Post Author: Julie Hoplamazian
Wardrobe choices. That’s what my husband and I were fighting about that evening. It was like an episode of “What Not To Wear” was playing in front of our closet.
“I don’t know, I mean, I don’t need to wear it for tonight’s event.”
“Babe, I don’t understand why you wouldn’t wear it. You’re a priest. And you’re going to a church event.”
“But it’s not my church, it’s just a lecture at the seminary.”
“It’s not just any lecture. It’s a lecture by a professor from the denomination you grew up in, and a lot of people you know will be there. Why are you afraid to be a priest in front of them?”
“I’m not afraid to be a priest in front of them, but….”
“Didn’t you leave that denomination because you felt called to be a priest?”
“Well yeah, but….”
“And isn’t this lecture being held at an Episcopal seminary? And aren’t you an Episcopal priest?”
“Well, yeah… but… I don’t want to, you know, seem like I’m rubbing it in their faces or something.”
“BABE. You are a priest. Going to a church event. Why on earth wouldn’t you wear your clergy collar?!”
My husband is exasperated at this point, I know. He deals with my impostor syndrome a lot. Whenever I have these moments of second-guessing myself, or downplaying my ordination, or otherwise diminishing my priesthood, he’s there reminding me of my calling, proud of me and wanting to proclaim it from the rooftops. Unfortunately, instead of feeling loved and saying thank you, I tend to just argue with him more. Poor guy. It must be exhausting to be a cheerleader for someone with no morale.
It’s not that I have no morale, actually. Most days, my morale is quite high. But I grew up in a church that does not ordain women, and very early on, I absorbed the message that women aren’t meant to be religious leaders. I found myself questioning that message in college, which led to a 12-year discernment before I finally joined the Episcopal Church and entered the ordination process. I did all of that happily and willingly, never looking back, with no regrets, confident in God’s call to ordained ministry. And yet… whenever I am in the company of people from my church of origin, I feel myself shrinking, cowering, afraid, almost ashamed. Despite the fact that many Christian churches have been ordaining women for decades, there still seems to be a default setting of “unnatural” (or at best, unusual) when it comes to women’s leadership in the church. As much as I know I am called to be a priest, I have never stopped being haunted by the message that what I’m doing with my life is wrong.
Receiving this message over and over again does its share of emotional and spiritual damage. In those times when I have felt wounded by those who oppose my calling, my spouse has been my anchor, my foundation, the support I can’t live without. His support creates a sanctuary in our home and our marriage, a safe space where it is unacceptable to not support women’s ordination. While he agrees that people have the right to believe what they want, he is quick to discount those positions and assure me that I am called to this holy work.
I cannot imagine ministry without his loving support. Every single time I have to defend my right to have this job, let alone prove that I can do it well, it hurts. It takes some massive inner strength to be a young clergy woman, and sometimes we are so strong that our loved ones – especially our spouses – can easily take for granted the fact that we still need them to be our defenders. As much as I have always been a person who can stand on her own two feet, I still feel vulnerable when I am around those who oppose my call to ordination, especially those from my church of origin. Knowing that my spouse can be strong for me when I am weak is a blessing beyond words.
I did wear my clergy collar to the lecture that night. My husband stood by my side as some people greeted me with warmth and welcome, while others scowled and refused to speak to me. Some wouldn’t even make eye contact. Whenever there was a tense interaction, I felt my husband’s hand gently on the small of my back, as if to say, “you might falter, but I will not let you fall.” The spiritual safety he provides is one of the greatest gifts of our marriage. No matter what, I know that my husband has my back.
Julie Hoplamazian is the Associate Rector at Grace Church Brooklyn Heights. She and her husband, Jeremy, share their apartment with their Australian Shepherd mutt, Takouhi ("Queen" in Armenian), who lives up to her name and never leaves them enough room on the couch.
Image by: Julie Hoplamazian
Used with permission