WomenPriests – Ordination in St. Louis

As a minister in Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), I have the privilege of having been ordained for 25 years.  In this denomination women have been ordained for well over 100 years.  We look back to such women as Melissa Garrett Terrell ordained in 1867, Ellen Grant Gustin and  Emi B. Frank ordained in 1873,  and Clara Hale Babcock ordained in 1888, (often acknowledged as the first woman ordained to preach).  The ordinations of these women and many others did not mean that women were easily accepted and called by congregations.  Strong resistance based in a distortion of scripture has remained a barrier for women throughout the years.  Many congregations today will not call a woman as senior pastor.  Still we have watched the ministry of women strengthen and grow.  With that growth, the church is changing.  In 2005, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was the first mainline denomination to call a woman (The Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins) as General Minister and President.

Last week, I had the privilege of participating the ordination of a woman who is truly a gift to the ministry of the church.  I was moved by the fact that both of her parents are ordained ministers and participated in the ordination.  We have reached the point to see and celebrate generations of women responding to God’s call to ministry.

This past Sunday, November 11, we in St. Louis celebrated the ordination of two women in the Womenpriest movement in the Roman Catholic Church.  I grieved that I was unable to attend, but I have several colleagues who did attend and I have followed closely the reflections and reports on this historic and controversial event. Many previous Womenpriest ordinations have taken place off-shore for the protection of those involved.  This ordination took place in synagogue of Reformed Judaism, Central Reformed.   This was a courageous act of faith and hospitality on the part of the Rabbi and the synagogue.  It was a decision made with prayer and intention.  What an amazing moment of interfaith relationship and connection in God’s vision for shalom, when the Mass took place and these two women were ordained in this synagogue.  Unfortunately, representatives of the St. Louis Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church have condemned the synagogue and threatened to break off inter-faith conversations if they proceeded to host the ordinations.  (The Archdiocese, on the one hand does not acknowledge these as ordinations, yet on the other hand threatens to break off dialogue if they are carried out.  Sounds to me like it is the Roman Catholic hierarchy that is threatened!)

In her reflection on the service, Mary Ann Reese, a co-member of the Loretto Community wrote:   “Before long, in front of the altar stood a petite woman with long, curly dark hair and a yarmulke.  She expressively recounted the story of Abraham and Sarah, who were standing at the door of their tent in the heat of the day when three strangers came.  From the act of welcoming these strangers sprang the Jewish tradition of hospitality.  “Brothers and sisters,” Rabbi Susan Talve proclaimed, “We  are standing in the heat of the day.”  With that, a thunderous applause broke out.  In news accounts, Rabbi Talve had explained that she and CRC’s board (which had voted unanimously to host these ordinations) were compelled by their tradition’s mandate to extend hospitality—even though it meant taking heat from the Archdiocese of St. Louis as well as some Jewish brethren.”

Then the 600 people in attendance celebrated with joy and tears the ordinations of Rose Marie Hudson and Elsie McGrath.  The Church is brighter today because of the courage of these women and the courage of the communities that surround and support them. Archbishop Raymond Burke has indicated that the two women will be excommunicated.  Yet, they will pastor a congregation in St. Louis. They will proclaim God’s abounding love and grace to those who gather in faith.  They will celebrate the Eucharist with joy and hope.  And nothing that the Archdiocese does will prevent that!

I celebrate that God’s call is more powerful than the limitations and prejudices of our institutions.

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Women’s Spiritual Retreat

This past weekend I had the privilege of being the keynote leader for the Southeast Gateway Area Fall Women’s Retreat. Those present were Disciples of Christ laywomen and clergy plus one Presbyterian clergywoman who just asked her Disciples friends if she could come along. It was a wonderful group. I was reminded once again of the incredible faith, depth of spirit, and creativity of women who open themselves to God’s Spirit and to each other. Barb, who was a part of the planning group for the retreat, shared a precious gifts with each woman there. Barb had received a box of the beautiful handkerchiefs that had belong to her mother-in-law Margery. She said that Margery always had a handkerchief with her. They were delicate, of many colors, flowers, designs. Some scalloped around the edges; perhaps a bit of lace. Barb chose for every woman at the retreat to receive one of these handkerchiefs. I was touched by the generosity of heart to share these reminders of Margery with all these women. We used the handkerchiefs in prayer, to express joy and thanks. I can only imagine that now these hankies will again wipe a brow, dry a tear, catch a sniffle, provide security in a moment of concern.

The planning group set up Meditation stations around the retreat center grounds. Each station welcomed retreatants to rest and be reminded of God’s nourishing presence. Objects of remembrance were available at each station.

The planning group’s work set such a perfect setting for our theme, focusing on the Hospitality of the Table of Christ. I was particularly moved by their hospitality, their dream that every woman who attended, would be welcomed with grace.

Using the resource, Radical Hospitality: Benedict’s Way of Love by Fr. Daniel Homan and Lonni Collins Pratt, I focused the keynote sessions on the Hospitality of Jesus. Session 1: Welcoming the Other, Welcoming Us Session 2: Vulnerability and Hospitality and Session 3: At the Table: Recognizing Christ, Recognizing Ourselves.

I was touched by the willingness of these women to share their lives and their faith.

“Praying My Clothes”

The congregation I pastor is located on a busy street, South Grand in the city. We have a food pantry, clothing room, health services, and employment counseling and emergency services. Many people come each weekday for some kind of care. A number of these are people living on the streets with untreated mental illness; people our society has abandoned. One woman comes regularly to the clothing room where she gathers more clothes than she can possibly use. Efforts at rational conversation with her have been without success. Usually her responses are a confusing jumble of words and phrases.

This afternoon, I arrived back at the church to find clothing spread out across the front of the church. A lot of clothing! It was on the lawn, laying up on top of some bushes, and spread out on the concrete porch. Each piece had clearly been laid out with some intention; no one piece was touching another. The clothes were not wadded up and thrown down. They were laid out. There was not a person in sight, but I knew. I went into the church to get the director of our Isaiah 58 Ministries (the Ecumenical outreach ministry of which the clothing room is a part.) When she and I came back out, we saw the woman who gathers clothes standing in front of the church and we went to talk to her. When we said that she needed to pick up her clothes, she responded by saying, “I’m praying my clothes. I don’t leave my clothes laying around. I’m praying my clothes. I can see them all. I’m praying my clothes.” Then she began picking them up.

Knowing from experience over time just how sick and confused she is, I am hesitant to attribute particular meaning to her words. I cannot assume to know how her mind works or how she processes the world around her and her own experiences. However, I haven’t been able to let go of the image of clothing laid out across the church lawn so that she could see every piece and her words, “I’m praying my clothes.” What comes to mind is ‘lectio divina’, a process of praying scripture in which we read scripture not for the whole of the story, but until a word or image stands out to us. At that point we stop and focus on that word or image and enter into our prayer around it. Norvene Vest, in her exploration of lectio divina, extends the process beyond scripture to life events. In such she invites us to pray the events of life; to listen for God’s word to us and God’s movement in the variety of experiences each day.

I wonder if we, who have so many clothes (and so much food, and ….), might do well to ‘pray our clothes’ — to place them where we can see them in their abundance, and focus our prayer on the provision of clothing. What would be the result? Perhaps increased awareness of God’s care. Perhaps increased awareness of our thankfulness. Perhaps a stark awareness that we have more than we can use and that God’s calls us to sort out and share with those who need them. Perhaps ….?

I don’t know what will happen, but I think I need to ‘pray my clothes … and quite a few other things. I won’t lay them out on the church lawn. But I will lay them before God.

Whispers, Roars, and Resurrection

This past Monday night I attended the “Whispers and Roars” event hosted annually by the YWCA in St. Louis. It was a gathering of some 150 people – mostly women, but not all – to hear women read their own poetry written in process of healing from rape, sexual abuse, and incest. I had been invited by a young woman in our congregation who serves as SART (Sexual Assault Response Team) volunteer. The experience was one I will not forget. The strength and will of these women was palpable. They were in different places in the process of rebuilding their lives, and each spoke with honesty and courage. They were reclaiming their lives. One woman’s story stood out to me. Sexually abused as a child, as she grew up she believed she could only relate to men with her body. She became an exotic dancer. As a young woman, she was raped. While in counseling following her rape, she found the inner strength to begin college. There she majored in psychology. Soon she will have her Masters in Psychology and now she serves as a volunteer with the YWCA working with women who have been raped or sexually abused.

Another woman described the confident, can-do-anything young woman she was before …. On the day she was raped, she said that person died. She became frightened, distrustful, always questioning her ability. The confidence she once knew was gone. She is in the process of rebuilding her life. She will never be the same, but her hope is to gain a new kind of confidence and her sharing on Monday night showed that she is on that path.

Some women spoke of their faith, their trust in God or the “higher power’ who is with them on this journey. Again and again through the evening we heard stories of resurrection; truly new life arising from death; hope out of despair. Some were indeed “whispers” where there had been no voice for so long. Others were ready to “roar” – ready for the world to hear their story. One woman said “Please remember and tell my story.” That’s how it is with resurrection. It must be proclaimed and again the women found the courage to proclaim it.

Thanks be to God!