Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Women in Ministry

There was a time in my life when I didn't think that women could be pastors.

When I was in the 9th grade, I heard our pastor preach for the first time in our new sanctuary. It was a heady experience. For a fleeting moment, I thought, "If I were a man, that's what I would do." Women were just starting to be pastors in my denomination, but the news hadn't filtered down to my congregation yet. Besides, I was, if not painfully shy, relatively quiet, and lived more in my books and in journals than in any public arena. I was a choir member, not a soloist. I was a bit player in school plays. I put that fleeting thought away quickly, and didn't think about it again.

In college, I fell in with a conservative religious group that reinforced my notions about women pastors. They were earnest and enthusiastic Christians, and I learned some things from them. But real and honest Biblical interpretation was not one of them.

Later on, one of the women I served with while a missionary in Japan decided she wanted to be a pastor. I began to re-read the passages about women. I knew that I trusted my friend's integrity. I knew that she took the Bible seriously, as I did. I began, tentatively, to believe that perhaps, women could be called to ministry.

But not me.

In the meantime, I loved being in worship, reading the lessons in church. I became a lay intercessor. I was elected to the church council, the leadership board of our church. I organized Bible studies and adult forums. I unlocked the church on Sunday morning and set up the chairs for Sunday School. I helped train lay leaders. I even visited a few people in their homes. I also loved to read theology, and practical ministry books.

Even later, I have come to believe that I was using the Bible as an excuse -- an excuse not to take a risk based on faith, an excuse not to use my gifts, an excuse not to do something hard for me. What was so hard?, you ask. I loved seminary. Studying was not difficult for me. Chanting was not difficult for me. Leading worship (mostly) was not difficult for me. Visiting was not difficult for me.

Believing that God could call me to be a leader, a pastor, a preacher: that was what was difficult for me. Sometimes, I still fight the demon. How could God call you?

During my internship year, Pope John Paul II came to Denver. It was quite an awesome event. Thousands of people of all ages gathered in this city. And there were many things that I respected about Pope John Paul II. He was an advocate for the poor, and the oppressed. He had reached out to the Jewish people.

During the Pope's visit, there were several alternative gatherings of clergy and lay women. They were gatherings in solidarity with Catholic women seeking ordination. Until then, I had never really considered the possibility that there were Catholic women who wanted to be priests, who were trying to change things. The Catholic women all wore ribbons across their albs so that they could be identified. I caught myself wondering, during one of the worship services, "How would I feel if I knew that I was called and my church said, we don't want you."

There was a time in my life when I didn't believe that women could be pastors.

Then I believed that women could be pastors. But not me.

Now I believe that God honors all of our gifts, and that the church needs all of our gifts, men and women, lay and ordained.
Sometimes I think that everyone believes this now, or at least almost everyone.

After all, church members in the nursing home have proudly introduced me as "their pastor." People have specifically asked me to preside at their wedding, or at their mother's funeral, or to baptize their baby.

But not everyone believes this yet. Not even almost everyone. There are people who still think I am not worthy, that women are not worthy, to speak the Word.

So forgive me if I have not been able to get that worked up about the Pope's pronouncement that I belong to a defective church.

I get more worked up when I realize that the Pope believes that I am a defective person. Not just as a protestant. As a woman.


Pastor Eric said...

Let me tell do not belong to a defective church and you ARE NOT a defective person despite what anyone says. I may not be able to fully understand the struggle that you and other women have had to endure but I can about imagine.

As for me, I am here because of my pastor from my senior high school days, Pastor Karen Bates-Olsen. She was and still is an incredibly faithful person. She believed in me and saw gifts in me. There is no way on God's green earth that she was not called to ordained ministry. There is no way that she was "defective". And there is no way that we belong to a "defective" church.

I am sorry if I have touch a raw nerve in you. That was not my intent. But when someone tells me that my ministry is "defective" I get a little worked up. I respect much of the Catholic faith but like you I believe the Pope is wrong, plain and simple. The church is where the Word is preached and the sacraments are administered. the words of one of my favorite camp songs, "(Chorus) We are the Church, the body of our Lord, we are all God's children and we have been restored. (last verse) The Church it is the people, living out their lives, called, gathered and sanctified for the work of Jesus Christ."

Thank you for sharing your story and thank you for your ministry. I appreciate it. God bless.

Positively, Inspiration said...

As a woman in ordained ministry, I was appreciative of your reflections.

I was the first woman nominated for the priesthood at Church of the Ascension, Atlantic City. Since being ordained, Jan. 2007, I've felt led to explore the topic of women in church leadership in more depth.

While I was in discernment, I truly did feel like "one of the boys." It was not difficult for me being male-oriented, and the mother of four boys. God works in mysterious ways.

warm regards,
Rev. Jackie O'Neal Clergy

Diane said...

eric, thank you for your comments. It's not that I think anything you said is wrong. I just realize that this is important to me... for a variety of reasons. realized I had to talk/blog about it.

mompriest said...

thank you, all who have commented here, including diane for her wonderfully sensitive post. Someday I'll talk about my process. Not that dissimilar to so many other women. But I appreciate hearing the stories and hearing from men like eric, to know that woman clergy are impacting others, men and women, to find their call and trust that God is in their discerning.

Thank you.

LawAndGospel said...

Diane, I can really identify with a lot of your experience. I was reared in the Presbyterian faith. I loved my church from the time I was little, singing in the choirs, helping at pancake breakfasts, and a whole lot of other good times. My father was in retailing and we moved around a lot so there were a few years we had no church home. But when I was in 5th grade we moved to the suburbs of a big city and I began to tag along with friends to their Wednesday night program. Found myself in confirmation, and urged my parents to rejoin the church ( which they had abandoned because of differences of opinion, burnout and petty congregational issues). My first evangelism moment. Went to church camp, and the annual summer Missionary conference. Wanted to be a Volunteer in Mission. Wanted to be a pastor. Felt called to these, but my church was adamantly opposed to ordaining women. Nasty argument with the pastor about God only speaking to men. It was not about gifts, but anatomy. I lost the battle, and yet I believed in my church. I must be wrong. But why don't they want me? I so hear you on that issue. Ironically I went to a college that was 4-1 men to women and joined what was at the time a male oriented profession, so I hear you about the old boys, too, p.i. Now I am much older as my gray hair will attest and a little more cantankerous, and I absolutely believe that while there are internal and external senses of call, it is God who speaks first and foremost. I have asked, "Am I worthy?" I think as important is, "Am I willing?" Not everyone is. But if God is not judging me, then so be it. No more defective than any other sinner, placed where God can use us to proclaim Word and sacrament.

RevDrKate said...

Thanks for your post. It speaks, among other things about the persistence of call...I have experienced that as well, myself and others saying, "oh, no I don't think so," and God just going on saying "yes" until one day.....

Gabriel said...

There is something I have never understood: Why do people who are not Roman Catholic care what the Pope thinks? I am asking because I've noticed that an awful lot of energy and time is spent reacting to the leader of someone else's church. Would this time and energy not be better spent building up and serving our local communities? If your church and your community acknowledge your vocation, does it really matter, in the end, what the Pope, or for that matter anyone else, thinks?

Diane said...

actually, I don't care so much what the pope thinks. but a lot of people agree with him. and I do care about the catholic women who want to be priests. though I think their chances have gotten slimmer

lj said...

Thank goodness you followed your call! What a gift to the church you are. And what a wonderful writer. Lovely post.

Pastor Eric said...

gabriel -- The reason I am responding to what the pope said is because it seems to derail any ecumenical talks that have taken place. How do Lutherans have any kind of ecumenical agreement with the Catholic church if they don't even think we are a "real" Church? But you are right in a sense...a lot of time and energy has been spent on reacting to the pope; time and energy that could be spent in better ways.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Diane, you have a wonderful blog. And you're a poet, too!

I loved reading about your progression to ordained ministry.

I'm debating putting up a humorous post on the pope's latest message. It's already written. We shall see.

Gannet Girl said...

I have responded to what the pope said for a number of reasons -- two of them being (1) it is extremely hurtful to one who considers herself a daughter of both the Catholic and Protestant churches to see the one she has chosen and which has chosen her labeled "wounded" by the other and (2) I do think it is important, in interfaith dialog, to understand where each of us comes from, and the pope comes from a place where "church" is defined to a large extent by a belief in the apostolic succession of its leadership -- without that, according to Catholic doctrine, you have no church. Obviously the pope and his followers can identify and define "church" as they wish, and just as obviously, no one else has to buy into their definition.

Diane said...

thanks for your comments, gannet girl. I realize the Pope is saying this on the basis of "apostolic succession", which of course, we don't have. I want to be able to embrace the full breadth of the church's tradition. But of course, the reality is the full breadth of the tradition doesn't want to embrace the likes of me. (and other women)

Gannet Girl said...

Yes, and it is such a sad reality. The Catholic sisters who taught me, the Jesuit priest who has been my spiritual director for two years, and the Jesuit who is becoming my new director -- they are all so supportive of my plans for seminary and ordained ministry. If only they could offer the same, realistically, to the women of their own church.

Anonymous said...

Diane, I'm glad you took that risk and persisted when it seemed impossible!

As for not caring about the pope's pronouncements, sure, it would be easier to ignore him. But I think prejudice needs to be addressed, no matter where it comes from.

Singing Owl said...

WOW! That was one amazing post...made me cry. I sometimes fight the same demon...which is CRAZY! As for the pope and his pronoucement, well, yeah. You said it.

Gabriel said...

Thank you all for your responses to my question. Apologies if my phrasing was perhaps a tad blunter than I intended.

I'm Independent Catholic which may explain a bit of my perspective. *None* of our clergy or staff are paid, so we all hold down secular jobs along with doing ministry (plus family and personal life and spiritual life, etc). Therefore, where we put our emotional and physical energy is a huge issue, because energy towards worrying about what Rome thinks (which considers some of us heretics--we're beyond the term "defective") is that much less energy for my parish and faith community (not to mention my family, etc). So while I may discuss recent developments in other denominations, I'm also very conscious about not letting those developments affect me personally/emotionally (I'm former Roman Catholic so I'm not entirely immune) because it very much decreases how effectively I can minister to others.

Katherine E. said...

The prejudice against women as pastors remains prevalent in my experience, unfortunately. People say the most ridiculous things to me about it. I try to never let a comment pass without responding in some way to the injustice involved in it. Thanks for the great post, Diane.

P.S. an after-thought said...

We have a woman pastor, and interestingly, there are more people in church now than before, including people who had stayed away for years (I don't know why they did; I thought the former pastor was wonderful.)

I think there will come a time when we will wonder why more men aren't going into ministry, just as there are fewer men going into becoming physicians and veternarians, etc. Of course, the ministry has different overtones.

Regarding the pope: I read a book once, perhaps by Billy Graham, that said that protestants need to care who the pope is (and to pray for the pope) because he represents Christianity to much of the world. That sentiment impressed me. Even if we don't agree with that in the positive sense, we could pray for the pope because Jesus commanded us to pray for our enemies. I could say "wink, wink" but I don't consider him an enemy.

revabi said...

Thou are not defective, thus saith the Lord thy God and she should know! She created you.

Beautiful. Love your picture and story. I am grateful for the denominations and churches that have decided to affirm gift of all people.

Mother Laura said...

I love vocation stories! And yours is great...thanks so much for sharing it.