Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A woman seeking ordination

Handel's Messiah, in the rarely-heard middle bits about mission and evangelism, contains a FABULOUS and very rapid little piece which sings about a hundred times "great was the company of the preachers."

Now this does lean quite well toward misinterpretation, and the several preachers who sang in the choir this Easter did like to congratulate ourselves on our sparkling wit and conversation skills as we stood around during rehearsal breaks....
ahem. Anyway.

I looked up the passage. Where does that come from, anyway? (Psalm 68:11) The Lord gave a command and there was a great company of people who announced it. (preached it)
And I found that many translations skip over what to me is a very very important little detail!
These preachers are women.
Great was the host of female proclaimers-of-the-word. LITERALLY. From the pens (styluses?) of the ancient Hebrews. A bunch of women went out and declared the Word. (the word, in this particular case, is actually "the kings are fleeing!" and basically the gist of it is "yeah, let's go collect the spoils of war!" There ends the resemblance of my Biblical reference to my current-day situation. But Handel treated it lightly, anyway, so I suppose I can just leave it at that.)

Among these Messiah-sing-ing preachers I was the only female. Among the preachers of Wallowa county I am one of two females in significant preaching positions. The other is a commissioned lay pastor, working part time in two churches AND another job, and she's been at it here for about ten years, I think. She told me that when she arrived -- the first female clergy in this county -- members of other churches would go so far as to cross the street to avoid making eye contact, much less conversation with her. She was a scandalous one, too, because she had a barroom ministry, an individual practice she engaged in, of engaging in conversation those who would not darken the doors of a church.

Here I am, a decade or whatever later, and I'm doing fine. I have friends in all kinds of churches and have caught no one crossing the street to avoid me. I have not had to explain my exegetical interpretation of I Timothy 2 to anyone.
Then again.
Maybe it's because I'm young, junior, subordinate, and a determined people-pleaser, that these issues have not come out.
It might be different when I graduate and am possibly called to a solo pastorate with no man but Christ in authority over me. Not that PC(USA) pastors can be very authoritarian; the session of elders rules them directly, even as the pastors moderate meetings of said session.
So here's my vocation statement.
God calls all people. And God is "no respecter of persons" -- God works indiscriminately of gender, age, race, social status, and experience. God calls, equips, empowers, and often gives those who are called a swift kick in the pants. I believe that although God has raised and guided us through the formations of tradition, even Christian tradition, God also works specifically against our expectations, not because tradition is bad but because we tend to rest in it. We need to be woken up, surprised, shaken out of our complacency. And the raising up of female interpretation and authority in the church is one such challenge, shaking, opening of the windows for fresh air to come and disturb us.
As to traditional gender roles and that line "she shall be saved by childbearing"... I do look hopefully forward to parenting -- it's one of the most important things we can do with our lives. And whoever I choose to share my life with will be screened with "how do you feel about foster-parenting a special-needs child, or seven?" ... however, I am sure there is more to this life than raising up the next generation. I hope God doesn't keep me TOO busy during my childbearing years, but there is so much to do! There is a good news of salvation to be preached to the ends of the earth, the broken-hearted to bind up, captives to release, blindness (and complacency) to enlighten and heal. And a lot of stuffy stained-glass windows to open up and let the Spirit wind blow in.
That's my direction.

And beside Huldah, Miriam, all those Marys, Mother Teresa, and Pikea of Whale Rider, here's my role model:

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