Saturday, 14 April 2012

Women's ministry?

Women in ministry... 
One of the blogs I subscribe to, by Ed Cyzewski has been running a series on women in ministry. Ed introduces it: "The Women in Ministry Series is a collection of guest posts that aims to:
  • Provide an alternative to the women in ministry debates by telling the stories of women in ministry.
  • Encourage women to explore their God-given callings."
Different women – in full time ministry – have been writing posts. They have all been interesting, but it was today’s that made me sad.
It was written by the Reverend Meg Jenista, a graduate of Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  She was ordained at Third Christian Reformed Church in 2008, where she continues to serve as the Minister of Community Life and Witness. 
She began like this: “In 1963, Betty Friedan wrote, “There was a strange discrepancy between the reality of our lives as women and the image to which we were trying to conform, the image that I came to call the feminine mystique.” Friedan’s revolutionary research was the underpinning of the 1960s and 70s feminist movement, the aims of which have, in many ways, supplanted the so-called feminine mystique as the operational norm of gender stereotypes and feminine self-understanding in broader culture.  Reading Friedan’s work 40 years later within the context of church culture, I heard my own life experience explained to me. There is still an operational feminine mystique guiding our churches today, a one-size-fits-all mentality of Christian womanhood. I submit into evidence the "Women’s Interest" section of your local Family Christian bookstore. . .and the defense rests.
There is a dominant story in our Christian churches about what it means to be a woman. In reality, there are a lucky few women who naturally fit into this story. Other women subconsciously adopt this narrative, pretending it is their own, amputating the parts of themselves that don’t quite fit between the covers of the storybook.
Meg went on to discuss her struggles with her belief in her calling to be a preacher. She ends with “Being the person God has called me to be is so much more complicated than the tidy little story God’s people have offered me. Some days I would give anything to be one of those lucky few women who naturally fit into the story of the Christian feminine mystique.
Then I remember that complicated is real. And real is better easy. Thanks be to God.”
Now, I know very very little – practically nothing - about the ins and outs and the rights and wrongs of women’s ministry. I know that ‘the church’ – our worldwide body of believers who seek to live Christ-like lives – is, generally, happy for women to offer hospitality, to minister to the sick and to comfort the broken-hearted. I also know that in some areas of ‘the church’, the idea of women preaching is disliked, even forbidden – to men, that is. I gather that there is not such a problem if women preach to women.
So forgive me if I speak out of ignorance, but...excuse me? Is the message different? Are women Christians following a different gospel? Might a woman preach ‘wrongly’ if she speaks before men – even if she uses exactly the same words - rather than women?
Perhaps. Who am I to say? I know practically nothing.
But just two women come to mind.
Deborah, the judge who led Israel for decades. A prophetess, hearing from God. The woman who spoke to the people, who held court for the Israelites to have their disputes decided, who composed and sang a song which celebrated the role of two women in achieving victory. Surely she must have given a rallying speech before battle, calling on God to give the Israelites success.
But perhaps that is not ‘preaching’.
‘Preaching’, the dictionary tells me, is ‘To proclaim or put forth in a sermon: preach the gospel.’ And what is the gospel? The gospel is simply the good news that Jesus is alive.  
Think of Mary Magdalene.
Matthew, in chapter 28 tells us that after Jesus was buried, she and the other Mary went to look at the tomb and found that he had gone. Matthew says (verses 8 – 9)
“So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
I wonder how Mary told this great news. Humbly, submissively, head covered and eyes looking at the ground in respect because she was speaking to men? I don’t think so.
The animated film The Miracle Maker shows her arriving at the house where they were staying. She was so breathless that she couldn’t speak. When she got her breath back, did she quietly tell one of the men and then leave them to discuss it, as men do, among themselves?
No. She PREACHED.  Probably, I guess, quite incoherently at first, such was her excitement. She preached with as much voice as she could muster to as many - men AND women - as would listen. She told the good news. She preached to men.
So, as for me – remember, I know practically nothing – I have no problem with women preaching the good news. Telling others, regardless of whether they are men or women, or one person, ten or one hundred – the good news.
Women in ministry, I know this topic of women preaching is actually far more complicated than this, but remember Deborah, remember Mary. Don’t let human expectations let you doubt yourselves or limit your telling of the good news.
Surely God’s gifting should not be constrained by man-made rules and regulations.
How to do that, with reverence and respect, is another story...

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