27.11.08

A woman serving...

I love this reflection from Molly about her first experience of a woman serving the church:

Reflections on My First Sunday with a Woman in the Pulpit

I’ve been attending a small Episcopal church in my area lately. This Sunday’s service was led by a deacon (which is what they call a person who has graduated from the Episcopal seminary program—they serve as a deacon for a year or two, and then are ordained as a priest. Correct me if I’m wrong, as I’m very new to everything in the Anglican communion). The deacon was a woman.

I do not remember a time when I did not know that “women weren’t allowed to be pastors.” The church I grew up in was a conservative fundamentalist “Bible church,” closely resembling Calvinist-slanting Baptist flavor, if I had to describe it. It was very sweet, very warm and friendly (I have many good memories there), and women were allowed to be active, but only as long as it didn’t involve leading men. Especially on Sunday mornings.

For example, we had an amazing worship leader who was a woman, clearly gifted and called for the task. But after a while, the leaders, all men, began to be worried about the impropriety of a woman leading the songs. After all, songs are singing doctrine, and what’s the difference between a woman preaching doctrine versus singing doctrine? So after that, on Sunday mornings our female song leader stood off to one side, though still obviously leading (it couldn’t be helped), and a man stood at the main microphone, singing slightly off-key, so as to keep God pleased. We didn’t have any men who could sing on key, for some reason. But that didn’t matter, because women were not allowed to lead men, not even when singing.

You would think that spending the total of my thirty-three years in that kind of environment (some of the later churches would be a less strict, but when it came time to preach, it was still men only), that a woman leading a congregation would be something I would have a hard time with (or at least, REALLY notice, like, maybe stare incredulously at for awhile instead of focusing on the responsive reading). I was surprised at what actually happened. Because what actually happened was that I forgot all about it, and so did my kids—if they even noticed at all. It was only after the service, while describing it to my friend on the phone, that I really thought about the fact that this was the first time I’ve ever been in a service led by a woman.

She was obviously called to do what she was doing, much like the music leader of my childhood. It just felt right to have her there. There was nothing to stare at—she was obviously gifted and responding to her position felt completely normal. My kids didn’t bat an eyelash. There wasn’t anything to bat it at.

It would have felt silly to have an “un-called” man standing up there as a figure head, to keep God happy, while she spoke and while she led the Lord’s Supper—just as it always felt odd as a teenager to have an obviously un-called man up front “in charge” of the singing, slightly off-rhythm and off-key, the woman on the side clearly leading and clearly supposed to be.

What does it tell you, when you are a woman, and are taught that when it comes to honoring God in community, there is something about you that isn’t good enough, that isn’t right, even when you are obviously the most gifted for the task? I think the message comes through loud and clear, even when the words are unspoken.

I remember too the first time I was introduced to our female priest, I can even remember where I was standing (right hand side of the church at the back)- there was this strange little whoop for joy inside that I just didn't understand at all at the time. I also remember exactly where I was standing in the front room of a house in Chester that overlooked the river Dee, when my Gran was talking with my parents in the early nineties about the fact that the press had been discussing the impending ordination of women to the priesthood of the Anglican church - I was a teenager at the time but suddenly tuned in to catch every word of what they were saying, wondering why I should find it all so interesting.

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A little background reading on the two theological integrities in the Church of England regarding women in ministry.