Seriously? On women and ministry ...

A bunch of people have been asking me about this video, put together by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's North Carolina Synod, about things actually said to female pastors in the synod. For the non-church nerds among us, a "synod" is basically like a larger group of churches from a similar geographical area. The Catholic Church calls them dioceses; the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church I believe calls them districts.

Churchy lingo aside, what the video does brilliantly is put the words of comments made to female pastors in the synod in the mouths of male pastors, who are stymied and dismayed by what they're hearing.

I am so glad this video was made, and I am so grateful for all of the awareness being shared about the sometimes awkward and difficult burden shouldered by woman pastors, and the ridiculous baggage we sometimes carry of having to swallow absolutely asinine comments and not respond, pretend we didn't hear, and move on with the handshake line at the end of church.

As a "good Christian woman," according to this blog, I'm also going to make a confession about this video. I haven't finished watching it.

I started watching it; heard the first few inappropriate comments about the female pastor's appearance, and I just had to shut it off. The feeling was one of overwhelming shame and embarrassment. Part of me didn't want the wider world to know the things I heard, the things that were said to me. There is nothing worse, in my opinion, than pity. I didn't really want everyone to know how embarrassed and exposed I felt, almost every Sunday, and that in the moments of preaching or presiding or praying - it only went away when I was completely wrapped up in the words and in the Gospel, forgetting about my embodied female ministry that could be so shaming and embarrassing.

I didn't want the world to know I was constantly walking the razor's edge of the double-edged sword of female attractiveness. Be pretty but not too pretty. Be rewarded by your beauty but shamed for it, too. What outfit would eliminate the scorn of the female body doing ministry in the church? Certainly not the alb or the collar, at least not for me, even while pregnant.

And too, I suppose, I didn't want to be some anonymous female pastor charity case: people clucking their tongues and saying oh poor her. Certainly the comments represented on the video are awful to deal with, but they are also not the sum of female ministry in the church, not the sum of my experience in the church. There was the male colleague who preached with me on my first Easter as Pastor in our congregation. The men my age who joined me for an illicit workshop at the Chicago Synod Gathering where we talked about actually being millennials in the church. There were the senior couples who trusted me with their pastoral care and their existential questions; the teenage boys who asked me about sportswriting; the teenage girls who trusted me with the struggles of drug addiction; the young moms and dads and young people in general who straddled with me the line between pastor and friend.

I was reminded, thinking of all this, of the words of my friend Wes, a megachurch pastor in California, explaining what happened when he and his colleagues of color experienced a racist incident.

"Some people did try to explain why they were upset and talk about it, but the hard part is that the burden is always placed on minorities to speak up and explain why you should care about me."

"That gets really emotionally taxing, always having to explain to people why they should care about what happens to you."

To be honest, that's where I am today, and I suspect I am not the only woman in America who feels that way. 

Still, there are men and boys who give me hope. One of them turns 3 on Monday.


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