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?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

While I run this race...

Who called you on the journey of ministry?” While it is obviously God who calls people, there are others who helped along the way - SynchBlog Day on 4/4 – Who Called You? #Explo13 #UMC

YES, while God does the calling, it is through the wise words, compassionate ears, and helping hands of living, breathing people that anyone gets where they’re going. And that includes in ordained ministry. I’m participating in a SynchBlog to get the word out about Exploration, an event for young adults age 18-26 to hear, discern, and respond to God’s call to ordained ministry in The United Methodist Church, and the question above is the prompt for today.

Recently, I wrote about what it felt like to be there, to have this sense of having arrived at my destination. I am an ordained elder in full connection in the North Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church. This was a goal it took eight years to attain. So, if you are considering this path, listen to the wise words of one of my former district superintendents: You can think about the things to do as hoops to jump through or doors to pass through. It’s all up to you. You choose your perspective and whether or not you value the journey as much as the destination.

With that in mind, I looted my ordination paperwork to help me answer today’s question:

God has called me throughout my life, but many times I couldnt hear the call clearly because I couldnt accept that I could be the person God was calling me to be. I grew up in an area in Arkansas where I never saw a clergywoman, so I never knew that was a possibility for me, although I used to joke with my friends that I would start my own church someday since I was usually disappointed or frustrated by my experiences in churches.

One day in the spring of 2003, I was reading a news story about our soldiers around the world. I remembered the many friends I had had in high school who had joined the reserves or the guard thinking only of earning some extra money for college, not that they would ever be putting their training to use. Suddenly it struck me what a hard life that could be, separated from your family and the familiar, doing things that are totally the opposite of who you really are. I thought how much they need a reminder of the presence of God with them, even in the midst of violent conflict and that perhaps I could be that reminder.

I immediately smothered that idea. I had never known any female pastors until I had begun working at First UMC - Denton in November 2002. I told myself I did not know enough about the Bible or church in general to be a chaplain. Certainly the need was there, but I was clearly not the right person for the task. But the idea would not go away. Maybe God was calling me, but I did not feel qualified.

I was inspired by the pastors at our church, especially Rev. Lisa Greenwood who was a wife, mother, and amazing associate pastor. In June 2003, she went on to be a senior pastor at another church and has continued to be a source of inspiration for me. In 2009, as I was preparing for commissioning, I asked for her to be my mentor in residency, to which she generously agreed. She has been a spiritual running partner on this ministry journey.

For months I struggled with this sense of call. I decided I needed to talk to someone about it, so I asked Rev. Andy Stoker, another one our associate pastors at that time, to meet with me. I was apprehensive about talking to anyone about this calling, since I knew it would change the relationships I had with others. But as soon as I spoke to Andy, a sense of relief came over me. As I continued to speak, I felt great excitement and joy. I felt I had discovered my God-given purpose in life. Andy became that first spiritual running partner, someone who knew the road and could help me run the race.

Despite the snags and snares I encountered in my candidacy process, including people in my own tradition who advise me to read the Bible to see what it says about women in ministry, implying that to be a dutiful wife I need to give up this aspiration and quietly stay at home, and people in other traditions who condemn me for seeking ordination at all, I continue to find strength and encouragement in God and in brothers and sisters around me.

I have realized that I may never be perfectly prepared, but I have reconciled myself to this since God never promises us an easy path, just to accompany us every step of the way. This is the good news for those who seek to be in leadership in the church. Every good that comes from our small effort is by the grace of God through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The other realization that I came to over the course of my candidacy, which included the chaplain candidate program with the Air Force, is that while my initial calling was through military chaplaincy, I never want to close myself to God’s call. I believe that at that time, I was receptive to God’s call to chaplaincy when I may not have even considered any other idea of ministry. I still dont believe that I have God’s final word on my life. My calling may include other ministries someday. I want to stay open to the Spirit’s guidance.

When I was ordained, on June 6, 2011, it was Andy and Lisa who carefully placed the red stole around my shoulders. I was elated, honored, and humbled to be taking my place alongside them as colleagues, as co-workers for the sake of the Gospel. Now, recognizing them and so many others who have helped me along this way, I am intentional about offering a hand to those who are just starting out on the road. Because we all need a little flesh and blood embodiment of God while we run this race!

Oh, Lord hold my hand while I run this race. / Oh, Lord hold my hand while I run this race.
Oh, Lord hold my hand while I run this race, / I don't want to run this race in vain.

Oh, guide my feet while I run this race. / Oh, guide my feet while I run this race.
Oh, guide my feet while I run this race, / I don't want to run this race in vain.