Friday, November 13, 2009

Yesterday I was listening to "Talk of the Nation" on NPR. They were interviewing Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. He is most well-known for being the first openly gay Episcopal bishop. The interview was ostensibly about the past, current, and future state of gay rights in America, but it really encompassed a lot more than that, including the diocese leaving the Episcopal church in the United States for more conservative waters - including the Roman Catholic church, if the Pope has his way. The whole thing was interesting, and my respect for the man, which was already considerable, only grew.

At any rate, one thing he said really resonated with me. A woman called the show who lives in one of the most conservative Episcopal diocese - they didn't even ordain women. And Bishop Robinson, in talking about inclusivity and all that good stuff said this:

"And what I would say to her is when youre in the middle of all of this
acrimony and unfortunate turn of events, having to turn to the courts and so on,
I want you to think about of the little girl who was in church and sees a woman
standing behind the altar celebrating the Holy Communion and what that means to
that girl, that her gifts for ministry are every bit as fine and God-given as
the little boys who is next to her, and think of the change that youre making in
that kids life and in so many others."

That really resonated with me. Growing up, I never saw a woman behind the altar. I was Catholic, obviously, so that accounted for a lot of it, and ordination of women was still a pretty brand new concept in most mainline churches in the 1970's. The first female pastor I ever met was the woman who became pastor of my mom's church when I was in college.

I sometimes wonder if my path would have been different if I would have had different examples when I was younger. Oh, I knew women in ministry - they were all nuns. And I knew I didn't want to be a nun. I didn't know much about them, except that they were all teachers or nurses - that was still pretty much the only things nuns were doing in those days. And in fact, in my experience, that was pretty much the only thing women were doing. That's the reason I wanted to be a teacher. But I've written about that before.

But ministry is a whole 'nother animal. I've written before about how crushed I was that I couldn't be an altar server when I was a kid. But really, the only examples I had of lay women doing ministry were lectors and the altar society ladies who cleaned the church and pressed the linens. That was never what I wanted either, though I do enjoy reading Scriptures in church.

It wasn't until I got to college that I had any other examples, but because I was Catholic, my options were still limited, and always would be. While women are enjoying the most options they ever have working for the Catholic church (in places where the priest shortage is severe, they are even running parishes), they will always be second class citizens. They're able teach doctrine, comfort people who are hurting, handle the finances, and do everything else a priest does, but they are denied the opportunity to celebrate the sacraments, and therefore can't serve their communities fully. How exactly is that just?

But I digress...

What if I had had examples of women serving in ministry when I was a little girl? Heck, what if I had had examples of women doing anything besides being teachers, nurses, wives, and mothers? Where might I be today?

And the bigger question - what kind of example am I for the young girls and women I come in contact with? Between Sunday school, youth minsitry, and campus ministry, I see a lot of young women over the course of the month. What kind of example do I set of a woman in ministry (lay ministry and voluntarily, granted)? Although I try to hide it, sometimes I wonder if my frustrations and impatience color the way I am perceived. And that makes me wonder what the source of that frustration and impatience are.

I pray about that a lot. I'm so afraid that I'd be advancing a personal agenda by saying things in committee meetings or on council that I don't say anything. But I can see so many needs in our congregation and in our community that aren't being met. I can see so many people who are looking for something, but aren't finding what they need. And I feel powerless to do anything about it because I'm too afraid that my observations are coming from me, not the Holy Spirit.

I just wish that God were more explict sometimes. If He would just tap you on the shoulder and say, "Hey. I want you to do this," life would be good. Instead, we're left to try to interpret signs and feelings and whatnot to figure out what He has in mind. And we're left to play the "What if?" game with whatever decisions we make.

I have more thoughts on this, I think, but I'm getting tired. Have a lovely Saturday.