As a child, playtime for Amrela Massiah would involve gathering her friends, staging a wedding and always being “the priest in charge of the ceremony”.
Her passion to be a disciple of God blossomed from watching her mother in ministry in the Pentecostal Church.
“It was always something I wanted to do. I just wanted to be like my mom. When other children would be playing all sorts of games, my games were weddings. I would dress up my friends and I would always be the priest and say ‘I now pronounce you man and wife’,” she said.
That deep devotion would continue to thrive, resulting in her ordination at the age of 20 in the Pentecostal Church.
But, even so, “something was missing”.
“I was totally involved in the Pentecostal Church because of my mom, but as I grew older, I gradually began to think ‘this is not who I am’,” Massiah recalled.
No, she did not abandon her discipleship.
But she migrated to the United Kingdom where she made “an intellectual decision” to switch denominations.
“I was already formed as a Christian in the Pentecostal Church and that still informed the way I work out my own discipleship, my prayer life, my spirituality. That is still a part of me but there is something about the order in the Anglican Church that I gravitated to.”
She is now Reverend Massiah after being ordained a second time, this time in Anglicanism at the Church of England in 2007. But that bold step was not without a few challenges.
She explained that some church goers did not believe in female priests, with one couple going as far to tell her such over tea.
“They did not believe in the ministry of women and did not believe in female priests, so they said they would come to church but would not take communion. As long as I was in that church they never ever took communion from me, and that was their choice,” she said.
Reverend Massiah returned to Barbados in December 2013 and again encountered those little obstacles, but she was not daunted in performing her Christian duty.
She has ministered at St Mary’s, St George and Christ Church Anglican Churches and has spent the last two years as Priest-in-Charge of St Martin’s Anglican Church.
But Reverend Massiah noted that while the face of Caribbean clergy has changed over time – from all male, all white – it appeared that acceptance of female priests had not kept pace with the philosophical and psychical changes.
“We made the bold step of ordaining women 20 years ago, but it appears any further change is slow in coming. For example, The Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral is still an all-male enclave after all this time and none of the rural deans are females and I am not sure if this will change anytime soon,” she said.
As a woman who is also passionate about the progress of women in society, the priest said she believes the time has come for the “old boys network” to be defunct.
“The whole world is changing and Barbados can’t stay on the sidelines and not change along with it, but I think it can only change when all of us get together – all women and men – and work to break boundaries. One woman can’t do it by herself.
“In Barbados, the old boys’ network is an unfortunate reality, especially in the Anglican Church, and women need to sort of replicate this; not by creating all women circles but by being each other’s’ champions. And I don’t think just in the church but in all areas of life we need to be each other’s champions.”
And the theme for this International Women’s Day – #PressforProgress – encapsulates how she feels about the status quo in the country and how women should break that glass ceiling.
“I am reminded in this theme of the story of the haemorrhaging woman in the Gospel who had a particular illness but she had a goal in mind and she knew what she wanted. She was fully aware of the restrictions imposed on her by the patriarchal society of which she was a part, but in the midst of all of this and surrounded by men – both religious and civic and [those] who sought to keep her and others like her on the margins of social discourse – she identified how she might achieve her particular goal and she pressed for progress, she kept on through the crowd ignoring the obstacles overcoming them.
“As women I think we need to know what we want to achieve, have a particular goal in mind, go after it and don’t be daunted by the glass ceilings, real or imagined.”
And what’s Christian ministry without sound advice? On this International Women’s Day, Reverend Massiah is urging women, especially the young ones, to build networks of strong supportive women—and yes, even male allies.
“We can never have enough champions! . . . . Regardless of your faith stance, never leave God out of the mix and when it seems that the glass ceiling is too high and you can’t overcome boundaries, remember that God is in the midst of it and seek to give back to the society that nurtured you.
“Women love yourself – the you that God created. And don’t ever apologize for being who you are!” she implored.