I am not sure how it started – curiosity, maybe. But I got it in my mind to visit women clergy in my town. I guess I have wanted to see what it would be like to see a woman pastor in action. After all, in my path to this moment, the ordination of Episcopal women played an important part. After their first extra-ordinary ordination, one of the new women priests came to Chicago, and I traveled across town to the little church where she was to preach and celebrate mass. Seeing vestments on a woman’s form, and hearing her preach, changed my life forever. That day gave me permission to own my own call.
As it turns out, my town, Evanston, Illinois, is rich with women pastors, straight and gay, from several denominations. The rector of a big and old Episcopalian congregation, is married and has an open life with her wife, including service work and vacations. She preached at a service at the beach on Lake Michigan last summer, and was so comfortable and effective a preacher.
A straight woman is the Lutheran pastor of another older congregation. She has been a leader in the interfaith community here, whose main mission is to feed the hungry, and house the homeless during our coldest nights. She persuaded several congregations, all of whom are near each other and are near public transport, to share the burden, and each are now offering successive weeks of shelter. She also persuaded her congregation to make this shelter space – their church basement – accessible, mostly for the benefit of their homeless guests. Pretty impressive!
I attended a Shabbat service of a woman rabbi I met doing anti-racism work. A very musical and joyous service – her talk was accessible and rich, and reached the young and old in the congregation. She, like most rabbis today, did not grow up with the model of women rabbis, but has walked the path and followed her own call.
I met a different woman rabbi another weekend. In the past year, she was appointed to lead a congregation that had lost a gifted rabbi, over his support of the Palestinian people. She grew up in our town, but studied out of state, and for several years led a prominent gay congregation in New York City. The Shabbat service was small and simple, but her insights and encouragement knocked my socks off!
There are more folks to visit. On my list is a Methodist pastor of a church I only know because of their focus on feeding the poor. But the most poignant moment in this pilgrimage so far, came, for me, at Second Baptist Church.
Second Baptist is a large, African American congregation, which traces its roots to having split off from a white church in the 19th century. I know a magnificent woman preacher who was the assistant pastor for a while, but did not get the lead spot when it was available a year ago. I had not visited in a while, but the pastor advertised that he had invited a couple of young people to preach their first sermons on a particular Sunday – and that got my attention.
As it turns out, one of them was the pastor’s daughter, a 20-year old college freshman, and the other was an 18-year old high school senior who has grown up in the congregation. Each of them preached from scriptures they chose…and they were magnificent! Each of them took my breath away!
But I did walk away with a little sadness. The young people in my own parish will never see anything so inspirational as the young people of Second Baptist did that morning. I know I should be saying that it inspired me to keep up our intense work for Catholic women’s ordination – and it did – but I have to also own that the experience underscored for me what truth and energy and inspiration slips away from us, with every generation. From the mouths of these young women, to God’s ears!
Marion Flynn, WOC Board Secretary, studied theology in the 1970’s – and was certain there would be a path to the priesthood, having been called at a very early age. She has worked as a banker and fundraiser, is active in her parish, and is honored, beyond words, to serve the cause of women’s ordination. Marion lives in the Chicago area, but was born in Massachusetts. She holds a BA from Newton College of the Sacred Heart, and an MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University.