Sunday, April 14, 2013

Clergy + Woman

This year, I am serving as the co-convener (i.e. vice chair) of our conference clergywomen’s group. It is quite an honor for me since this was one of the key groups that helped me through seminary and the ordination process simply by their presence. I was invited to a lunch when I was still a candidate and found the wisdom, courage, and faithfulness of the women in the room extraordinary and inspiring. I felt like I could do because they had done it.

So here I am, miles down the road, helping to lead the very group which was such a means of grace to me. This year we’ve done a few new things – we’ve devised a purpose statement and a logo. The purpose of the North Texas Conference Clergywomen is to advocate for and build relationship with other clergy women. And this is our logo:
There are a few significant things about it to me. There is a deacon and an elder/local pastor represented by the stoles, signifying that both are ways that clergywomen live out God’s calling in their lives. The stoles are red, which is the same color given and worn during an ordination or Pentecost service, symbolizing the outpouring of God’s Spirit upon the individual. The shoes are red, too, in fond remembrance of many clergywomen who have had the courage and audacity to be women in the pulpit, all the way down to their shoes. Finally, one hand is reaching up while one is reaching back, signifying how we are always in a mentoring relationship, receiving wisdom from those who have gone before us and offering it to those coming after us.

This year, we’ve also informally decided to have a “red shoe Monday” at Annual Conference to bring our logo to life, as one of my clergy sisters put it. They don’t have to be heels, they don’t have to be high, they can just be red. A statement of solidarity and support with and for one another. And I couldn’t be more excited. Because, in all truth and honesty, I am both clergy and woman.

I am clergy because I have been called by God to be set apart for this responsibility of leading in word, order, sacrament, and service. I am clergy because other brothers and sisters in faith, from the SPRC that first approved of my candidacy to the Board of Ordained Ministry that recommended my ordination, have agreed that I am called by God. I am clergy in my church, where I preach, teach, laugh, hug, cry, plan, advocate, lead, and serve. I am clergy in my community where I advocate for others and partner with others of various stripes and hues. I am clergy even when folks of other churches say I’m not.

And, even in the midst of all these ways I am clergy, I am a woman. There’s no denying or getting around it, and I don’t want to! From the bra snaps in middle school, to the arguments with my mom about what I could and should wear in high school, to the adventures of college, to the awakening to the femininity of God in seminary – I am a woman. It’s challenging and wonderful and simply the hand that I’ve been dealt. I embrace who I am as a woman, all the curves and power of my body, all the ways my embodied experience informs my knowing and theology, and how my presence and leadership can be different (in a good way) from my male colleagues. I know great prices have been paid by others so that I can stand to preach today; like my right to vote, I acknowledge the sacrifice of others.

Now, just because you get a body, doesn’t mean you get a typical personality. I don’t like stereotypes. But I have talked with a couple of clergywomen colleagues who have either forgotten or want to dismiss that they are women. It baffled me, so I dug to find out more. For the one who had forgotten, she didn’t think of being a woman as a key part of her identity. I can understand that; we all build our identities from the various roles we assume. For me, being a woman is key to my understanding because of my relationships as wife and mother. I love those relationships, although they are probably far from what some would consider traditional, so I embrace who I am in them. For the one who would dismiss, she said that she wanted her embodiment to be secondary to the presence of God through her. And while I appreciate her humility and understand the motivations, I don’t know that we can ever get around this embodied experience of life.

God put us in these bodies! We are created male and female. And while there are layers upon layers of stuff – perversions and traditions and stereotypes and God alone knows what else – there is something to be learned and cherished from life in a body. It is in bathing bodies, our own and those who are dependent upon us – that we can learn to appreciate the gift of baptism. It is in feeding bodies, our own and those who are dependent upon us – that we can learn to appreciate the gift of communion. We have a God so great and so amazing that humbled God’s self to the experience of human life – from birth to death and all the great messiness in between.

So, while I will never imago Christi as my Catholic brothers explained is key to their understanding of priesthood when we spoke as chaplain candidates years ago, I know I am created imago Dei. I bear the image of God, from my blow-dried hair to my polished toe nails in high heels in church. I bear the image of God, from my ponytail to my sneakers on mission trips and playgrounds. I bear the image of God, from my tangled hair to my bare feet when I comfort my son in the middle of the night. I am clergy + woman, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Do you think about your embodied life? Where are the challenges and joys? Where is God in the midst of it?

4 comments:

  1. Jessica, I really like this post. May I have your permission to reprint it for this week's issue of United Methodist Insight? (http://um-insight.net).

    Also, what if some of us laywomen would like to wear red shoes on Monday at annual conference to show our solidarity with our clergy sisters? Are you guys OK with that?

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Cynthia! You have my permission to reprint as stated with attribution. I appreciate the inclusion. As for red shoe Monday, I think the more we claim the power of the Spirit with one another, the better. :)

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