Monday, August 25, 2008

Shield the Joyous!

I first met Lauren Stanley at a General Convention, in either Denver or Minneapolis. (After awhile, General Conventions can run together, because most convention centers essentially look alike. ) Lauren was helping Bishop Peter Lee put out a newspaper called The Center Aisle at convention. She and I became friends the way journalists do when they are covering the same event. I've read her stuff whenever I can ever since then.

This column is an especially good one. I found it at the Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation blog site here. It is also up at Episcopal Cafe.

Shield the joyous!

Monday, August 25, 2008

"Dean Martha heralds new day for women in Sudan" -- by the Rev. Lauren Stanley

RENK, Sudan – We made history in Sudan the other day, installing the Very Rev. Martha Deng Nhial as the first dean of the Cathedral of St. Matthew, Diocese of Renk, Episcopal Church of Sudan.

But being the first was not how the real history was made.

No, the real history was making a woman priest dean of a cathedral in Sudan. Dean Martha is the first to hold that office, just eight years after the Episcopal Church of Sudan decided to begin ordaining women as deacons and priest, just five years after Dean Martha was ordained a deacon, and only three years after she was ordained a priest.

Dean Martha is also one of the first African women to be dean of an African cathedral in the history of Christianity.

We’re feeling pretty good about ourselves right now. And not just about the history-making. We are looking around and seeing women being educated and starting businesses and taking leadership positions all over the country. In the Diocese of Renk, our schools are filled with girls, who make up close to 50 percent of the school population in some cases. Girls are taking and passing their Sudan Junior Certificates at the end of eighth grade, and taking and passing their Sudan Certificates at the end of senior secondary school. They are becoming teachers and in some cases, head teachers. They are learning to speak, read and write English and Arabic and their tribal languages, many of them from the Mothers’ Union, a powerful force in Sudan.

Women may not yet rule in Sudan, but some days, it sure seems that way.

A week after Dean Martha was installed, special prayers were offered at her home. Fifty women gathered to praise her, to praise the Church, and to thank God and the Church for lifting her up, and for her ability to lift all of us up in our lives. Even before she became dean, Martha was a force to be reckoned with in Renk. She was a nurse, as well as a member and then leader of the Mothers Union here. When she walked through town, with a purposeful stride, everyone could see that she was a woman of strength. (I once was compared to her because of the speed with which I walk, as well as my long stride. It was quite the compliment.) When Martha spoke, everyone listened, because they knew she was a woman of faith. When she became one of the first women priests ordained in Sudan, all applauded her for her courage.

Culturally, Sudan is still a land where women are expected to do certain kinds of work, none of which involve leadership. In the countryside, it is still not unusual to see the boys being educated while the girls are kept at home. In Renk, boys can pretty much roam the streets at will; girls, on the other hand, are kept under tighter supervision. (All of my young playmates, who come to hang out with me, play games, teach me Arabic, learn English from me and just keep me company, are boys. The girls are not allowed by their families to come play with me.)

So to see Dean Martha being installed – to see her daughters weep at her service – to hear the women in town sing her praises and encourage her to greater heights for herself and beg her to lead them to greater heights – was awe-inspiring.

Forget the history.

This was about women being shown that they, too, can lead, they, too, have something great to offer, they, too, deserve to be honored.
The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an Appointed Missionary of the Episcopal Church serving in the Diocese of Renk, Sudan. She is a lecturer at the Renk Theological College, teaching Theology, Liturgy and English, and serves as chaplain for the students.

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