Today, I was approached by two of our oldest ladies in church. They are 93 and 97 years old, and regulars at laudes (morning prayer), Monday soup, Sunday Mass and just about everything else that their frail legs can carry them to. They called me over to their table, and asked me with concern: "How are you holding up with all of these men around you?", meaning my male clergy colleagues. I have, for the last four years, worked almost exclusively with male clergy. I said in a light tone that I was fine, and weren't we all grateful that there at least is one priest without a beard in the parish? They chuckled, but would not let me off that easily. So I had to explain to them that it really is not a problem, that I on a regular basis work much more with only women, as the rest of the children's ministry team is made up of (surprise!) women. This they understood, and let me go with assurances of how glad they were that I am in their church.
I am telling the truth, you see.
It bothers me way less that my clergy colleagues happen to be of the male persuasion, than that the kid team is exclusively female. It's common, this. I am pretty convinced that most of you recognize this, however tiny or large your congregations may be. Because (sarcasm alert!) women are sooo much more suited for working with children.
I went to my office, brooding over this, and then the coffee bell tolled. Now, this is Sweden, and when the coffee bell calls, you answer. I poured my cup of insanely strong coffee and sat down with a few of my co-workers. The conversation turned to children, and one of them told us how her two-year-old daughter refuses to let dad change her diaper. It had to be mom. Someone else chimed in and witnessed how her daughter also always chose mom over dad. I tried to keep my mouth shut, a not inconsiderable feat, but failed in the end and suggested that this might have to do with how much time had been spent with one or the other parent rather than any other more…biological explanation.
Now, I know that discussing motherhood is tricky at best, and a leech-infested, mine-filled emotional quicksand at worst, and I know I should stay clear of discussions like this, but somehow I get sucked into it, and here I was again. The "bad" mother. Nobody says that, of course. And I am trying to be very Lutheran about this and interpret everything in the best light possible, but every time I disagree with my co-workers about these things, I get this distinct feeling of being un-natural. My experiences are not the common ones. My views are not the reasonable ones. And so they shrug a little, and the conversation turns elsewhere.
But truly, honestly, am I that strange? I spent the first five months at home with my daughter. Oh, yeah, we have one daughter, just one. Yes, un-natural that too, and "you'll want another one soon, you'll see". After my time at home, my husband was with her for the ensuing eight months. Now, seven years later, he picks her up from school, he brings her to swimming lessons and circus school. He makes her dinner when I am not yet at home, because my hours are way weirder than his. Is it then strange if she calls me dad every now and then? Is it then weird that she will run to him when she hurts her knee? I am blessed to live with a man that is so present in our child's life, because my call keeps on getting in the way of family life. And if I would believe that I, being a woman, am somehow superior child rearing-wise to my husband, what a miserable wretch of a human being I would be.
Thank God I am fully convinced that love and commitment is what makes a truly excellent parent. Just like love and commitment makes a great priest, no matter if that person can grow a beard or not (not counting granny whiskers, thank you very much). Love and commitment is also what it takes to minister to children, and I know for a fact that there are scores of men out there full of just those qualities, and I mourn that they are not on the floor of our parish hall, playing hide and seek with three-year-old's, or teaching the children to pray in Sunday school. They are sorely needed.
Because we, as church, are one, but we are not the same, and should never look or seem the same. We, as women and mothers, are one, united in gender and motherhood, but we are not the same. We do not need to be. We need to be all kinds and flavors. There is no one way to be a mother. Or a priest. There is no need for uniformity. But there is need for love. The higher law.