There was a time not so long ago when women in ministry were rare and they had opposition from every corner, church and society alike. There was a time when women only did children’s ministry and never preached and when the title “senior minister” never fell to them. There was a time when people tilted their head in bewilderment when a woman said she was a pastor. It still happens, I’m sure. We haven’t come all the way but we have come a long way since then.
Early in the year I preached in a small town church, and during my sermon Jamie overheard an old man lean over to his companion and say, “It sure is good to have a woman in the pulpit.” He said it, I know, because the women have come before me to break dry, hard ground and make it fertile.
It used to be in Columbia, Missouri that when the women clergy gathered, they fit around one table in a small living room and they treasured the time so much, they needed the time so much that it happened twice a month. Now it’s every quarter or so, convened by Christine’s Facebook invitation. Now it is women from at least three generations, and last night it was fifteen of us in a circle in a large old home in a historic part of town as the clouds sprinkled their cold fall rain.
I was a pastoral intern in Seattle the first time I had the privilege of gathering with women clergy. It was at our annual conference down in Oregon, and someone had grabbed the back corner table for lunch one day. Jeanne pulled me along, and no one thought a thing of the fact that I was just an intern. One woman reached into her purse and pulled out a bag of candy and declared then whenever women pastors gather, there must be chocolate. In low voices we shared personal updates and in lower voices we shared the stories unique to women, the stories about a parishioners inappropriate comment about how we wear our hair or what they think of our earrings when we preach. It was a privilege to sit there part of the gleeful circle, ministries filled with hope but an extra dose of challenge and weariness. For the moments we gather together, though, the challenge makes us special and specially called.
Ever since then, it hasn’t been optional for me when the women gather. Last night we were Baptist, Methodist, Unitarian Universalist, Episcopalian and more than a couple Disciples of Christ. We were women in their sixties who’ve only been ordained for six years and women in their twenties who’ve already been ordained for two. We were gay and straight, married and divorced, single and widowed, and at least two Reverend Doctors. We were black and mostly white, rural and urban, new and old. The old reminisced, sharing of the days when they were a novelty and they shared the joy it is to see a woman leading the First Baptist Church. Thanks be for Carol. We young shared our stories too, even though we don’t have as many years of them. Mostly we get to sit at the feet of Moray and Kim, women who have been ordained for decades and carry the wisdom of their years. Graciously they invest in our journeys; graciously they honor us as colleagues and friends perhaps not even knowing how grateful we are for the way they have prepared and the space they have created.
For all these times we gather together: thanks be.