“I didn’t know girls could be ministers”

rev barbieSeveral 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.

There is an “I” in “Worship”

groovy jesusA few Sundays ago, as the deacons brought the offering up to the table and the congregation sang the Old 100th doxology, I found myself doing what I always do when singing that doxology: changing the words to make the God-language more inclusive.  It’s just a thing I do, week after week, my little stab at feminism in the midst of a tradition that is slowly, but perceptibly, moving away from patriarchy.

And then I felt like David when Nathan said to him, “You are the man.”  Not in the “you da man” way, but in the “you yourself do what you’ve been critiquing others for doing” way.  It all started with the Apostles’ Creed.

Our Presbyterian Rules of How To Do Things, otherwise known as the Book of Order, says that the Apostles’ Creed shall be said as part of the baptism liturgy, so when my husband and I arrived at the church we serve as co-pastors, we put the creed (which had been taken out at some point) back in the liturgy.  At first we introduced the creed saying the words I’d memorized in my early years of pastoring.  “Let us stand and affirm our faith and the faith of our church, using the words of the Apostles’ Creed.”

We got some feedback on that, so we changed the intro.  “Let us join in the historic tradition of the church, saying together the Apostle’s Creed, which the church has said in baptism for thousands of years.”  Feedback on that too, but it’s still in.

There are some people who really like saying the Apostles’ Creed, like the way it ties us to the ancient church; some of them probably wish we’d say it, or another creed, every week.  But there are people who really, really, REALLY don’t like it.  They don’t believe some or most of the stuff in there.  They don’t like the Father language.  The Virgin Birth seems to be a tricky part, as is the descent into Hell, as is the resurrection of the body.  (For me, Virgin Birth is non-essential; descent into Hell is another way of saying Jesus died; I love the doctrine of resurrection and believe in it.)

There are some people who don’t like to pass the peace, or to say “the peace of Christ be with you.”  There are some who don’t like opening the service with the words “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  There are some who wish we didn’t do Moments with Children, and likely more than a few who wish there were no sermon, or a more intellectual sermon, or a less intellectual sermon.  Some don’t like the prayers of the people.

You get the picture.  What’s a poor pastor to do?

First, I am grateful that people in our pews take theology seriously, and want to be authentic about what they say they believe.  We have a broad array of theological beliefs in the congregation, and I would have it no other way, because it enriches our conversation and our life together.

Second, there is room for all of us.  If I choose to sing different words to the doxology, why can’t someone else stand but not say the Apostles’ Creed?  Why can’t someone who is new to Christianity say “Good morning” and in time, may learn to say “The peace of Christ be with you”?

Third, we’re keeping the tricky bits in.  Sure, we could take out “This is the day the Lord has made”, and the passing of the peace, and the children’s time, and the sermon, and the prayers, and the creeds, and a lot of people would be happy.  A lot of people would be unhappy.  A lot of people would be comfortable that we don’t have complex things, or blatantly faithful things, in the service, but without those things, worship would be pretty watered down and if I went to a worship service that didn’t challenge me, or even make me mad or questioning just a little bit, then I might as well go to Starbucks, drink a latte, and read the Sunday New York Times.

Which a lot of people do.  But not those who show up Sunday after Sunday to sit in our pews, to sing, to pray, to get bothered, to be comforted, to be told they are loved, with all their questions and opinions and preferences.  They are loved, and so am I.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow;

Praise God all creatures here below;

Praise God above, ye heavenly host;

Creator, Christ, and Holy Ghost.

But about that “Ghost” part….