There is much stirring about in the denomination of which I was once a part, and with all my heart, I hope it continues to be and becomes a holy stirring towards a more faithful reading of scripture. I have spoken much of my love for my former tradition; that those who raised me, both family and church members, raised me in such a way that I see the world through a theological lens. I come to the world wanting to help others, I come to the world deeply valuing both scripture and worship, and I come to the world understanding that there is hope beyond this world. I do not give credit for these things to my own will power, or to my seminary, or even to my current church, I give them to the people and the tradition that raised me.
But the tradition that raised me is not without fault, and while I have come to have grace for the their faults, I do hope that their wrongs will be righted.
This week, Fourth Avenue Church of Christ announced that it will bring on a preaching intern through Lipscomb University. They also announced that the intern is a woman, sending both shock waves and hope through the Churches of Christ, depending on how people understand scripture. One of the Philadelphia 11, a group of women who broke the stained glass ceiling of the Episcopal Church, Nancy Wittig’s words came immediately to mind: “Don’t assume there’s no prejudice about women. Don’t assume just because you’re very smart and have a good education that will pave the way. There will be a lot of bumps along the way. But don’t give up, stay faithful, show up and remember it’s not your ministry, it’s Christ’s.”
Within two days of the video being published, I was sent the video five times privately by people who still worship in conservative churches, churches that likely publicly condemn this move by Fourth Ave. Generally, it was coupled with a message of hope. “You are not alone” the messages rang; “We are excited that this is finally happening somewhere” they seem to imply. Genuinely, I am so grateful that when people see messages of hope through that tradition that they think of me, and that they want to share, what is in many ways, the Good News.
I am so deeply glad and proud of this church for making this step without making apologies, but I am a bit bothered by the fact that the people who sent it to me aren’t posting it publicly. Yes, this is exciting. Yes, this is encouraging. But, while I’m glad to be thought of, I wonder if people only know to think of me because I have stepped out of the tradition. Yes, I am not alone, but part of the reason I know I have the love and the support of many people is because I have been vocal about my ministry, something I would not have been able to do if I were still in a certain stream of the tradition.
My hope for the Churches of Christ, and for the Christian church at large, is that less and less people will have to step out of the tradition to know that they are supported, whether because of the gender, race, sexuality.
I am lucky enough to go to a seminary that understands why it has taken so long for me to recognize my calling to ministry, and I am grateful that the faculty are some of the most supportive people in my ministry, despite the fact that I have stepped outside of the tradition. But I want this kind of support and love for women who are still in churches that balk at the idea of having their preacher be a woman, and this will not happen without people being willing to raise their voice so that when that woman finally speaks up she is not crying out alone.
It is a daunting task, though, to voice an opinion that may differ from those with whom you identify. And while I genuinely do understand this hesitation for those who don’t have much at stake in contributing their voice, I also know how terrifying it is to raise your voice without knowing if anyone will support you. Every person that is engaged in this conversation has to decide how they will react, and every person has to realize that someone, and likely many people, will be affected with how they react. I am growing weary of the hesitation that says the risk is too great to be open with our opinions and understandings, but perhaps I am growing wearing because my voice is often one of the few lonely voices speaking into these communities.
May the move by this church spark a sacred conversation, but may it also empower you to not let another young woman feel isolated in the pew beside you; speak up so she is not speaking alone.