Somehow, this is different. All week long I’ve been wrestling with why this is different. I have prayed and served communion before in a variety of settings, but somehow I knew today would be different.
Yesterday, as my thoughts swam around what today would hold, I posed the question to my facebook friends: why is this such a big deal? I have a tendency to dismiss my accomplishments and achievements, wiping them away with the broad brush of “it’s not that big of a deal”, but I didn’t want to do that today.
Growing up in a denomination that did and largely does not support women in any sort of leadership role (which includes all aspects of public worship) has shaped how I view my own involvement in worship. Being a ‘helper’ with strong leadership traits, my desire to serve the church has not been fulfilled by the stereotypical woman’s role of behind the scenes cooking, cleaning, and organizing (and I love organizing).
My past church experience thus far has bridled me with the baggage of shame of wanting to serve in other ways: “Shouldn’t you be satisfied by the ways in which women typically serve? Why do you need this, you shouldn’t want to serve in this way.” my deeply conservative and uncompassionate inner voice nags.
I have known that today is coming for a while, the Sunday in which I would, for the first time, in my nearly 30 years of passionate church attendance, serve the church in a way that had been so off-limits that I was shamed for even desiring it in the past.
And today I prayed.
I prayed for the people, for the Church, for our nation, and for the world; I prayed for the sick and the dying, and the life of the Church. I lead a group of faithful Christians, in a church I love, early on a Sunday morning in prayer to God.
Mostly, I got emotional while helping serving the Eucharist. “The blood of Jesus Christ; the cup of salvation” flowed out of my mouth person after person. I served young children who giggled with Eucharistic anticipation as I approached and I served reverent elderly people who could not kneel. This is something, I thought, that everyone should have the experience of doing; those who desire to serve should be allowed to serve.
And today I served.
I was expecting to feel empowered. One of my thoughts as I approached today’s event, was that while I knew I was welcome to serve in this way there is a difference between being welcomed and being empowered. But really, that’s not it. It’s not about some big hurdle that I have finally been able to cross, and while these certainly are aspect that played into today’s experience, today wasn’t about my past and finally being allowed in a space where I was not before, today wasn’t about my gender.
Today was about a servant finally being able to serve.
I was awash with feelings of gratitude for today; to have for so long been pushed on the outs of a large part of what a church does and finally to have that fulfilled is a fantastic, life-giving moment.
The day is done, and I have served. Amen.
through the hazy humid sky
warms the rolling hills.”
Someone has to stay, someone has to stay to make change or we’ll die. This has been the plea that I have heard expressed to myself and to many other women (and to be fair, men as well) in my first year of seminary. I’m lucky enough to be able to attend a seminary that understands my issues with being a woman who grew up in the churches of Christ, little c or it doesn’t count kind of church of Christ, and in many ways this is one of the reasons I chose this seminary, but it also comes with a dose of desperation to save the denomination.
After a year of hearing this plea, though, I have to finally express my exhaustion with it. It’s important to note the need for change agents to stay, but it’s also important to acknowledge when one’s own health is compromised by staying. Asking me to stay in the churches of Christ is like asking a abused spouse to stay in a marriage because fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. I struggle with identifying and labeling my experience as abusive because it seems severe and I love the people and the church that made me who I am; most days I don’t look back on my experience and feel like I was purposefully subjugated, but purposeful or not, it happened.
It was in a small, cinder-block church classroom, with brightly colored paint that was desperately trying to bring some life to the room, that as a 13-year-old girl, I realized that I could never be enough. It was in this class that I realized that I would have to change who I was to become who God wanted me to be. As a shy child, I was hardly as loud or as opinionated as I am today, but even still, I knew that being the Proverbs 31 woman would be an uphill battle for me and that the gentle quiet spirit did not reside in me in the way it did to the women in the church who I adored. I was devastated.
This devastation lead to self-doubt, which lead to self-esteem issues. Those self-esteem issues were not merely about my appearance or social status as most teenage girls struggle with, but rather they were consumed with the guilt of being a better leader than the boys in my youth group, they were ravaged with what career path to take in college, and on a very personal level, they began to create problems in relationships, subconsciously creating a fear of the rights I would lose if I were to be married. I have switched from career to career; teacher, missionary, teacher again, counselor, etc. Those who don’t know or value my story see that as me being flighty and wasting my 20s, those who do, however, can see how I was trying to make my calling to ministry fit into socially acceptable boxes, dancing around what God has designed me for: ministering to wounded, scarred people.
I was born into a generation and a society that allowed and thought that the education of its young girls should be equal to that of its young boys. While this was the case in my public school, this was far from the case in my conservative church in which women were held to a very specific ideal of Christian womanhood. The two places that were most influential in my young life and personal development, the church and the school, both sent clear, intrinsic messages in their structure and intent. The vast dichotomy between the two, as well as the value and potential that I felt, highlights what has plagued me and many females in my generation: a theological identity crisis.
Growing up in a community and family in which church was vital to everything, this theological identity crisis became so central to who I was, in every aspect of life. The church who I gave my whole life to, consistently, by word or by deed, sent the message that as a woman, I could never be enough. This became my underlying schema and the narrative that ruled my life.
Honestly, sometimes anger creeps in when I think about how my life could be so much further along if I had been instilled with the theological identity God gave me rather than the gender identity the church has boxed me into. It doesn’t plague me all the time, but it’s there and everyday I fight; I fight for the theological identity that God has instilled in me and my church denied me. Everyday, in my religious, personal, and professional life, I fight to undo the wounds caused by growing up in a very conservative church of Christ as a woman.
This is why it’s so hard when people ask me to stay. I have wrestled with God and the church, and for me to be a healthy, life-giving member of the Christian story, I cannot stay. I have met those who have the heart and the support and the hopes to change this denomination into a healthier place for women, but I cannot be one of them. Each day I’m growing in grace towards my past but my gifts fall to better use in another denomination, and the wounds still run too deep, so please don’t ask me to stay.
My pace quickened as I got deeper into the forest; I could feel myself coming to life. Not just the rush of blood and the physical reactions that occur during exercise, but I felt my soul come to life; I felt my spirit begin to inflate with the beauty and the fascinating horticultural findings in a Tennessee forest.
Currently living in an area of the country that doesn’t have a lot of green things, or hiking trails, or elevation, etc, I knew that getting back into the woods would feel great and I would enjoy my hike for the exercise and the beauty, yet I was surprised by this sense of inflation.
This year has been challenging, I hesitate to call it hard because it hasn’t been hard, it’s just not been easy.