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The Gifts of Waiting

When I can help it, I do things early.

I learned to ride a bike at five, moved away from home at sixteen, and graduated college after three brisk years. In retrospect, I’m not sure why I was in such a hurry.

And yet, I couldn’t hurry a call.

I tried. Believe me, I tried. I’ll spare you the gory details—but, suffice it to say, I spent a year unemployed and several more years broadening my understanding of ministry. I worked for a Catholic nonprofit and then Renewal Ministries Northwest, a dynamic prayer ministry in the Seattle area. In 2016, I was ordained to an unconventional, part-time ministry shepherding the remnant of a congregation that had departed the Presbyterian Church (USA) for A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO). In late 2018, I wrote and published a devotional for teen girls (Simple Truths). I felt like I was making lemonade, growing gills. I could feel the Spirit pushing me toward surrendering my idol of ordained ministry.

And then, abruptly, She called me back to it.

I received the call itself through a series of unexpected events. I had finally found a rhythm with my work at Renewal Ministries, and Simple Truths had just been published. Then, the phone rang. On the other end: someone from the Pastor Nominating Committee (PNC) from my hometown back in Tennessee, wondering if I’d throw my hat in the ring. They weren’t even offering me a position, just a chance at one—and it unraveled my world. I spent a week in tormented talks with my husband. Could we move? Did I really want this (anymore)? Is this what a call feels like? Read more

rainbow flag blowing in the wind

Speaking For Me

rainbow flag blowing in the wind“The issue.” That’s how we are often talked about by conservatives and progressives alike. To those who would like to purge The United Methodist Church of all of us queer folks, we are discussed not as real people in the church but as “the issue of homosexuality.” Then there are allies who are quick to point out that human sexuality is just the “presenting issue” as our denomination grapples with how we understand scripture, where the locus of power should rest, and the complex realities of a global church. While there is truth in that argument, that truth fails to dull the sting of dehumanization. Either way we are talked about as if we weren’t right here.

The United Methodist Church has been fighting about LGBTQIA+ inclusion/exclusion since 1972 when language was inserted into our book of polity that declared homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching and then in 1984 that barred “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” from being clergy. This antiquated language enacts not just exclusion but also erasure as those of us who identify as BTQIA+ but not as homosexual are left unclear whether we are even being talked about to begin with. I have heard allies defend themselves for only speaking out for gay and lesbian rights because our book of discipline only discriminates against homosexuality. And yet, United Methodist polity has reduced identity to action—sexual orientation to sex acts. Being bisexual will not protect me from charges filed if I decide to marry a woman nor will it protect me from the much more complete purge the so-called traditionalists would like to enact.

And now, as our denomination gathers for a special called General Conference (Feb 23-26) in St. Louis to vote on a way forward for our denomination, the “issue” will be fought over as though it were just the future of our denomination and not real lives that are at stake. Our lives. My life. In the fall of 2018, I made the complicated decision as a young United Methodist clergywoman to come out as bisexual. I began claiming my own queer voice just as my beloved denomination has disintegrated into a shouting match—speaking sometimes against, sometimes for, but always over me. Rarely with me.

When I was deciding how, when and if I would come out to my congregation, a queer friend and mentor asked me to consider if I wanted to fight for LGBTQIA+ rights “as an ally” or if I wanted to fight for our rights as a queer woman. I looked at her funny. I know who I am. I can’t do anything as anyone other than who I already am. “That’s your answer,” she told me matter-of-factly.  Read more

silhouette image of a woman on a horse reading a book - the logo for UMC clergywomen

Fewer Gender Binaries, More Expansive Leadership

silhouette image of a woman on a horse reading a book - the logo for UMC clergywomen

Another kind of circuit rider

We are saddened and frustrated whenever male colleagues in ministry seem to be suffering amnesia about the power of women’s leadership in shaping the church. Recently, a United Methodist clergyman penned a commentary for a forum run by the United Methodist news service on the role of women and men in the church. In it, he claimed that the church requires gendered forms of leadership, a Marian form following the example of prophet and God-bearer Mary of Nazareth and a Petrine form following the example of disciple Simon Peter.

The Marian form is–you guessed it–nurturing, whereas the Petrine church is about discipline and maintaining order. He presents these two forms of leadership as both being necessary and so concludes the piece without recognizing the problem. This leaves us, as women and gender-nonconforming folks often have to do, to educate our dear colleague once again: we cannot continue to rely on the sinful “complementarian” structure that is the very same used to reject the ordination of women.

When it comes to leadership in the church, we do not have to match our roles to the assumed genitalia of disciples in the Bible. Mary of Nazareth is not the role model for all women who want to participate in the life of the church, nor is Simon Peter the role model for all men. Mary and Peter offer differences in their relationship to Christ and their ministries, as do all other disciples and apostles. Our roles are not defined by or limited to our gender performance.

Separating out leadership roles by gender limits all of us. To make our Theotokos, a Greek title for Mary that means God-bearer, a model only for women is to discount a powerful example of discipleship for all who follow Christ. Mary is a model of courageous, outspoken, inclusive leadership. She is an example not just for women’s roles in the life of the church, but for ALL who seek to be disciples and leaders in the church. She answered God’s call, proclaimed God’s justice, shared Christ with the world, and welcomed everyone, from the shepherds to the magi, to be part of the movement. She is the model of leadership that the whole church needs not just mothers or women to emulate but all people, regardless of gender.

The apostle Paul offers us wonderful image of his leadership that does not conform to gendered expectations when he writes that he is like a nursing mother (for example 1 Thessalonians 2:7). Paul is clearly a “discipler” by vocation and action, something the author of that article claims is Marian by Scriptural witness. A closer look at Scripture reveals more than what the author of that article sees. Read more

droplet of water bouncing out of water with circular pattern resulting

The Stone Cast Upon the Water

droplet of water bouncing out of water with circular pattern resulting

Droplet

The August 15 edition of the “Christian Century” magazine highlighted research done by Benjamin Knoll and Cammie Jo Bolin which shows that “girls who have had a direct example of clergy-women in childhood grow up with higher self-esteem, better employment records, and more education than girls who did not.” [1]

In a spectacularly coordinated move of the Holy Spirit, just three days later, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America celebrated the installation of the Rev. Viviane Thomas-Breitfeld to the office of synodical bishop. This past May, she and the Rev. Patricia A. Davenport became the first two African-American women elected to the office of bishop in the denomination’s history.

Davenport and Thomas-Breitfeld were two of six new women elected to the office of synodical bishop in the ELCA this year. If you’re keeping count, this brings the total number of women serving as synodical bishops in the denomination to sixteen. And then you can add to that the denomination’s Presiding Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, who has been serving in that role since 2013.

To help put all of this in perspective, here’s your quick ELCA primer:

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is the largest Lutheran church body in the United States and is among the largest mainline denominations, with about 4 million members and nearly 10,000 congregations. The congregations of the ELCA are grouped into nine geographic regions. Each region is subdivided into synods, which contain anywhere from 30 to 300 congregations. There are 65 synods, and each synod is under the care and leadership of a synodical bishop. Meanwhile, the entire denominational organization is overseen by a bishop-in-chief, called the Presiding Bishop.

In 2015, the ELCA celebrated the 45th anniversary of the ordination of Lutheran women in the United States. As of that time, women made up thirty-five percent of all active ELCA clergy. Women made up nearly fifty percent of all people ordained in the ELCA between 2010 and 2015. Currently, women represent one-quarter of the total number of bishops serving the ELCA.

As a young clergywoman serving as an ordained minister of word and sacrament in this denomination, I feel both proud and hopeful looking at these numbers. I am pleased that the number of women serving and leading in this denomination continues to trend upward.

I am in a strange and beautiful context right now, where there exist thirteen ELCA congregations in and around my town. (As a point of reference, the population of our town is 8000 people!). Of these thirteen congregations, eight of them are served by women clergy. There are also a handful of women clergy serving in other denominations and in neighboring towns, which means that most of my colleague interactions are with other women – women for whom I am profoundly grateful, both for their gifts of ministry and for their friendship. I am grateful to be living in a place and time where women in ministry are the norm and not the exception. Read more

“Even when they call your truth a lie, tell it anyway!” — Remembering Katie Cannon

headshot of The Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon

The Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon

It was April 7, 2014, and my friend and I boarded a bus from Washington, D.C. for a daylong adventure in New York City. We were headed to Union Theological Seminary in the for the premier of
“Journey to Liberation: The Legacy of Womanist Theology and Ethics at Union Theological Seminary.” The film was an offering by the late filmmaker (and Union alumna) Anika Gibbons, and it featured the founding mothers of Womanist theology and ethics as they told their stories in their own words.

My friend, another African-American woman, was newly ordained. I was still navigating the ordination process and fighting off discouragement. The call to which I believed I was called didn’t seem eager to make room for me. Oh, it was much deeper than experiencing some difficulty with a justifiably rigorous process. I respected the boxes I was asked to check, and I checked them. I finished my Master of Divinity program with high marks. I passed all the ordination exams on the first try. I was “call-ready,” but there was no call ready for me. And even in an otherwise pastoral relationship with my Committee on Preparation for Ministry, I sometimes felt as if I was speaking a different language from them.

[Read the full article in The Presbyterian Outlook]

Ask a YCW: Discerning a Call Edition

Dear Askie,

I think God is calling me to ministry! I never realized what a long and involved process it’s going to be to become a pastor. And did you know that even with a seminary degree, ordination isn’t guaranteed??? I was shocked to find out there are so many things I have to do! And so many people I have to impress and convince that they should ordain me! Do you have any advice for me?

Thanks,
Ordination Discerner

 

Dear Discerner,

Congratulations! Discernment is a wonderful thing. Everyone, everywhere should do it more often. Indeed the world would be a better place if we all endeavored to more fully align our will with God’s Dream for our lives on a regular basis. Blessings to you as you seek to explore God’s call to ordained ministry in your denomination. I hope this journey will be enriching and lead to a place of joy and fulfillment, whether that is serving God and the Church through ordination or as a baptized Christian. I have a number of years of experience working with people in ordination process (+ the additional years of my own process). Out of those experiences, I would like to offer some practical advice. I have noticed that sometimes people make missteps in the process, and I would like to assume that is most often due to a lack of education about process and expectations. Therefore, here is some friendly advice, with the caveat that this is just one person’s perspective and is neither an exhaustive list, nor one that will work or apply in all contexts and situations. Nonetheless, hopefully it will be helpful. Read more

“Out of the Bathroom, Into the World”

The author (bottom left) and her youngest daughter (top right) pose with Board Members of Young Clergy Women International, 2017.

“You need to develop a pastoral identity. It comes with time. Don’t worry, it will come.”

One of my dearest seminary professors told us this over and over, and I believed him. It would come: I would be able to see myself as a pastor, the more time I spent learning, watching other pastors, performing pastoral tasks myself.

The problem was this: there were precious few pastors who looked like me. I went to the seminary of a denomination that was early in its process (lo, these many years ago, way back in 1999) of ordaining women to ecclesiastical office, a denomination that had resolved its differences for the time by allowing a provisional, regionally based version of women’s ordination. There were 55 students in my MDiv class. Only 5 were women. There was one woman on the faculty of my seminary, and she wasn’t ordained herself. By the time I finished seminary and was ordained, there were fewer than two dozen ordained women in my denomination, and precious few who had, like me, gone straight through college and seminary into ministry as their first career.

During those four years of seminary, the safest place to think about myself as a pastor was the women’s bathroom. The seminary building, designed mid-twentieth century with exclusively male seminarians in mind, had no women’s bathrooms in the area where the classrooms were located. But over by the administrative offices, there was a large women’s restroom with an attached women’s lounge, a holdover from a time when the only women in the building were secretaries. That was the safe place for the handful of us women who were students. I laughed and cried and hoped and dreamed with my classmates in that space. We were honest there, most honestly ourselves, but we had to put up a facade when we left the bathroom lounge.

And so the bathroom was really the only place at my seminary where I could work on my pastoral identity as a female.

I learned to be a woman pastor in that bathroom. But I still had a murky picture of my own identity, because I had precious few places to look for examples. Read more

A Love Letter to My Swamp Monsters

When you are ordained, you agree to love your congregation in the name of Jesus Christ. When you like them and when you don’t, you love them because, well, that’s just the deal you’ve made with God. In seminary they told us this would be both infuriating and holy work. What I didn’t learn in the classroom was that, as a pastor, you are given a front row seat to the stories of diverse, fascinating people of Christian conviction. To be a pastor is, in the best case, an opportunity to praise God for the work of the people of God.  To give thanks while observing the intellect and compassion of God’s people as they pursue vocation as a primary, 40 hour-a-week vehicle of Christian discipleship.

I pastor a church of about 100 in Washington, DC. Our church is part of a small denomination in the lineage of Dutch theologian, journalist and statesman Abraham Kuyper who wrote, “There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus does not cry out, ‘This is mine!’” So, from earliest days, our church members were told, in church and Christian schools, that every subject they could ever study is part of knowing and thereby coming to love God’s broken and beautiful world. Almost any vocation can be, if you know where to look, a part of Christ’s Kingdom being redeemed.

Many of our church members attended denomination-affiliated colleges and universities that taught them to pursue of all kinds of work – philosophical, scientific, political, legal – as a means to benefit the common good. After graduation, these intrepid disciples of Jesus Christ went to graduate schools, pursued careers and moved to DC – not in opposition to their Christian faith, not even as a neutral parallel track to the journey of Christian faith, but precisely because of their sense of uniquely Christian calling.

Nearly a third of our congregation works for the government in a spectacular array of acronyms: DOD, DOJ, DOS, DOT, EPA, FDA, USDA, USAID, NASA, and a handful even work on Capitol Hill. Even folks who don’t work in government directly – educators, journalists, NGOs and non-profits – are inescapably connected to government fluctuation, personnel, and finance here in Washington, DC. It’s an honor to stand in the pulpit every Sunday to remind all of us that we matter to God and that our work matters to God. To celebrate the thoughtful folks attempting what their childhood churches, their Christian schools and Reformed universities told them was good, meaningful and even holy work. Read more

My Colleague, My Mom

The author and her mother at the author’s graduation from seminary.

The author and her mother at the author’s graduation from seminary.

“You’re going to seminary? Are you sure?” This wasn’t the reaction I was expecting from my mother when I called to tell her I’d applied for admission to seminary. After all, I was finishing up my year serving in Northern Ireland as a Young Adult Volunteer through the PC(USA), so seminary shouldn’t have come as a surprise. I thought my mom would be excited to hear the news–and she was–but her questions betrayed her excitement. She seemed worried. At the time, I was perplexed (and even spent a few therapy sessions processing her concern). But now, four years into professional ministry as a solo pastor, I realize that her protective instinct was valid.

You see, my mother is also a pastor. She knows the underbelly of the church world intimately. Just as I was beginning to envision my move to New Jersey and my studies in pastoral care, theology, and the Bible, my mother was imagining disgruntled parishioners giving me not-so-constructive feedback, the headaches of financial crises that plague mainline congregations, and the relentless onslaught of committee meetings and church functions–all things she somewhat jokingly refers to as “Working for Jesus.” Read more

Ask a Young Clergy Woman: Respect My Authority Edition

6623349239_1137ff3ec7_zDear Askie,

When I was ordained and installed as Associate Pastor of a wonderful UCC congregation, I thought I had arrived – that I had finally become a “real” pastor. But months later, I still find myself trying to get people to accept my role. I had expected that this would be a challenge with cold callers, visitors, vendors, community contacts, and so on… but I hadn’t expected it from my own congregants! I think part of the problem is that I did an internship here when I was in seminary, so they first knew me as a student. But I’ve been here for a year now, and I still get all kinds of comments like “So, do you want to be a pastor someday?” or “This is so-and-so, she’s kind of like a pastor here.” Apparently even the other staff members don’t get it. One staff member actually corrected someone who referred to me as a pastor, saying “Oh, she’s working on it, but she’s definitely not a pastor. Maybe someday, though!” This is extra-frustrating, since he was at my ordination ceremony, so he really ought to realize I’m a pastor now! Askie, I don’t want to be full of myself, but I worked hard for this title and I’m tired of people thinking I’m still a student or intern. How can I get them to understand that I’m an ordained minister now? Or should I just stop worrying about it?

Frustratedly yours,
Rev. Already

Read more