Monday, February 27, 2012

Women Clergy

When I planned last week's installation service, I goofed.  All the clergy participants were women!  We are supposed to attempt balance in such things, but the combination of being in an unfamiliar presbytery and dealing with medical issues on a daily basis meant that my planning capacities were somewhat taxed.

This morning after church a woman in our congregation approached me to ask whether she could tape one of my sermons.  (We are not a high tech place; we don't record services on a regular basis.  Or on any basis.)  It turns out that one of her family members belongs to the Church of Christ (not !!! to be confused with the United Church of Christ), a hyper-conservative denomination that prohibits female leadership and also musical accompaniment of singing. ( Perhaps there's a connection, but I have no idea what that might be.  A particularly unusual reading of the Bible, perhaps?)  This person frequently denounces church practices that do not comport with her own, and is thereby creating some tension in her family.

"I told her that I wish so much that she'd been at your installation service,"  my parishoner said.  "I wish she could have heard and seen those women and all their education and training, all their gifts."  This woman is on the older side, and no doubt did not grow up with women as her pastors.  But she seems to have moved on with ease.

I was reminded of the words of a Catholic friend of mine after my ordination service last October.  "Not only were there so many women clergy," she said, "but it was so ordinary.  Accepted.  Not a big deal."

We don't have all the answers in the PC(USA), not by a long shot.  We definitely don't have all the answers where matters of gender and gender-related language is involved, especially where God is concerned.  We have a long way to go in terms of women's leadership in so-called "tall steeple" churches.  In contexts other than those in which ordination is required, the Catholic Church has a much longer and far more illustrious history than we do in the development of women leaders.

But at least half the students in my seminary are women.  Most of the presbytery executives and administrators I know are ordained women.  Many of the pastors I know are women.  We are used to hearing the good news proclaimed in both feminine and masculine voices. 

All good.  

Somewhere, Mary Magdalene is smiling.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. deleted and editing for several missing important words…too early in the morning…

    My tall steeple PCUSA church is excellent in the area of women's leadership. Thank goodness. However, there has never been a senior paster who is female and I highly doubt the next will be.

    Do I take your words about gender language to mean you believe God should not always be referred to as the father , in male terms? I am just curious - my church is seeking to leave PCUSA, and it is causing me to really examine who believes what out there, and what is really important.

  3. Well . . . I believe that the Bible and our experiences offer us a multitude of words, images, and ideas of who God might be. Father is only one. Personally, I almost never use Father (or Mother) when referring to God -- way too loaded language for me, with little to do with my understanding of or relationship with God -- although sometimes I do, and I sometimes speak in terms of Jesus and God as his father. Many (most? all?) in my congregation begin prayers with "Heavenly Father," but that's not a phrase I'm comfortable with. I tend to seek out names for God having to do with God's labors and loves.

    It's interesting to me that you describe your church as both excellent in women's leadership and yet never having called a female senior pastor. That's exactly what I mean by "we have a long way to go." The fact that whether a senior pastor is female or not is even worth mentioning is indicative of how much distance we have to cover.

  4. And Susan, I took a look at your blogs and I see that your Nathan died on my birthday in 2007. I am so very sorry. Your girls are just beautiful, but I can see now that a third child is in those pictures.

    I hope that your church stays. I believe that God calls us all together and hopes that we will be in community despite our diverse viewpoints.

  5. The reason I don't see a female pastor on the horizon for our church is the demographics. We are very large and very old, but slowly getting younger. I would say that much of older generation would not tolerate a female senior pastor. They are the bulk of the financial support. The younger generation would be completely open to it, and one of these days, we will be the majority…so waiting for that. I also think that if the younger generation was in charge we would not be thinking of leaving either. I have always been less conservative than my church, which was OK, but with these issues swirling around now I will have to make a decision….it is hard.

  6. My feeling is that it is way past time for Christianity (and any other patriarchal "religions") to embrace the Sacred Feminine. Oddly enough, the Catholic Church--with its veneration of Mary--goes further in its acknowledgment of the Sacred Feminine than most Protestant offshoots. In fact, the Church is often condemned by other Christian sects for its "Mary Worship."

    I don't have much trouble concluding that this imbalance--the fact that so many of the world's religions are so heavily male-weighted--has everything to do with why the world as a whole is so out of balance. We cannot expect to enjoy the fullness of creation when we choose to ignore/subjugate half of it.

  7. Sometimes I voice aloud prayers to "Father, Mother God" but find "Holy One" most easy to say. It's good to hear about your event and thoughts.

  8. It's my understanding that the Church of Christ (which is very predominant in my area, second to Southern Baptist) does not permit instrumental music is because: it is not mentioned in the New Testament. OT, yes; but that's not the one they are seeking to follow, and they take a very hard line about "if it's not in the book we are not doing it."

    There are all varieties within the COC of exactly what that means. Some have choirs that sound just like organs. Some just have choirs. Some have NO choir.

    )I never heard of the United Church of Christ until I found RevGals. What a mind blower.)

    That digression aside: I cherish every moment of seeing women and girls in leadership. I didn't see a female priest in my denomination until I was in college. I am only now in my first church that has a female priest. We have a long way to go.

  9. We recently attended the funeral of a dear friend at one of our local Episcopal churches. My husband read the scripture passages and the eulogy was given by the Pastor - a nice young man of about 16 years old.

    However, the liturgy including consecration of the bread and wine was all done by the associate pastor - a lovely woman of about 60.

    It was the second time in just a few months that I have hear these familiar words in the voice of a woman. And, can I just say that I don't think I'd ever tire of that? Of getting a bodily sense of being reflected up on the altar? That the words "take this and eat...." being uttered by a woman also ring true and deep?

    Oh Robin, you are in good company.