A reflection on the NBCW Board meeting

A group of 19 women gathered at the pavilion at the top of the CAFOD building in Westminster Bridge Road in London on Saturday, June 15. We were welcomed on behalf of CAFOD by Abigail McMillan, a member of our executive and her colleagues, Phoebe and Joe, who ensured that we were well supplied with coffee and a certain amount of photocopying. It is a privilege to have such a wonderful location to meet.

We were called to order at 11 o’clock by our president, Amy Cameron. After some ice breaking conversations to make connections, she asked us what we knew for certain about Catholic women. As a body that was created to represent Catholic women it was a salutary reminder that we are just one of many.

Jacintha then led us in prayer and after the reading of scripture, the story of blind Bartimaeus from Mark’s gospel, we spent a time in silent reflection which was echoed later in our need to throw off the cloak, spring up and come to Jesus.

After Amy’s direction on the spiritual conversation method, we then broke into groups to consider some thought-provoking questions. What are we witnessing? where are we leading? and what are the needs of women? Questions designed to challenge us in our mission and explore its scope. 

Meeting in person ensured a fruitful and wide ranging discussion and the spiritual conversation methodology helped us all make our own thoughtful contribution. It certainly encourages franker disclosure especially in a safe, women-only environment. Our conversations reflected the feeling that has gone through to the Synod that women are marginalised, but we were also able to develop this further into how social change had impacted women disproportionately and simply not been understood, appreciated or recognised within the greater church.

It was suggested that received input about the spiritual satisfaction of African priests whose vast dioceses perforce confined their activities to a sacramental ministry, might possibly indicate that community led parishes could be an inspiration for all of us. A desire for consensus and involvement rather than imposed decision-making emerged. The need for greater formation was recognised so that following your conscience was a plausible alternative than simply asking or receiving orders from above with little interpretation or explanation. In our group we mentioned Bishop Alan Williams’ wonderful contribution of discussing with lapsed Catholics the reasons for their leaving and exposing the huge significance of the Church’s teaching on sexual matters even within the family. These concerns and their impact need to be in the open.

We reconvened and shared the various group learnings in a very fruitful and wide-ranging discussion that clearly demonstrated that the voice of Catholic women has a depth and width and breadth that still needs to be heard across its whole wonderful complexity.

It was now 1 o’clock and time for the balcony appearance. For this was the day of Trooping of the Colour for the King’s 75th birthday and although our balcony was not the one Princess Kate had chosen, it was a pretty good place to be as the sun turned out and the Red Arrows flashed across us. It was a  perfect background for enjoying a shared meal. This year we had planned for the leftovers from the feeding miracle but we all ate plenty and many plates were left as only crumbs.

To keep us awake after lunch we gathered round tables with big sheets of paper to provide ideas and suggestions for our own work going forward.

Then as the rains began to rattle the windows and the thunder rumbled, we sat down for a formal presentation on the proposed new Constitution. We reflected on the journey that began formally with our past president Margarer Clark recognising the need for evolution and convening the Ushaw conference where the concept of the Network was born. The big matters of crystallising our mission and creating a wider network were explained together with the things that were proposed to change and the opportunities these were intended to bring.

There followed a lively discussion, much appreciation , much explanation and support particularly from Nikki Petch, our legal adviser and Abigail Macmillan meant that we could understand the reasoning behind the choices that had been made.

The present constitution dictates that we need a three month notice period and only a yes/no vote is possible. This is the price we pay for substituting a clearer, more navigable document. It too can be changed but only once a year at the AGM and it may well be that smaller refinements may need to be advocated. It seemed that many of those present appreciated and supported the work that the past and present executive have put into this task.

A slight inconsistency in a transitional provision was noted and will be corrected but many other queries from those voters not so deeply involved perhaps need responses and explanation from the Executive and those with queries were invited to send them by email promptly so that we can convene the Board meeting in three months’ time for the vote.

We then enjoyed brief presentations from the Organisations present who we very much hope will remain as Group Members under the new constitution. We heard from 

  • Diane Donovan on her union of old girls’ societies from the Notre Dame convents
  • Pearl Clarke on the Grail movement and her intrepid involvement with it from a young age and all through her married life
  • Sophie Rudge on the Society of the Holy Child Jesus

All these voices spoke of the desire of Catholic women to deepen their faith and remain supported by it throughout their lives. Although social change has impacted their organisations, that desire and need has not gone away, but continually needs to be nurtured. Something that the Executive of today hopes will be possible as we rise up, throw off the cloak and go to Jesus.