I remember the first clergy woman I saw in the pulpit. I was in middle school and my home church had hired a female Associate Minister. Until then I had been told women were welcome and included in leadership, they were called by God and affirmed by the church into the office of ordination, but I hadn’t seen it. Well maybe I had seen it with my eyes but this time I had seen it with my heart. What I saw was something of myself in the woman standing there in the pulpit proclaiming a word from God.
I have daughters and I have often wondered if they would ever experience the awe and wonder of seeing a woman powerfully take the pulpit and know, really know all of God’s fullness was available to them. After all, they have a mother that’s a minister, they were rocked to sleep in the womb to the gentle swaying of my belly as I stood in the pulpit preaching. And then there is my circle, as my oldest observed when she was only four “mom, are ALL your friends who are girls pastors?!” They are not, but close. I have a fierce circle of women who know the intimacies of my ministry and motherhood in all its glory and glorious blunders, who have prayed for my daughters as they have grown, faced challenges and blossomed. They see women in the pulpit all the time, when we visit friends at their churches and in our own church where we recently called an amazingly gifted women to serve as the senior pastor.
So I wondered “will they need what I need? Will they have a moment of self recognition or will they just take for granted their place and space in these sacred spaces?” I honestly had no idea what my daughters were absorbing as their inheritance and what they needed to illuminate their souls, not because I am unaware but because so much of parenting like any relationship is mystery and grace. I have wondered and watched, curiously waiting to see what God would show me.
This past Sunday was a special day in the life of our church. We install our new pastor and it was a day of celebration I had been joyfully anticipating with a guest preacher in every service and special music and celebration, so much celebration. And because this Sunday was so unique they invited the children to stay in worship rather than go on to their own worship space. So there I was one child in childcare and one sitting next to me doing quite well occupying herself stringing beads onto pipe cleaners when the preacher for the hour took the pulpit. The preacher, a long time colleague and recent friend of mine, immediately engaged the adults in the room and after several moments had passed I looked to see how my daughter was doing with her color sheets and pipe cleaners.
She was sitting on her knees, colors and pipe cleaners abandoned and scattered in the pew around her, with what I can only describe as a look of awe and delight on her face. And she sat there for 20 minutes, just like that–face turned towards the pulpit, wrapt in her attention, face aglow with recognition. By the time my colleague was finished preaching on God’s holy reign and God’s presence in our community as we affirmed our call to work alongside our new pastor most of the people around us were in tears over the beauty and goodness of what God is doing in our community. I was sitting in tears because of what God was doing in my heart as a mother and what God was showing my daughter about her own holy boldness.
When the sermon was finished and we had been blessed by the benediction she turned to me and said “So she, the preacher, is your friend?”
“Yes” I said as she went on “So if she comes to the all church lunch, she’ll sit by us, right?”
“Maybe, honey,” I said. And then she wiggled her her eyebrows and gave me the most knowing expression I have her seen her muster. If it weren’t such a serious and scared moment I would have giggled at her grave sincerity and at the fact that mom and her strange abundance of female minister friends finally made sense. There was finally a pay off and that pay off was that she would get to eat church barbeque next to the woman with purple hair and a big presence who had stood in the pulpit and talked about Jesus and that had just opened something up inside her soul.
Clergy parenthood, as with all parenthood, is tricky and full of questions. I wonder if my kids will grow to love a faith that has captured my heart and guided my life. I marvel at how communities can embrace and nurture them in ways I cannot. I worry if they will receive this weird community that myself and my partner have built for them as the blessing we pray for it to be. Will they grow to appreciate this quirky and beautiful community in a church that loves us and a pastoral team that supports our flourishing, with a circle of friends that is full of fierce and wildly talented women who mostly all bear the title reverend and a faith that asks us to shape our living and being in the world differently than their friends? And as with all parenting I wonder “am I doing this right? Are they going to be ok?”
This Sunday what I saw on my daughters face was a holy “yes” to those questions. My daughters will be ok. In fact they will be more than ok, because it is not only me that holds them in tender, loving care. This great cloud of witness that we have surrounded them with in church community, these women who preach boldly and the Spirit, the tender, loving Spirit that holds them in their growing and learning. In these communities God will reveal their inherent holiness and they will have moments of awe and wonder.
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