Document 33: Rosemary Radford Ruether, Excerpt from "Introduction," Women-Church: Theology and Practice of Feminist Liturgical Communities (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985), pp. 4-5.
Many Catholic feminists valued the spirituality and support they nurtured in all-female communities on the church's "margins." In 1983 Women-Church Convergence was formed, a loose affiliation of grass-roots "Women-Church" cell groups across the country designed to support women's explorations of identity and expressions of feminist spirituality through the creation of liturgy. Rosemary Radford Ruether analyzed this phenomenon in 1985, concluding that women had been stunted by patriarchy and starved of meaningful spirituality for long enough. Whether or not women were to continue to work for church renewal, they needed alternate communities where they could put their theories into practice and "begin to live the new humanity now."
This book is also written out of a recognition that Christian feminists cannot wait for the institutional churches to reform themselves enough to provide the vehicles of faith and worship that women need in this time. Some Protestant churches have ordained women, but, for the most part, women pastors in these churches find themselves confined to traditional institutional maintenance or, at best, able to take tiny steps toward new symbols and rituals against the determined opposition of most church members.
Roman Catholic women watch their church organizing for a long fight against the ordination of women. The church has launched a drive to repress efforts to incorporate feminist consciousness into the church that have taken place in renewed religious orders, seminaries, departments of theology at Catholic schools, and in peace and justice centers.3 Thus, while not necessarily repudiating all concern for renewal of existing church institutions or continued membership in such churches (this topic will be discussed in greater depth later), Catholic women especially, but also a growing number of Protestant women, are beginning to recognize the need for autonomous bases for women's theologizing and worship.
Women in contemporary churches are suffering from linguistic deprivation and eucharistic famine. They can no longer nurture their souls in alienating words that ignore or systematically deny their existence. They are starved for the words of life, for symbolic forms that fully and wholeheartedly affirm their personhood and
speak truth about the evils of sexism and the possibilities of a future beyond patriarchy. They desperately need primary communities that nurture their journey into wholeness, rather than constantly negating and thwarting it. This book takes steps to end that famine of the words of life and to begin to bake the new bread of life now. We must do more than protest against the old. We must begin to live the new humanity now. We must begin to incarnate the community of faith in the liberation of humanity from patriarchy in words and deed, in new words, new prayers, new symbols, and new praxis. This means that we need to form gathered communities to support us as we set out on our exodus from patriarchy.
The call for new communities of faith and ritual assumes that existing institutional churches do not have a monopoly on the words of truth or the power of salvation, indeed that their words for women are so ambivalent, their power so negative, that attendance at their fonts poisons our souls. They have become all too often occasions of sin rather than redemption, places where we leave angry and frustrated rather than enlightened and healed. We do not form new communities lightly, but only because the crisis has grown so acute and the efforts to effect change so unpromising that we often cannot even continue to communicate within these traditional church institutions unless we have an alternative community of reference that nurtures and supports our being.
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