As a person in her early 50s I have made my way as a woman within the Disciples church surrounded by a deep circle of care and support and also within an institution that is often deeply ambivalent about the leadership of women. Strong women friends and some encouraging men have walked this path with me, making a way where there was no way. I came to ministry as a single woman with three young children not having met a woman minister until I was 25 years old (much love to you Rev. Dr. Bonnie Bowman Thurston). That first decade or so of ministry was filled with saying “yes” to everything anyone asked of me so that I could be more prepared, more competent, more networked in the hopes of being able to live out my passion for God’s work in the world within the Disciples of Christ.
There were, still are, days when I rage against an institution and system that was born in patriarchy and still swims in those waters way too comfortably. There are also days when I am filled with gratitude at the amazing vocational journey that I see when I look back at these 20 years of ordained ministry. Both things are true.
A couple of years ago I responded to a person’s concerns about how the Disciples of Christ clergy search and call system centralized power in the hands of a few people. I did not feel at the time my response was aimed at defending my kind (regional ministers), more trying to share information. However, someone responded to my comments saying that because I was a part of the “privileged normative center” my response was less than legitimate. That comment knocked me on my butt.
After I got over my outrage at being considered part of the “normative center” I spent time reflecting on the truth that in some ways it is true, I am, as Viki says, “Simon.” While I can still at times feel like I am crashing someone else’s dinner party in order to find voice and place within the church, I also find myself in the position of being a gatekeeper and exercising privilege. Both things are true.
It is not an option for me to say I don’t have any power and voice. I may be more comfortable with a self-image of being the one struggling to make my way pushing against the system. It is, however, an abdication of love and justice to deny I am part of that system and have some privilege and access within it.
The day Viki and I had the breakfast she describes in her post remains as deep a spiritual experience as I have ever had. As Viki spoke that day I felt like I could literally see those God-awful homophobic comments and events as wounds she had been absorbing in her very body her whole life long. There is no way to describe that moment of knowing, feeling, experiencing the call of love to with my very body stand with and beside, carrying the load together, sometimes shouldering it for this beautiful woman called into being by God.
This was a heart breaking moment. These wounds were inflicted by this church, by the people who claim to be the very body of Christ. My people. Our people. God’s people.
To be clear, this was not the first moment I came to understand the evils of homophopia or the perils of a heterosexual bias. It was however the first time I came to awareness of this as a person who had more in common with Simon than the women washing the feet of Jesus with her tears. And I could see Viki’s wounds as one with the wounds of Jesus, the wounds of love in the world.
And so accompanying Viki, breaking bread with her, walking her path with her means that I say “yes” to her accompanying me everyday in my ministry.
When I talk to a congregational search committee, Viki is in the room as I say to them, “I will send you the names of the most qualified persons I can find. I will not discriminate or eliminate based on race, age, sexual orientation, or gender. This might mean you have to wrestle with some hard conversations, but that is your work.”
Viki accompanies me and I see her wounds when I have said to a gay person considering ordination, “if you tell this commission on ministry you are gay you will not get thru this process.”
Viki accompanies me when I am blinded by the needs of the institutional church and not open to seeing the work of Spirit moving in the world to call every person to stand together healing the wounds of this world.
When I am lulled into compliancy by the argument that we “had better count the cost” before we take any open & affirming actions I imagine myself looking my companion in the eye telling her the cost she has been paying does not count or that I place a higher value on the price “the church” would have to pay above her.
There are moments when I feel the lure of talking about LGBTQI persons as an “issue” for the church to solve and to think in abstract ways about what is “good for the church.” And to be sure, there are important political, practical, polity, and theological components to a way forward around this sacred conversation in the church.
In the end for me, having a companion on this journey, one person who I love, walking beside me, seeing my actions through her eyes, hearing my words through her ears, feeling wounds as if we shared a body means that I have half a chance of not always just being Simon but of, on my better days, embodying Jesus. It means that we come with bread to one another, bread that becomes the very body of Jesus.