Sunday, June 18, 2006

So our pastor took the day off today, and we had the local supply pastor substitute. I don't know if I've written about her before or not, but she is the wife of the pastor of the Disciples of Christ church down the street from mine, and she is the volunteer coordinator and chaplain for one of the local hospice agencies.

Growing up Catholic, I didn't get the chance to hear women preach homilies/sermons (obviously). The first time I actually heard a woman preach was when I took my mom to her church's 150th anniversary service during my last year of college. Her pastor was a woman. She also presided at my mom's funeral, and I was impressed. I was even more impressed with the fact that she remembered me when I ran into her over a year later.

Anyhow, as I was listening to this pastor preach this morning, I was also observing the difference between this pastor and our usual pastor, and I was also comparing the women I've heard preach to the men I've heard, trying to decide if there was a difference based solely on gender.

Well, my conclusion is that there is. But the difference is in style, not substance. The women I've heard preach seem more...animated when they preach. And it isn't really a physical animation; my mom's pastor was physically disabled and couldn't be physcially animated, and I've seen plenty of priests who walked around or were otherwise mobile.

But there is something more...interactive about the way that women preach. There is almost a conversational quality to their sermons that just doesn't seem to be present when men preach. And it's not that they engage the congregation in literal conversation. There is just the sense that they are talking with you instead of to you.

Now granted, my observations are based on a somewhat literal sample, but nonetheless it made me wonder what accounted for the difference. And of course, I have a theory.

I think it all has to do with the difference in the qualities we respect in men and women as a culture. We tend to expect men to be authoritarian and dictatorial ("Wait till your father gets home," is not just a cliche from 1950's sitcoms). In the business world, we call that man a strong leader, or a tough negotiator. We respect that.

Women, on the other hand, are expected to be diplomatic and compromisers (again, "Jimmy, you can kick the ball now, and Freddy will hold it. Then you can hold the ball while Freddy kicks it," - not just a sitcom standard). They are supposed to listen and find a way to make things work that makes everybody happy. Such a woman in the business world is said to be fair, or concerned for her employees.

But when a woman displays those tough, authoritarian qualities, she is not a strong leader or a tough negotiator. She is a witch with a capital "B". Likewise, if a man in business displays characteristics of concern and compromise, he is soft, effiminate, or worse.

So what does this have to do with preaching? A lot. Those qualities we as women (or men) are raised to respect in our own gender and anticipate in the opposite sex carry over into all phases of our lives. And the way we are taught to communicate by observing our parents and other adults in our lives carries over as well. My parents were from that traditional mold, as were most of my teachers (oddly, even the nuns), and I tend to communicate in conversational, non-confrontational ways. I'm sure that's the case with the preachers I've had the opportunity to observe.

Of course, there are exceptions. Boss Lady's parents are very traditional (military dad, stay at home mom), but Boss Lady is anything but non-confrontational. Of course, she hated her parents, so she rebelled, undoubtedly. Boss Lady's Boss, though, is very non-confrontational. She has a much more passive-agressive way of getting results.

Oh, and I don't mean to say that male clergy aren't compassionate - many, if not most, are. They just exhibit in different ways.

I hope this makes sense. I just kind of started emptying my brain into my keyboard, so you are getting the raw theory, not the refined stuff I may come up with later.


I was also contemplating if my life would be different if I had grown up in a religious tradition that ordained women. I think it very well may have been.

I think I wrote about the incident in 4th grade once before. In the parish in which I grew up, 4th grade is the traditional age when kids can become altar servers. Of course, when I was in fourth grade, that would be altar boys. In 1980, the thought of a girl serving at the altar in the diocese of Pittsburgh was ludacrius (I know I spelled that wrong - I just don't care enough to look it up.). That really annoyed me. And not because I wanted some priveledge the boys had; I genuinely wanted to serve at the altar. I had heard priests and my uncles (my dad was a choir boy, so he couldn't be an altar boy as well) talk about how they really learned the mass my doing that, and how they really came to appreciate the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. I wanted that.

So when Fr. David Kriss came into our classroom that fateful day, recruiting boys to be altar boys, I raised my hand to ask a question. I asked him why girls couldn't serve. Now, being that bold was out of character for me, but I genuinely wanted to know why they could serve in my mom's church and not in mine, especially if it was such a spiritual experience. He told me that it was because all of Jesus's apostles were men, and because serving at the altar was the first step for preparing boys for priesthood. In my emboldened mood, I replied that my uncles were altar boys, and they didn't become priests, so that didn't make any sense. He finally said that that was just the way it was, and if I didn't accept it, it was a mortal sin. He also said that he would be taking to my father after mass on Sunday. I kept my mouth shut then, because while I may have been unusally confrontational at that point in time, I wasn't stupid. He did talk to my dad, by the way, but my dad ignored him because Dad really, really, didn't like him.

So given that I love Scripture, theology, and liturgy, I wonder if things would have been different if I had grown up in a tradition where women had an active role beyond social outreach and teaching. If I were able to serve at the altar as a girl, see women active in ordained ministry, would I have chosen a different path?

I don't know, but it is something to ponder. And I know it's not toon late to consider that road technically, I think it is too late practically. Besides, I hate philosophy, and I bet I'd have to take a lot more of it.

And on that note, Good night, and have a pleasant tomorrow (who said that, anyway?)


Tim said...

I think it was Garret Morris on the old Saturday Night Live who always said "Good night, and have a pleasant tomorrow ". Might have been someone else too, but he comes to mind. lol
I haven't had the experience of hearing a woman deliver a sermon of course, me being a Catholic, but I've no doubt that there are many who are more capable than a lot of the men in connecting with their audience. The girl I took to my senior prom went on to become a preacher, and although I've never heard her I have no doubt that her intensity, intelligence and common sense have helped her become an effective voice of God.
I don't know how soon we'll ever see a female Catholic priest, but there have been a few changes since I was a kid. Women are now lectors and girls are altar servers, so maybe it's coming. With the decline in men going into the priesthood they may be forced to accept women soon. It would be interesting to see what widespead changes, if any, would occur within the Mass if that happens.
Also, just a side note, I think things would be a lot different- for the better- in the church if priests were allowed to marry. I still remember the last Mass that our previous priest said before he retired 11 years ago. He begged the congregation to write to the bishops in favor of changing it so that they can marry. This seemed so odd coming from an older traditional style priest, but it shows how strongly the priests feel about this need for change. I think a married priest would be much more in touch with the day-to-day problems faced by the members of his parish, along with having his wife's opinion to help guide him.

Sheryl said...

There are actually married Roman Catholic priests already. They areconverts from either Anglican/Episcopalian or Orthodox. Both allow married clergy, and both are considered to have legitimate episcopal succession. We have one in the diocese I live in now.

I know three priests who have left the priesthood and married.

I believe that Canon Law will change to allow married clergy under normal circumstances in my lifetime. But women...not so much.