A Korean gentleman stood up to speak at a Vatican-sponsored women`s conference that I attended several years ago. He was accompanying his wife who was both a delegate and presenter. He told us that 60% of Catholics in Korea are women. Of active Catholics, women number 80%. He concluded his list of statistics with, “Yet women`s work in the church has been confined to the kitchens of the church. My hope is that it can be moved to the dining room”.
In my previous post, I tried to uphold the value of the work that is done in the kitchens of our churches. Nourishing bodies is as important as nourishing souls. Forming strong communities of friendship, support and family spirit is as important as gathering around a beautifully prepared altar in prayer and worship. The kitchen work is what makes the dining room experience possible.
The analogy of kitchen and dining room is illustrated beautifully in the old BBC series, Upstairs, Downstairs. Set in the early 1900’s, it chronicles the lives of the servants in the lower quarters and the nobility who live above. This kind of class division still exists today. There are those who will always be serving, and those who will always be served.
In our church, the dining room remains exclusive. Yes we are all invited to gather around, but places at the table are carefully assigned. We are all called to listen to the Word being spoken, but all are not given a chance to speak. Opportunities must be given to all to take a seat at the table, especially those who have served it so faithfully for years.
Women are the back-bone of any parish, as they are in our society. The stereo-type of “women’s work” is caring and nurturing, cleaning and cooking. Little has changed in our parish life. It is still mostly women who wash and iron the sacristy linens and clean the church building and rectory. They still cook the funeral lunches, organize the bake sales and make the perogies to raise much needed funds. But the number of women willing to do this work is quickly decreasing. Who will replace them?
There are at least two issues involved. One is the lack of respect that this work gets – from both women and men. The other is the changes in generational realities and lifestyles.
I had the luxury of being a full time, stay at home Mom. Although I would do it again, I struggled constantly with the identity it gave me – or lack of identity. I didn’t want to go to the church to do more cooking and cleaning. As I searched for a place in our church as a woman, I realized I was guilty of devaluing the parish work done by many faithful and dedicated women. I devalued it because I saw it as ‘housekeeping’ work. It is a common and grave error of many feminists. As women, we are sometimes our own worst enemy. We try to validate our choices by devaluing the choices of another. The career woman will look down on the stay-at-home Mom. And, the stay-at-home Mom will criticize the career woman.
All work is good when done for the good of another. All work must be valued and we must support each other in our choices. The key is to have the freedom and choice to use your gifts and talents to the fullest. Yes, it is wrong for women to be confined to housework whether it is in the home or the church. And, yes, it is wrong to think that housework is solely the domain of women. This work is needed. It must be done and it must be shared. And, we need to respect the talents of those who do the work with love and care.
My generation, for the most part, has not stepped up to replace the perogie-making brigade. The younger generation after us is juggling an even more complicated and stressful life than we had. Soon the parish kitchens will be empty. Fall suppers, bake sales and teas will be no more. Funeral lunches will be served by caterers who have no personal connections to the grieving families. The times are certainly changing. And you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. (With a shout out to Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell…..my boomer roots are showing!)
to be continued…..
Genuflecting is another ‘spot the Catholic’ gesture. Bending the knee before an important person is an age old act of respect and homage. Such signs are becoming rare in our western culture. If we had to meet the Queen for tea tomorrow, we’d probably have to Google instructions on the right angle, depth, and timing of a curtsey or bow. It certainly wouldn’t come naturally.
I enjoy watching little kids learn how to genuflect before they enter the pew in church. Most make a quick little ducky bob. The occasional keener will make a slow, purposeful movement befitting the solemnity of the moment. One overly enthusiastic catechist in our parish used to stand guard at the end of the pew while her line of students found their seats. Each child was carefully scrutinized for a proper genuflection. Failure resulted in being towed back for a repeat performance. She would have made a fine drill sergeant.
My favourite genuflecting story involves our youngest. You know your child is a good Catholic when they genuflect before sitting down in the movie theatre! Thankfully her popcorn remained intact.