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.