Several years ago, while serving a church in the capitol of a midwestern state, I went to a friend’s bridal shower. Chatting with another woman there, we started talking about what I do. “I’m a Presbyterian minister,” I said. “Pardon me?” she said. I, more slowly and with more enunciation. “I’m a Presbyterian minister.” “Really? I didn’t know girls could be ministers.”
Sigh. I once told someone I was a minister and she thought I said “mistress.” That one was pretty funny. But my favorite is “you’re so normal for a minister.” Sigh.
There’s a new twist on this whole female clergy thing for me. This week our local paper ran an article about a new church in town, founded by musicians, worshipping in a cool space, growing, and attracting folks in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. A member of my congregation emailed me about it, because they’re doing a lot of things we’ve talked about doing. But then, as he noted, all the pastors are men, all the elders are men, and of the twelve member staff, only three are women. They’ve outgrown their facilities twice since 2009, and they have worship four times on Sunday. In other words, they are alive and growing. Without leadership from women.
They are not the only thriving church that does not have women in leadership. There are thousands of growing churches out there that do not allow women into positions of leadership. And that’s fine for them (not really) but sometimes I want to say to some of their people in their 20’s and 30’s, “Really? It’s okay with you that your church does not allow women to be in leadership here? That’s really okay with you? What if that happened at your workplace – what if only men could be executives and directors – would you work there? What if only men could be in management at your grocery store? Would you shop there? What if only men could be teachers and principals? Would you want to go to that school?”
To be honest, it ticks me off that these churches are growing without women’s leadership. Then again, the theology in these churches would probably tick me off too – too much literalism and judgment, not enough questioning and grace. There have been hints that one of the reasons mainline Protestantism is declining is because we decided it was okay to ordain women, that the church has somehow lost its luster, power and voice because women are at the table, too. No, no, no, no, no.
So here’s the thing for me, today: if you want to go to a church, hear great music, hear a message that makes the gospel very clear, black and white without a shade of gray, if you don’t care that only men are up front and around the decision-making tables, that’s fine. Really, it is. Our souls are all fed in different ways. But please don’t assume that your church is awesome because of the kind of music it has, because of its particular theological take, because women are not allowed. If your church is awesome, it is because of the Holy Spirit, not because of anything you do.
Most days, I love being a pastor. Most days I am grateful that I bring particular gifts because I am a woman. In my twenty years of ministry, no one has left a congregation I’ve served because they called a woman. (They left for other reasons, but that’s another post.) There are folks in my congregation who used to attend those growing, hip churches with music they loved but left because they couldn’t bear the theology, missed seeing women up front, did not believe that God hates gay people. They’ve found their way to us, and put up with the classical music that doesn’t move them, and yawn their way through a Sunday morning service when they would just as soon be sitting in a coffee shop.
I really don’t have an answer. All I’ve got today is some good ol’ righteous indigation that these churches are thriving without women leaders. Their loss, I say. Sour grapes, they might say.