as coming from a type of necessary “tension” that one experiences when trying to live up to one’s calling. She describes how she wrestles with her ministry tensions until she ultimately resolves to believe and accept the truth that “God had used me in this place.”[10] I believe Percy’s insights and humble discernments are expressed clearly in her closing remarks. I am encouraged when I see others, like Percy, experience God’s unfathomable greatness and then faithfully and obediently surrender her will for His.

In conclusion, I would say that Percy promotes a positive maternal ministry of presence and agree that just being there, as the incarnational image of Christ, is many times good enough for God to work His sovereign plan in the lives of others. I will add Percy’s work to my dissertation bibliography.

Stand firm,

Mike w

[1] Emma Percy. What Clergy Do: Especially When It Looks Like Nothing. (London: SPCK, 2014) 163.
[2] Ibid., 4.
[3] Ibid., 16.
[4] David Warbrick. “Emma Percy, What Clergy Do, Especially When It Looks like Nothing.” Theology 118, no. 5 (2015): 392.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Eph. 6:10-18.
[7] Emma Percy. “Women, Ordination and the Church of England: An Ambiguous Welcome.” Feminist Theology 26, no. 1 (2017): 90.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Percy, What Clergy Do, 143.
[10] Ibid., 144.

About the Author

mm

Mike

4 responses to “Maternal Metaphors Matter”

  1. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Mike,

    I was immediately struck with your quote, “Christ’s arms around us as our metaphorical armor of God.” Wow! That is awesome.

    Please keep the jewels coming like that…

    Jay

  2. Great post as usual Mike! I loved the glimpse of your own mother and how she always wanted to protect you and keep you safe. I think Percy’s mothering metaphor was brilliant and very needed in the church that is often male-dominated and very patriarchal. I also appreciated you highlighting the discrimination of women in ministry and voicing your opposition to it. You are hired as one of my dissertation research team members 🙂 Blessings friend!

  3. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Mike,

    Well done on this post. I particularly appreciate the research you did on Percy and the Anglican church. I found this book refreshing and powerful and feel it should be included in most M Div programs as people train for ministry.

    I wonder how you hope to integrate this book into your Armor of God program and how it might influence your own ministry directives.

  4. Great post, Mike!

    You mention, “…Christ’s arms around us as our metaphorical armor of God.” What a beautiful picture of protection and guidance. What are the ways that you’ve seen the idea of “presence” impact those in your marketplace ministry?

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