Tuesday, January 21, 2014


Women were not ordained in the Lutheran church until 1970.
I had never heard a female preacher until 1996.
But yesterday reminded me that we've come so far in one generation.

I attended the MLK celebration at Luther Seminary, where Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and Pastor Kelly Chatman led the service. Pastor Kelly read a text from Revelation and then proclaimed, "This is God's wildest dream. We are God's wildest dream!" Looking around, I believed him.

The pews were full and people were standing, some rocking babies. We were praying and singing in so many languages. The scene was a wide community - people of different colors, races, ages, genders, sexual orientations, abilities, incomes and vocations - all united in Christ's saving love.

I caught up with my local bishop, Ann Svennungsen, in the narthex and thought, "It is a big deal that she is a woman…and yet it isn't."

I received absolution and was invited to the table with words from my national bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, and thought, "It is a big deal that she is a woman…and yet it isn't."

I held out my hands for Christ's body and blood from Pastor Kelly and thought, "It is a big deal that he is an African-American…and yet it isn't."

My daughters will soon be born into a very different church than I. In one generation, much has transformed. Many more are included. Being the church has become significantly more difficult, which is a sneaky and Spirit-filled blessing.

There is still work to be done. Women burn out of ministry more quickly than men do. We are still subject to stereotypes, assumptions and the negation of our calls by some. 98% of part-time pastoral calls are held by women and we are often passed over for solo and senior roles because we don't "look" administrative.

And yet I am a solo pastor who planned her own maternity leave and then proposed (declared?) it to the church council. For every naysayer who questions my discernment and leadership, there are 99 people who don't seem to notice or care that I am female. I believe some of my greatest strengths as a leader are for stewardship, preaching, and conflict resolution. As the baby boomer generation of Lutheran pastors (mostly white males) retire, there is some new space for my generation of colleagues rich with diversity to lead well.

This is God's wildest dream - that our welcome gets wider and our passion for God's call gets deeper. My eyes filled with tears during the service as the girls kicked and rumbled inside me. Do they already know? Do they already believe they can be and do anything?

I am humbled and energized by Pastor Kelly's declaration. We are all called to do great and hard things. And the Holy Spirit is always at work, chipping away at our boundaries and divisions so there is room for God's wildest dream in the midst of the church. So there is room for very pregnant pastor mamas to amble up for the sacrament. So there are female bishops. So Pastor Kelly can preach with passion on MLK day. So the babies being rocked in the midst of it all know belonging from the beginning.

It is a big deal, but it is mostly a big deal because it's not a big deal.


val said...

When I was a girl there were few teams for girls to even compete on.

Title 9 changed everything.

I'm so glad it's now. xo, Val

Mary Hess said...

AMEN! It was really a wonderful, spirit-filled day.