Monday, April 8, 2013

You can't be what you can't see...or can you?

Photo by Casey Elia

You can't be what you can't see.

I forget where I first heard this statement, but I remember the context. It was a reference to women’s ministry. The point was that children, in many denominations, grow up with male spiritual leaders and pastors, and that this makes girls less likely to imagine “Pastor!” as an enthusiastic answer to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I don’t believe it’s true that you can’t be what you can’t see, but I do believe it’s a heck of a lot harder. Growing up in a church tradition that did not ordain women (though that denomination has since changed, thanks be to God), I was blessed to have church leaders and others -- my pastor, seminary interns, my family -- encourage my penchant for theological questions, and the ideas I tossed around about “going into ministry.” Given our denomination’s stance, it feels odd that I was so encouraged by my pastor and the seminarians. Perhaps they were supportive of women’s ordination, but did not want to get into a discussion about it with a 17-year-old. Perhaps they were not supportive, but saw that I had gifts they believed could be used in the church in other ways. I may never know, but I do know one thing -- nobody ever asked me to help lead a worship service.

Is it any wonder that I entered seminary so “sure” that I was not going to be a pastor? My senior year of college, before I moved to Durham to attend Duke, was the first time in my life I had a woman pastor myself. At the age of 23, I was finally hearing the gospel proclaimed by a woman’s lips on a regular basis. Thinking of this now, it ought to be the most natural thing in the world. In this Easter season we revisit stories of Jesus' resurrection, of his appearance to women, and we listen as those women share the good news -- whether they are believed or not. At the time it felt revolutionary, every Sunday. My world broke open. I began to ask new questions about my own vocation, which was as unsettling as it was freeing.

These days there are a lot of children running around my church. Now that a few of them are old enough to know how to read, we include them on the long list of scripture readers for Sunday services. Given the breadth of this list to begin with, it’s no surprise we want to include the children, to begin teaching them that church is something we participate in together, that we each have gifts to bring to the worship service. No one asked me to do anything like that until I was in seminary. I am grateful that each and every one of our children can grow up understanding that their voices are called to proclaim the good news.

This past Sunday, Clara, who is seven, stood at the pulpit on a black plastic milk crate in her Sunday best, as she slowly and carefully read the gospel passage. It was a long one, the story in John 20 of Jesus appearing to the disciples who are gathered in a back room, and then to Thomas, the doubtful one. She had clearly practiced, and she enunciated each verse beautifully. I was moved by the gospel, this passage being one I have always resonated with, but on this occasion it was more than that.

I am always encouraged when the children read scripture in church, but this day it brought me joy to see how a little girl is part of a community where not only does she see women leading worship, praying, and preaching -- but she gets asked to help. What she sees she can also do.

I don’t know what any of the children in our church will want to “be” when they grow up, when it comes to choosing a job or a vocation. But it moves me in ways I simply cannot find words for that I can be part of shaping a community where each one knows they are called to share the good news of the gospel, just as they are.


  1. These are lovely reflections, Meghan. I, too, love to see a church really embrace its children and make them integral parts of worship. In contrast, I recently visited a congregation where kids 18 and under were prohibited from joining in congregational meetings and discussions, because the church leadership did not feel like they were "mature" enough to engage conversations about membership guidelines, etc. This makes me so sad. How will people ever learn what it means to live together in community and to agree and disagree in love if we only present them with the public face of community, and don't let them be a part of the chaos? Anyway, thanks for your writing.

  2. Meghan, I love that CHMF includes everyone! It took me going to college and having a woman theology professor even to begin thinking that I could justify taking theology classes and majoring in theology. There was also a woman in the class ahead of me who was double majoring in Christian theology and educational ministry. I thought, "What's she going to do with her life?" (Turns out she's just finishing her PhD in theology at Princeton.) I agree that it's not impossible to be what you can't see, but it sure does help. Thank God for the women who go ahead of us and show us what's possible. Hope we can do the same for women who come after us.

  3. Hi Meghan, thanks for your writing! My name is Joanna Shenk and I work with Mennonite Church USA. Hannah Heinzekehr shared your blog with me. I'm wondering, would you be up for having this cross-posted on the Women in Leadership Blog of MC USA? Here's a link to check it out: Also, here's a webpage that outlines the work of the Women in Leadership Project: As you're able, feel free to drop me a line at joannas [at] mennoniteusa [dot] org