Wednesday, December 18, 2013

It's pronounced "Paass-tore"

I admit I have an ambivalent relationship with the use of honorifics. There ... I said it. The first time I was called "ma'am," I was 18 years old and working as a florist. I turned around to see who this girl was talking to ... and I was the only one in the shop. It was weird.

When I got married and first had someone call me "Mrs. Scarborough," I did the same thing. I turned around to see if my mother-in-law had walked into the room behind me. She wasn't there, for the record.Later, when I had children, I became "Mrs. _________'s Mom." First it was "Mrs. Claire's Mom" then it was "Mrs. Erin's Mom." You kind of forfeit any personal identity when it comes to your kids - their peers know them, and you become "Mrs. _________'s Mom."

Then I finally gave into God's call to the priesthood. It took 26 years for me to say "yes." Remember, I'm old enough to have grown up when this was not an option because of my chromosomal configuration. I just thought God was nuts. Apparently, either God is nuts or I'm really supposed to do this. Some are still betting on the former and I get plenty of "feedback" from folks in that camp regularly. Fortunately, the congregation I serve and our denomination is betting on door #2 ... and so far, so good.

People still do not know what to do with women in collars. Not only do they not know what to call us, many doubt we are even really ordained. My colleague Diane, who is an ELCA pastor in Connecticut, was balled out by a woman a few weeks ago when she pulled up to the hospital on her Harley-Davidson and parked in the clergy spot to make a pastoral call. She unzipped her leathers to show her collar. The woman was unimpressed and said anybody could wear a collar. Diane proceeded to show her the Communion kit in her saddlebag - again the woman was nonplussed. Diane then showed her the ELCA roster card in her wallet identifying her as a duly ordained pastor in the ELCA. Finally, the woman relented and apologized. I wonder if my friend would have received this kind of third degree had she been male? While we can't argue the negative, I do believe the accosting party would have likely backed down at the clerical attire had it been on a man riding a Harley.

The doubt of our "legit-ness" extends into what to call me. After 35 years of ordaining women, we still get the, "What do we call you?" question. When I'm feeling particularly snarky, my response is, "Isn't it obvious? 'Your Majesty' will suffice." I even offer to let them kiss one of my rings for good measure ... you know, to get the full effect. I have people call me "Mother Scarborough" or "Pastor Scarborough" and that's fine ... especially when we don't know each other well. Kind of a common courtesy like calling someone "Mr.," "Mrs.," or "Ms." when you don't know them well. If people know me, I'm good with being called by my baptismal name. It's worked well for 49 years, I see no need to give it up now. But some people just don't know what to do with me ... like the bride whose family were members of our congregation a long time ago who wanted to rent the church for her wedding - her Baptist (male, of course) pastor would be officiating. I've only been in the congregation 2 years, so this is new territory for me. In the past week, I've had two occasions to speak to this young woman on the phone ... and yes, she is young enough to be my daughter. She left a voice mail message last week and when I called her back, she said, "Hi Sweetie, how are you?" I was so shocked I wasn't quite sure if I heard her correctly. I responded, "Excuse me?!" She rephrased the question without the "sweetie" reference. I let it slide that time and wrote it off to a slip of the lip.

But ... it happened again this week. I placed a call to her and after identifying myself she responded, "Oh hi! How are you sweetie?" My internal voice wanted to scream, "It's pronounced PAASS - TORE not SWEE-TEE!" but ... I asked her calmly, "Excuse me, but did you just call me 'Sweetie'?" She replied nonchalantly, "Yes." ... Yes ... as if there is absolutely nothing wrong with calling someone you do not know "sweetie." Really?

I took a deep breath and said, "That is a term of endearment which is only appropriate for my family members to use when addressing me. I expect you to call me 'Pastor Scarborough.' Have I made myself clear?" Apparently, this rattled her cage and she was quite clipped in her response of "Yes, ma'am" and her additional responses to my questions.

About 20 minutes after this conversation, she called me back to apologize and told me she meant no offense. I accepted her apology and let her know that I sensed this was a habit she had but one I strongly suggest she needs to check as calling a person you do not know "sweetie" is disrespectful regardless of whether you meant it disrespectfully or not. I asked her if she addressed her own (male) pastor as "sweetie." She said, "No." I gently told her that if it isn't ok to address a male pastor as "sweetie," it's not ok to say it to a female pastor either.

Chalk it up to a teaching moment ... but knowing this bride is young enough to be my daughter is troubling. It breaks my heart that we are still having to address double-standards about respect for clergy. In both of these cases, the female clergy were confronted by women! It is is a patriarchal hang-over to speak respectfully to male clergy and give them the benefit of the doubt while not extending the same courtesy to women clergy. Admittedly, there are many people who do treat us as respectfully as they do our male counterparts and the numbers are growing. But for the record, regardless of chromosomal configurations, it's pronounced "Pass - tore" ...or "Your Ma-jes-ty." I'll answer to either.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Consumerism in the Church

My colleague Fr. Tim Schenck from St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church in Hingham, MA (and possibly better known for originating Lent Madness), wrote a blog post today entitled "Want Fries With That?" In it, he addresses the creeping problem of the consumerism in our culture infecting how we view Church and the clergy who serve her.

Some have misconstrued this as a rehashing of east-facing versus west-facing altars of the liturgical renewal movement. Regardless of how the clergy is situated when saying the Eucharistic prayer, facing the congregation has had the unintended consequence of crashing into the blatant consumerism with which our culture is saturated.

Personally, I wouldn't change facing the congregation at the altar. I do believe Tim+ has appropriately raised the awareness that our posture can be misunderstood or overlaid with other meanings brought in from the world and the deleterious effects it can have on how we understand ourselves as the Church.

We are not purveyors of religious goods and services. We are the Body of Christ and as such a community centered on Christ first and foremost. Priests are not "sacramental Pez dispensers" who exist to dole out baptisms, weddings and funerals on demand. We are called to the cure of souls and to bring the presence of Christ to the gathered community through the sacraments.

When we view the Church solely as the place we go to "be fed," the focus ceases to be on God and it turns towards us. It becomes what we want and whether we are fed and whether or not our needs are met. What if, it's really not about us? What if it starts and ends in God? And what if this God has invited us into greater, more intimate, loving participation with God and each other in this community of faith?

This isn't to say we don't spend time discerning the community to which God may be calling us - the place where our gifts and graces can make a difference in the life of the Church. But note the focus is less about getting what I want or need, but where I can contribute toward the communal life of the risen Christ. The first approach is focused on me ... the second is on thee. Advent seems the appropriate time to reflect on our focus - is it on me, or thee?

Oh ... and I'm with Tim+ ... I will take fries with that too!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

"not biblically backed" and "not proved to help the Church"

The Church of the Province of Central Africa (Anglican) has rejected ordaining women at its recent synod meeting. According to Bishop of Northern Malawi, the Rt Revd Fanuel Magangani:
“One person ordained in one diocese may get rejected in another thereby compromising the collegiality of the Province. ... The ordination of women is not biblically backed and has also not proved to help the Church since inception in the 70s.”
Really? There's so much misinformation in this statement that I can hardly believe this bishop ever made it through seminary, let alone become a bishop. Let's unpack this statement point by point:


Collegiality among clergy is important; however, it lacks ultimate importance. This Gospel is of ultimate importance. Collegiality is nice and to claim that somehow women will "compromise" it is foolishness. Women have been spreading the Gospel for 2,000 years and were the first witnesses to the resurrection. Did the fact that our risen Lord began his revelation of resurrection power to women and entrust that message to them compromise the collegiality of the male disciples? I think not. Did the fact that Phoebe of Cenchrea, a deaconess in the first century Church there, delivered Paul's letter to the Romans compromise that church's collegiality? I think not.

Florence Li Tim-Oi was the first Anglican woman to be ordained priest in the 1940's to serve as a priest in Macau during the Japanese occupation in WWII. She gracefully resigned her license (but not her priestly ordination) at the end of the war and in 1971, when Hong Kong ordained two more women, her license was reinstated. Recently, the Windsor Report discussed how women's ordination was handled throughout the Anglican Communion and how we could move forward even when collegiality is impaired.

When we make collegiality more important than recognizing the Spirit's outpouring of gifts and graces on women (and LGBT persons too), we raise collegiality up has having ultimate importance - and this is idolatry. Christ and the Gospel have ultimate importance. Collegiality is nice ... but is not requisite for salvation.

Not biblically backed

If we get down to it, no ordination is "biblically backed." Jesus never ordained anyone. Care to show me in the Bible where he did? I'm waiting ... and hearing nothing but crickets.

In my tradition, Holy Orders is a sacrament - an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. Yes, Jesus called twelve male disciples. On this we can agree. But none of them was ordained in the sense that we understand this sacrament today. Jesus also had many women following him, some of whom were bankrolling his operation (see Luke 8:3). It was women who were the first to witness the resurrection and to share its good news. Women were prominent leaders in the churches which received letters from Paul. Read the end of Romans, 1st & 2nd Corinthians and notice all of the female names Paul mentions! If these women were not Spirit filled leaders, what exactly were they? And they are all mentioned in the Bible ... yes, biblically backed indeed.

Not proved to help the church

First, the idea that the inception of ordaining women dates to the 1970's is ridiculous. The aforementioned Li Tim-Oi notwithstanding, other branches of the Christian family have been ordaining women in this country since the mid-19th century. And if we include all the women who worked with Paul ... well now we're going back to the '50's ... I mean as in 50 A.D.

And so we have not "proved to help the church" ... really? I daresay those Anglicans who received the sacraments from Florence Li Tim-Oi were helped when they were under occupation (and they kept the church going in Macau with her help). I know of many churches in redevelopment where women have entered as their priests to heal conflicts, provide the sacraments, and are now growing vibrant congregations. I would love to invite Bishop Magangani to come to where I serve at Grace Church in Brunswick MD - a church which in 2 years time has gone from having 15-18 people in worship on any given Sunday to a worshiping community of 60+ who are actively engaging the gospel in our community and the world.

But this is Africa. They are more conservative.

One might argue for the cultural context to be considered here. After all, Central Africa's countries are "more conservative" than the United States. Well, to say Africa is a monolithic entity is false. The Bishop of Chad made the motion to allow women's ordination. There are provinces ready to affirm the gifts and graces of women ... and they are being spiritually impoverished in order to protect "collegiality," a faulty biblical interpretation, and the completely false assertion that the church has not been "helped" by women clergy.

And it isn't just in Africa ...

On November 13, 2013 Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber of the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver was excoriated on Twitter as an "unsanctified mess belonging to an "unbiblical office." Rachel Held Evans pointed out that a recent evangelical Christian conference only had four women speakers out of a roster of over 100 male speakers - she was denounced as "divisive." We'd like to think that we are more progressive than our sisters and brothers in Africa, but we are not. As a woman priest, I know I cannot serve throughout the Anglican Communion like my male colleagues can. There are those (both male and female) who still question the validity of my Orders strictly because I don't have a "Y" chromosome ... or as Pastor Nadia said they think in order to "be like Jesus, we have to pee like Jesus."

I pray for my sisters and brothers in Central Africa. I pray for those here who still cannot see the gifts of leadership bestowed by Christ on women for the benefit of his Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.