I (or maybe you) just fell for the trashy title trick. Caveat: This post is going to be a little long and reflective, which will definitely not always be the case for my posts … I’ve shared some conversations in the past few days that stirred up gender issues that I am really concerned with, hence the direction of this post.
My parents’ current home church, where I spent four years (and a few summers) of Sunday mornings, is a non-denominational Bible church surrounded by a stand of pine trees in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. The pastor of this church baptized me as a follower of Jesus in a cold stream that runs through these pines, and the church nourished my faith in many ways. At the same time, this church falls short of the equality promised in the Bible to those who believe in the gospel of Christ.
The church recently held a meeting to elect elders. There are no women elders, and there are not any women currently represented on the board to elect elders. The pastor and assistant pastors are men. I recently submitted a question for a Sunday night q & a time. My question asked why women never read scripture in front of the congregation. At the forum, the men leading the event answered questions that were submitted about church structure and Bible history. They even answered questions about the occurrence of dinosaurs in the Old Testament. In the end, they regretted not having enough time to get to other questions.
That was not my only question that remains unanswered or unheard. As I sang with the church, I wondered why women always sing the echo parts in songs (“We will follow. We will follow. We will listen. We will listen. We will love You. We will love You…”) Why are our voices restricted to choir echoes and the nursery rather than reverberating through the sanctuary from the pulpit/lectern?
Two nights ago, my mother told me that she was beginning to ask some of these same questions again (she thought a lot about them while she attended seminary). Because of these questions, a person jokingly asked her, “What do you want, a sex change?” I don’t think she laughed. The message is clear: positions of authority belong to men. To be male is to be in leadership. If a woman wants to be in a position of leadership, logically, she wants to be a man. Get a sex change! Or at least a pulpit-power-suit, woman! At least try to look like a man.
I am convinced this is not how it was supposed to be. Women don’t have to be men to serve the church in positions of leadership! I know this from experiences and through being in churches with women who are obviously natural leaders and immensely gifted. As a professor of mine once said, (paraphrasing) the Holy Spirit doesn’t go peeking under skirts and pants before deciding who to gift.
Most recently, I was refreshed and reminded of the free and unbiased gifting of the Spirit of God through our first Sunday night worship service. Julie, Farmer Paul’s wife, is an Episcopal priest in the area. She led our first liturgy and worship time at our Abundant Table fellowship gathering at the farm house (Julie, Paul, and family used to live in this house and were kind enough to lend it to us interns rather than college student renters). In addition to us interns and Julie's husband and their lovely daughters, three other couples were present, one of them with young children, as well as three young adults connected to CSU Channel Islands. I loved the service for its intimate, familial atmosphere, for the time of questioning and commenting on the scriptures read by women and men sitting on couches surrounding the sacred/ordinary communion/coffee table. I especially loved our time of Eucharist that flowed into a potluck feast.
This sight from Sunday stays with me, soothing my frustrated thoughts on our patriarchal church history and church present: Julie stands in front of our fireplace, very much a woman, with two daughters beside her and breaks the homemade bread that she and her girls baked. “This is my Body,” and then she pours the wine, as Jesus did for his disciples, saying, “This is my blood.” The Body of Christ, bread of heaven, formed and given through the hands of a woman.
This time, my questions about gender arise from delight rather than anger and frustration. I wonder at the new meanings of this Eucharist. How does a woman priest’s breaking and passing of Christ’s body fill out our understanding of the feast? For me, being fed by Christ through Julie, a mother, brought a sense of nurture and tenderness that I had never before experienced when taking the bread from a male priest. I recalled a memory from a book called “God’s Advocates,” in which the feminist theologian, Sarah Coakley, observes that the addition of woman priests (and pastors, I’ll add), both enrich and challenge our understandings of a God who sacrifices the Godself, giving God’s own body and blood so that we may have abundant life. She points out that when the officiant’s pronouncement of Christ’s blood shed for the world comes from a woman, this adds a dimension to our understanding of sacrifice, that it becomes life-giving rather than defined by death.
I could go on for a while about how we can understand God better through women’s participation in church leadership, but I’d like to know what you think! I’ll take a cue from Erynn and open this thing up to the blog-o-world. Are any of you bothered by the “priesthood of all males” in many churches? If you’re a guy, I don’t think you’re the problem, but that the issue extends beyond to encompass and affect both genders, and can only be solved by men and women working together for greater freedom and true “Biblical” love for one another. Do you disagree on anything I say? What about those who were at the worship service (or others with woman priests)? What stands out to you?
Okay. Got to sleep now.
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