Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Does anybody remember how to create footnotes and bibliographies?

Back in 2006 or 2007, I taught a class on journaling as a spiritual discipline to a group of women at the church I attended at the time. One of the women in attendance was not a member or even an attender of the church, but there Bonnie was. Attentive, asking questions, taking notes, sharing her thoughts and questions. At the end of the class, she approached me and said, "You belong in the pulpit."

I was shocked, stunned, silenced. And certain she was wrong.
How could I, a woman, be in the pulpit?
That certainly wasn't an option at the church in which we stood.

Not long after that I began to attend another church on Wednesdays at noon, the church I attend now, and the woman who preached at that service every week showed me, and continues to show me, the beauty, wisdom, strength, insight, compassion, and unique perspective that women bring to the pulpit, to loving and serving the world as ministers.

Within a few months, she invited me to teach a few classes at the church.

Again, I was shocked, stunned, silenced.
How could I teach at a church where I was not a member?
Weren't there hoops I had to jump through in order to prove myself, to qualify?

I had no idea how deeply I had absorbed a mindset of inferiority and inexperience and lack of qualification. I had learned my lessons too well.

There I stood at First Presbyterian Church - and continue to stand - before groups of men and women, pouring out my heart, my questions, my failures, my doubts, my joy, my gratitude, and my love for God and God's Word. I often wondered when some angry man would stand up and tell me that I was out of line, that I needed to sit and learn in silence while the men led the way. That has never happened.

Soon after meeting Bonnie, she introduced me to Larry. In turn, Larry introduced me to a group of funny, gracious, welcoming, kind, thoughtful and prayerful senior citizens at a retirement community here in Charlotte. They meet every Wednesday morning for Bible study, with each invited speaker bringing a month-long series. I was invited to lead a series not long thereafter. I remember vividly my prejudices as I entered that room the first time: I was convinced that those rich old white Southerners would hear me speak once and be done with the crazy black woman who moved down here from Connecticut with my strange accent and foreign ways of thought. I am glad that I was completely wrong on all counts.

There are retired missionaries in that room, retired pastors in that room, retired teachers and poets and business people. There are parents, grandparents, single men, single women, widows and widowers. Every one of them decides over and over to return, to listen, to ask questions, to listen to my rambling answers, to watch me cry, to listen to me try to weave Scripture into our lives and challenge us all to be people of joy and love and gratitude. And they have made that decision over and over for the many months that they have invited me to be with them on Wednesday mornings.

Over these past five years, there has been a steady stream of invitations to speak and teach, emails, voice mails, text messages, and even snail mail - all expressing support and encouragement and gratitude for my presence at church and at the senior living center and my involvement in the larger community of faith. In addition to that, many men and women have repeated what Bonnie told me way back when: "You should be in the pulpit."

After years of hearing that same message, I decided to ponder it.
To question it. To pray about it. To investigate the possibilities.

I also pondered the reactions I assumed I would get from people I know who believe that women should not be leaders in the church, that half of God's people have nothing to say to the other half. I questioned interpretations of Scripture that I had accepted for the first 45 years of my life. I tried to imagine conversations I would have with those whose opinions used to matter so much to me, what I would say to try to convince them to see things the way I now see them. With the help of my spiritual director, pastors, teachers, friends, books, journaling, praying, and reading, I have been able to let go of the urge to convince the unconvinceable. That is not my job. That is no longer my concern. This is my story. This is my journey.

Someone once told me: "I would rather stand before God and have to explain why I preached when I was supposed to be silent, than why I stayed silent when I was called to preach." That is the risk I too have decided to take.

I applied to Union Presbyterian Seminary here in Charlotte after meeting the Dean of the school late last fall at a meeting at church. He invited me to visit the school, to sit in on classes, to join them for worship and lunch. I arrived late on the appointed Saturday, slipped into the chapel and found a seat during the sermon. When I stood with the group to sing the last hymn, I knew that I had arrived at the place where my ravenous soul could feast on the Bread of Life and gulp down mouthfuls of Living Water.

I have been accepted and will pursue a Masters degree in Divinity.

I will spend the next five years taking classes on Saturdays and the occasional Friday evening. I will read and write and learn ancient Greek and Hebrew and theology and preach practice sermons and intern at a local church and learn about baptism and communion and things I cannot even imagine now. I will learn how to submit papers online and relearn how to write papers with footnotes.

It will be a long uphill climb, but I am excited. Thrilled. Grateful. Joyful. I look forward to figuring out where God wants me to serve and love and listen and teach and walk alongside people on their spiritual journeys and how to welcome others to walk with me on mine.

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