Everyone Is Still Awkward and the Gospel Is Still Strong: The 40th Anniversary of Women’s Ordination in the Episcopal Church

Last week marked the 40th anniversary of ordaining women to the Episcopal priesthood. While we […]

Sarah Condon / 9.19.16


Last week marked the 40th anniversary of ordaining women to the Episcopal priesthood. While we have come so far, we have quite a way to go. No, I do not mean we need more women bishops. And no, I am not talking about how few women we see leading major churches. The church still has to adjust to women leading it, and women themselves are only at the beginning of navigating what it means to lead the church.

I laugh, heartily, when people suggest to me that the Episcopal Church is accepting and welcoming of women’s ordination. Instead I would say that the church is incredibly awkward about us.

Some days we are spiritual super heroes who can celebrate the Eucharist and make babies. We can be real mothers and mothers in ministry! We can wear a stole one moment and a nursing cover the next! How novel! While I appreciate the maternal enthusiasm, it also makes me want to run screaming in the opposite direction. I am not a feminist art installation. I am a mom who is a priest. It is really not that exciting.

Then, there is that massive part of the church that has all sorts of plans for us. But we just keep getting in the way! We have children, we have husbands, we refuse to overwork. This ambition-driven part of the church really wants the ladies to be in charge more. It would be great (a la Office Space) if we could have a quick maternity leave and show up seven weeks later looking like we didn’t push a small watermelon out of our nether regions. You are most welcome for that visual.

Right after I was ordained it was suggested me that I dress more “calmly.” When I asked for a further articulation of what my ontological apparel goals should be, I was told “more business, but not quite a Hillary Clinton pantsuit.” To which I replied, “I feel like you should try saying that to me again in a different way. Because I think what you just said might be illegal. And I’m fairly certain cropped purple pants aren’t going to hurt anyone.”

Exhibit A: The church is awkward about us.

I find that I am much more comfortable if we just name how strange and relatively new it is that I am charged with the duties of administering the Word and Sacrament. In church culture, things had been clicking along with only men running the show for a very long time. They have been in charge for as long as anyone could remember. It has been forty years since the first woman was ordained. Based on my rough timeline, the church is about to be premenopausal on the subject of lady leadership. To act as though everyone should be on board and completely understand my vocation is short sighted and ludicrous.

When the church and her members are not sure what to make of us, it is not personal. It is a community coming to terms with itself. As in all relationships, grace, forgiveness, and a tremendous amount of humility are really the best way to answer. And frankly, that narrative falls squarely on the shoulders of ordained women. As mighty as that responsibility may be, I would suggest that the Gospel will never fail us.maxresdefault-1

First and foremost, we are not walking teachable moments. As a hospital chaplain, I quickly learned that nothing broke down relationships faster than my patient inquiring as to why they sent a woman to minister to them followed by me educated-lady-‘splaining the situation. Instead, a simple, “They started hiring women! I know. Right?” followed quickly by, “How are you feeling? Can I pray for you?” typically shifted the conversation to what mattered.

Let’s be real, anytime we try to educate the public about the need for us to be in a collar the whole thing just reeks of, “So here’s why I am important.” We do not need the validation of the entire planet. We do not need a stamp of approval from anyone but the Triune God. And that already happened. God called us into ministry. The Holy Spirit empowered a bishop to ordain us. And Jesus spoke a word of worthiness over us. So, as my grandmother would say, we do not need to explain nothing to nobody.

kimmy-gibbler-full-house-509161_320_240Similarly, we do not need to apologize for the calling that has been placed on our lives. All too often, I hear some clergy woman say that she got ordained, but she just doesn’t know how she “feels about it.” Here’s my suggestion: Feel good about it and find something else to think about. If we believe in a sovereign God, then he has placed us in this very moment to do this very ministry. God cannot use us if we are consumed with our own self-narrative about being amazing any more than he can use us if we are consumed with how we feel about us.

This is the focus of the anniversary celebration for me: The priesthood is a shocking profession no matter who is doing it. Being completely aghast is the appropriate response when we find out that anyone is ordained, woman or man.

As ordained ministers of the Gospel, we have been trusted to share the news that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Our place of honor is found at the bedside of the dying. We are entrusted with placing bread into the hands of the sinsick and whispering to them, “the Body of Christ, the bread of heaven.” Pulpits stand in front of congregations for us to preach forgiveness to the broken-hearted. How humbling. How incredible. It is ridiculous that anyone could be called to such absurdly beautiful work.

We are not here to be a good story. We are not here to prove our own strength.  We are here solely to serve the Gospel. And that is Good News enough for me.