There are many women (and more than a few men) hungry for support and ways to channel their love for the church.
My experience of working, living, and worshiping alongside women for these many years is that when you bring women together online and in person, and when you support them, listen to them, and advocate for them, great things happen. So that is what we will be doing. No one in the church should have to feel isolated or unappreciated.
That goes for men, too, by the way.
I also often hear that our parishes and dioceses don’t necessarily know what to do with the women in their midst who want to step into high-level positions to serve the church. (We hope to be part of helping to figure that out, too, at first simply by showing what women are already doing, just to see the kinds of things that are possible.)
Axia Women aims to set a high bar. So often I feel that our parishes and dioceses are so busy struggling simply for their very survival that they’re forced to muddle along or settle for second-best. I’m hoping that, even if we struggle too, we can set a high standard for everything we do and feed that back into our jurisdictions.
One of the reasons that we need to do all this is that there is such a huge amount of work to do in our churches at all different levels. And as you may have noticed, in any organization, only a few people are consistently asked to do the work. There’s just too much work to do not to ask all the talented people willing and able to pitch in. Plus, we need to spread the load so no one burns out. Here I’d like to quote from a woman who responded to our survey of women leaders. She was concerned about volunteers being overworked:
“Because we often have competent and willing volunteer female leadership at the local or diocesan level, this can create an environment where such volunteers wear multiple hats and lead multiple teams. This is extraordinarily taxing on our volunteers and promotes a cycle of the lack of self/staff care. It is also inefficient. You would never have one priest serve 7 parishes as a full-time leader. It wouldn't work. But somehow, we promote the notion of one woman leading Church School, the youth group, the Ladies Guild and the Regional IOCC efforts. Unfortunately, this happens often in our communities. It is also compounded by the reality that for many of us, we so desperately want our children to have a thriving Orthodox community to grow in, that we don't say no. I wonder if we would steward our ministries more effectively if we had formal metrics in place to limit the 'overuse' of our people. After 25 years of ministry work, I have found that for many women, it is remarkably taxing on finances, health, and home life. Some of us navigate that well. Some of us don't.”
One of our goals with the Women of the Week series—very popular on Facebook and Instagram!— is to alert people to the sheer amount of talent that exists in the church and to help those who make the decisions about whom to tap widen their vision and consider a wider range of personnel for any task at hand.
One of our findings in our survey was that bishops tended to tap women for jobs if they had an area of expertise outside of theology. If they needed theological expertise, they nearly always tapped a male seminary graduate. That’s a huge waste of valuable, trained resources, if you think about it. After all, far fewer than a hundred seminarians graduate in a given year from our accredited institutions. And there’s a LOT of work to do. Why waste trained experts just because they don’t wear cassocks? As we pointed out last week: our diversity is strength. Let's put it to use, for all our sakes and the wellbeing of our beloved Church.
Patricia Fann Bouteneff is the president of Axia Women.