Organizing for Women’s Ordination
What is bearing witness? Bearing witness is calling attention to the discrimination, inequities and inconsistencies in the Church. You can bear witness on the Cathedral steps, on a university campus, anywhere the bishop or media will be or even in your living room. This page contains information about how to organize witnessing events around the issue of women’s ordination. All are encouraged to bear witness however they feel most comfortable.
Why do we bear witness?
We bear witness as a public outcry and statement of resistance. Bearing witness affirms our belief in women’s ordination and our belief in the full equality of women. Witnessing allows us to reclaim our church. It is also a prayerful way to connect with others.
When does WOC bear witness?
There are numerous days to bear witness. Many local WOC groups bear witness on Ordination Day, on Holy Thursday, and on different saints’ days, feast days and holidays that highlight the strength and contributions of women. WOC’s most celebrated day to witness is the World Day of Prayer for Women’s Ordination.
World Day of Prayer for Women’s Ordination:
March 25, the Annunciation, is a global day of prayer calling attention to the issue of women’s ordination. Mary is considered by some to be the first priest, as she brought Jesus Christ into the world. We celebrate Mary accepting God’s call on this day.
How can we bear witness?
- Hold a prayerful vigil outside a church or cathedral.
- Sponsor a discussion about women’s leadership in the Church.
- Invite speakers to talk about women’s ordination to your local women’s group.
- Circle in silence with signs and banners outside the cathedral.
- Organize a liturgy.
- Hold an evening prayer service by candlelight.
- Hand holy cards of female saints or informative pamphlets to parishioners and priests as they walk into church. Ask them to pray for women’s ordination.
- Distribute 3×5 cards and ask people to list gifts the church has lost as a result of denying full participation of women. Compile the list and read it at your witnessing event. Send a copy of it to the bishop and local parishes.
- Use call and response prayers, songs, and protest phrases if you don’t have an amplified sound system.
How do we begin organizing?
The following are organizing tips that have been useful to others in the past. Use what feels right and works for you! Feel free to create your own model. A Little Noise is Better Than No Noise At All!
- First, don’t be overwhelmed by the task of grassroots organizing. Most importantly, don’t try to do everything on your own. Establish a core group (three people) who can lead different committees. One person can coordinate publicity and media. Another can make local arrangements- everything from finding a place to informing the police. A third can coordinate what happens during the event- planning a ritual action or the components of the witness.
- You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Utilize any contacts friends and resources that are available to you. Reach out to other groups for support. Local Call to Action, Dignity, Roman Catholic Womenpriests and other church reform groups are good resources. Also, our sisters and brothers of other faith traditions, especially women who have been ordained, are usually eager and willing to come out and support Catholic women’s ordination.
- Decide on goals upfront. What does your group want to get out of this witness? For example, if your goal is to get a response from the bishop, plan a prayerful protest outside the cathedral. Or, if your goal is to educate others about women’s ordination, organize a discussion at your parish.
Planning the event
- Plan ahead. What format are you going to use? How many people will speak, in what order? Will there be singing? Make sure you plan how long your witness event will be.
- You can make a lot of noise or hold a silent witness. Don’t get discouraged if you have a small turnout the first year. Each year more people come and more supporters will likely stand up and make noise. The first year lets people know there are others who care deeply about the issue of women’s ordination.
- Think about what materials you will need at your witness. If you’re going to do a prayer service you will need copies of the service, instruments and musicians, candles, etc. If you will be celebrating the Eucharist, you will need bread and wine and a table or bench to serve as altar. Some groups use flowers or other decorations. Some groups use oil to anoint each other on the hands or forehead. Blessing one another is a great way to include everyone in the ritual. You will also need something to ensure that the person leading the witness can be heard. This can be a sound system with microphone or a simple bullhorn. If you cannot obtain these items, good old fashioned chanting, singing and loud voices will do.
- It is important to have a visual symbol. A banner, signs and purple stoles can build morale and center the witness. A visual is also important to attract media; it creates an intriguing photograph. It is a good idea to pick a logo; you can contact the WOC office for permission to use their artwork or create your own. This will enable people to begin identifying your group by the logo.
- Determine who needs to be informed about the event. Don’t forget the press, police, diocese and the cathedral if that is where your action will be. Contact the police unit that handles demonstrations and find out the local guidelines for public demonstrations.
- Publicize your event. Use word of mouth. Put up flyers at supermarkets, coffee shops, and local parishes. Don’t be afraid to bring it up in church. This is our church too! Colleges and Newman Centers are also good places to send flyers. The Religion and Women’s Studies departments at local universities will usually be helpful as long as you get in touch with the right person. Always make personal contact and follow-up calls.
- Always have a way for people to contact you after the witness. Pass out flyers with contact information at the witness. Collect the names and contact information of the people who attend so you can keep them informed about future activities.
When in doubt, ask! WOC is always eager and willing to help! Contact National WOC with your organizing questions.
The following are commonly used slogans in the women’s ordination movement. You can use them on posters and banners, and for chanting at the event.
- Break the Silence on Women’s Ordination – Shatter the Stained Glass Ceiling
- Ordain Women or Stop Baptizing Them!
- Sexism is a Sin!
- The Spirit is Within Women too
- Ordain Women/ Ordain Women Now!
- You can’t preach justice unless you practice justice
- We are the Church
- Priestly People Come in All Genders!
- Equal Rites for Women
- They are meeting without us, about us! We want A Part, Not Apart!
- Solve the Church’s man power problem… Ordain Women!
Other days to witness
- Holy Thursday: Holy Thursday is an important day to witness because many parish priests gather at the cathedral in the morning to receive holy oil. Witnessing at the cathedral exposes the issue of women’s ordination to many priests at the same time. Holy Thursday is also a celebration of the priesthood; each year priests renew their promises on this day. Some groups also protest at the nighttime washing of the feet ceremonies at parishes where priests refuse to wash women’s feet.
- Ordination Day: Many local groups gather to witness on their diocese’s Ordination Day, which usually occur on a Saturday during May. Ordination Day witnesses can reach bishops, priests in attendance, laity, families, and those men about to be ordained.
- Feast Days of Female Saints and Women of the Bible: Honor the leadership of holy women by holding witnesses on the feast days of Mary Magdalene, St. Therese of Lisieux, Prisca and others. Contact FutureChurch for liturgies celebrating these women. (FutureChurch: 216-228-0869 or [email protected])
Other ways to support women’s ordination
- Wear shirts, buttons and symbols to Catholic functions, gatherings, and liturgies to show your active role in the church and your desire for change. Ribbons, buttons, shirts, etc. with slogans such as “Priestly People Come in Both Sexes” are available from WOC.
- Make a tax-deductible donation of the contributions you would usually give to the church to groups like WOC who share your vision of a renewed church. Send a letter to your bishop or parish priest stating why you are withholding your financial support from the church. You may wish to create “funny money” to put in the collection basket in lieu of cash.
- Action Purple Stole: Catholic women worldwide wear purple stoles to mass as a symbol of women’s ordination. It is a symbol of the royal priesthood to which both women and men are called. Purple is also the color of penance, and women wear these stoles until the church repents for its sin of sexism. Order your purple stole from WOC.
- Send letters church officials and newspapers on your feelings about women’s second-class status in the church.
- Make sure your parish bookrack has feminist writers included on its shelves.
- Mentor young girls and let them know that it is the male hierarchy, not God, who perpetuates inequality. Encourage them to become altar servers.
- Plan social gatherings to create safe emotional, spiritual and physical space for those who want a reformed church. One of the greatest gifts people receive from witnessing is friends who share similar spiritual and personal life experiences.
- Start a newsletter or discussion group. Start a woman’s book group in your parish. There are many books on feminist theology, ethics, biblical studies, spirituality and call to ministry. Contact WOC for recommendations.
- Be a lector and educate your parish about the importance of gender inclusive language. Talk with the pastor and the liturgical ministries about the importance of inclusive language for an inclusive God.
- Become involved in your religious education program in your parish and monitor what is taught about women.
- Send WOC brochures to parishes and follow up to see whether they are displayed or discussed.
- Seek out parish priests and get their input on how we can work together for women’s full equality in the church.
- Join WOC’s Action Alert e-mail list. Receive updates about recent events that impact women’s ordination and other church reform movements. Action alert e-mails give instructions on what supporters can do to respond to events. To be added to the action alert list, send an e-mail to [email protected]
Contact National WOC
- Contact WOC with questions or for more organizing ideas. We are here to help you!
- Inform WOC about your local events.
- Let WOC know what organizing techniques worked for your group. We can then share them with other groups around the country.
- Submit articles and photographs about your local witnesses to WOC’s newsletter, NewWoman, NewChurch.
Women’s Ordination Conference
A Voice for Women’s Equality in the Catholic Church
“There is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3: 28