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Exploring the journey towards women's empowerment in a Chinese congregation in Hong Kong

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posted on 2023-08-30, 16:28 authored by Elaine Yip
Twelve years ago I was the key person initiating changes in the roles of women in worship in a Chinese congregation with missionary influence. In this thesis I explore the process of women’s empowerment in this church. I took a retrospective look and employed a case study approach, using interviews and questionnaires. The works of leading feminist theologians from western and local contexts were studied for an understanding of women's empowerment from different perspectives. These works include feminist and sociological definitions of empowerment, a postcolonial reinterpretation of the use of the Bible, the tradition and culture governing congregational change, and women's religious agency in conservative congregations in both the western and the local Hong Kong context. Against this conceptual framework and based on the data analysis and interpretation, the conclusion is reached that progress in women's empowerment was made in terms of greater visibility and equal partnership in worship, and a new perception of women by the congregation. The changes in women's roles in worship helped in establishing and strengthening the image of women's leadership. However, the biblical interpretation of the missionaries has shaped the tradition and culture of the congregation, and the concept of “headship” still demarcates the roles of women with women still not holding top leadership posts. Through the research, I generate a new understanding of women’s empowerment in a specific Baptist, colonial missionary founded and conservative Chinese congregation. Given women now have visible and equal roles in the pulpit in worship, including preaching and leading the liturgy, a significant contribution was made to empowerment. Through a new perception that applies to all women; through the construction of new identities for the women leaders; and also through informal empowerment, women can have a positive impact on the congregation, without requiring the formal posts of ultimate leadership, and without having to abandon their conservative theology of male headship, which is both inherited from the colonizers and is also culturally Chinese. This nuanced understanding has helped change the practice of worship in my church.



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