The Unapologetics

I’m not complaining. I have the best job in the world. I spend time with wonderful people who have incredible stories to share. I get to write, and read, like, a lot. I get to break bread in all sorts of settings and call it blessed. I set my own schedule, within reason. I go on trips. I talk about Jesus. I share with people the fullest and most joyful moments of their lives. And when an earthly life has ended, I draw a thread of narrative to bring meaning from it all, and point it all back to the holy. What could possibly be better?

That said… I’m going to speak a truth that may sound like whining, but is really just a truth of my life that, some days, cannot be ignored. Women who do what I do still have a battle to fight, and it is a chore that does not come with any other job description, that i’m aware of. We still have to defend our right to be here.

It is no longer socially acceptable to walk up to a female physician and demand, “who certified you? Who said that you could practice medicine?” Sure, a person can insist to see a male doctor instead, if one is in-house. But it’s no longer a challenge on, like, an existential level. If you’re bleeding to death, and the only doctor around is a girl, I don’t reckon many patients are going to haggle over the technicalities of anataomy.

I don’t mean to diminish the rampant gender inequality that still plagues the supposedly modern world. Women are appallingly under-represented in the sciences, in government, in lead roles in our major corporations, and basically anywhere there’s appearance of power. But that is a conversation for another day–or rather, for every day. For now, I am talking about the one role where people still feel entitled to say, “girls can’t do that.” Like, say it out loud, without flinching.

Every woman pastor I know could write a book and fill it with the sad, stupid, hurtful and/or plain oblivious things that people say to them.  Here are a few of mine–then we’ll talk about the best way to respond, k?

–”This is Erin. Her husband’s the Pastor at that church over on Happy Valley Road.” (Yes. More than once, this has happened to me.)

–”I have a few questions about your church. Who’s the pastor?”  9 times out of 10, that turns out to be the only question they had, after all.

–”The last pastor I met here was a man…Is he your husband?” (Note: that pastor was here 10 years ago, and is old enough to be my dad. So, yeah, sure, we must be married. BTW, I was pregnant when this one happened. One of my awesome church folks thinks I should have responded: “Yes, he is, and look what he did to me. Have you seen him lately?”)

–Comment left on a particularly controversial blog post: “This is why women and youngsters don’t belong in the pulpit!!!”

–This one from the funeral director who was in charge of a service that i was conducting. “I don’t believe that women can be pastors. If you read your Bible, that is. That’s what it says.” Ah, yes, the Bible card.  Like I’ve never read it. (Also, something about ‘read your Bible’ sounds so much more confrontational than a simple ‘read THE Bible.” Why is that?)

–And this one, my favorite, though perhaps the most disturbing. The guy who remodeled our sanctuary last year, came by my office pretty much every day he was here–which was awesome–to ask me, again, “So, you’re the pastor here?” Or, just to be clear, ”You’re the main pastor here?” Or, in case he really misunderstood, “You preach? On Sunday morning, you preach?” And then there was, “I saw people here this morning for a class. Is that a Bible study class? Are you teaching them the Bible? Because that’s a big job. That’s a lot of responsibility.”

And this whole period of engagement wrapped up nicely when the sanctuary was done, and he showed me our beautifully stained and textured concrete… and remarked that i probably shouldn’t wear high-heeled shoes to walk on the chancel, because it would tear up the floor.

I believe what he meant was, I shouldn’t be a girl and walk on the chancel, because it would tear up his tiny little world.

It would be easy to dwell in these moments; to live with a slow burning rage, or a crippling sadness. And sadly, some of us do. But staying too long in that place does not help us to honor the calling we’ve answered. Better for the soul, and the world, really, the laugh it off with some trusted colleagues and move on.

While I’ve had many an awkward airplane flight and/or manicure because I made the mistake of mentioning what I do, people are, on the whole, lovely and kind and engaging. I stand by that, for all that some folks work to make me think otherwise.

However, I do have to check myself. Because my impulse in these situatons, almost always, is to defend. To articulate a brilliant biblical/theological argument that will justify my being here; not in my language, but in theirs.  Or else, I find their shock and dismay so off-putting, that I must fight the urge to comfort them. Like, “there, there, it’s ok. We’ll find you a church where only the boys talk, where Jesus is white, and where the prayer chain works like the Sear’s catalog. Let me give you a phone number…”

But what I learned a long time ago–and what I hope my sisters in ministry are learning too–is that no publication-worthy appologetic for lady preachers is going to change the minds and hearts of those who refuse to hear. You might have a dozen verses of scripture for every one of their’s, but the thing is, we are better than that. We do not believe in shredding apart the gospel in order to prove our point–or more importantly, the prove our worth. And the thing is, we don’t have to. We are called by God and ordained by the church, and that should be good enough for anybody who’s asking.

And yes, there will be those who are genuinely curious, honestly engaging, and might even disagree with your position, yet still find interest in you, as a person, and wish to hear your story. I’m trying to discern, with grace and dignity, the people who just want to shame and silence me, from the ones who are really up for a conversation. It is hard sometimes, but the alternative is to write off everyone else as ‘other,’ a spiritually dangerous practice in any time and place.

What I can do–what we can all do–is to serve, unapologetically, in the roles to which we are called. We can do it well, not to prove our worth to strangers, but to honor those who support and encourage us; those who vouched for us when we took our vows, and who show up to hear us preach, every Sunday of the world; and most importantly, those faithful women who paved a way for us, whatever resistance they met.

And that is probably my best response to those who, for whatever argument I could make for my calling, will never see past my shoes: “If you’ve said your piece, I’ll be going now. I’ve got work to do.”

We’ve got work to do, ladies. Good folks believe in us. And the next girls are counting on it.

 

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About Erin Wathen

Rev. Erin Wathen is the Senior Pastor of Saint Andrew Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Olathe, KS (www.sacchome.org). She's a Kentucky native, a long-time desert dweller, and she writes about the sacred thread that runs through pretty much everything. For more info, click the 'about' tab above...

  • Robyn

    Can I hear an AMEN! And for people like me, although I am of the same gender, you are the reason I attend Foothills. Their loss, my gain…..

  • http://www.facebook.com/katherinewillispershey Katherine Willis Pershey

    Thank you for this!!

    I hope you’ll consider submitting a story to the Women in Ministry series. I’m the new host: http://www.kewp.blogspot.com/p/women-in-ministry.html

  • http://earfullofpumpkin.blogspot.com Trish Winters

    perfect. blessed word.

  • Bruce Barkhauer

    I am grateful for women in ministry in general, and for women like you in particular. The women I have served with have given me insight into the sacred texts that I would never have likely discovered on my own (or with a whole group ((binders full of)) men. Not mention other areas of ministry and leadership. Thanks for answering your calling, everyday.

  • http://www.facebook.com/laureen.roe Laureen A. Roe

    AMEN!!!!

  • http://livingequipoise.blogspot.co.uk Celia Kozlowski

    “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
    Eleanor Roosevelt, ‘This Is My Story,’ 1937
    US diplomat & reformer (1884 – 1962)

  • Ginnyvette

    Once upon a time, I was a (female) student pastor and was told: “you are taking a man’s job”. When challenged, I asked, how am I taking something away from someone else? Especially when no men applied for the job? The answer: ‘women should not be in the pulpit’. A lame response. I didn’t go in to the ministry, for a number of reasons, but I was astounded that I was repeatedly given a version of this speech from many in a very progressive congregation in a mainline church attached to a university. Sigh.

    • http://www.irreverin.com irreverins

      Sorry to hear it, Ginny. I am sure you’ve found other ways to live out your faith and calling, but it really sucks you were not encouraged to preach. HEre’s hoping it’s better for the next bunch of girls…

  • Bob

    Erin no one can understand your pain unless they have lived in your shoes. It is best to overlook ignorance anywhere you encounter it. No one can ever get your goat if they don’t know where it is tied. I of all people having grown up in South Eastern , Ky was bombarded with many of the old fashion bias’s. I have outgrown those years ago. My first two children were girls and one became an officer in the Air Force and the other a medic in the Air Force. I have always taught them that they could do anything they wanted to and they could be as good at it or better then men. I have worked for about 45 years and now I stay home as my wife works and I run everything the dishwasher, washing machine and many other appliances. Does that bother me, heck no !

    I am proud to have you as a pastor and I love the aspect you use in running the church and how you approach your church presentations. I feel you put feelings into the church that a male pastor could not. It is great that your daughter stands up there with you. We must remember some of the old sayings that our folks taught us, such as, sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me. We must feel sorrow for those that treat us in an inferior or demeaning manner. I am not saying that I have encounter the discrimination of being a female for I have not. However; as a young hill billy from KY in the Navy and being small in stature I was treated in a demeaning way many times. I was consider dumb and one to be taken advantage of, so I have known that type of male discrimination. I always took this approach, unless you a smarter than me you will not get my goat and if you do I will not let you know that you did.

    You go girl you are the best Pastor out there and I am proud to be a member of your flock

    • http://www.irreverin.com irreverins

      Thanks for the good word, Bob. Amen on all counts.

  • http://www.linsvoice.blogspot.com Linda Miller

    Dear brilliant, feisty Erin, I just plain love you. And I’m proud to call you colleague and friend. Preach it, Sister!

    • http://www.irreverin.com irreverins

      Love you back. Going to miss you this weekend at our HOPE event…

  • Melissa Bitting

    Boy can I relate! I am the first female minister at a church that was 160 years old when they called me. I was told by one of the males on the pulpit committee that they never really planned on having me as their permanent fulltime minister, they just wanted to give me some experience. The sexism can drive you crazy at times!
    Thanks for writing this!

  • Lori

    Didn’t know what to reply when a church member commented, “You’re nice to look at on Sunday Mornings?”

  • Bonnie Bezon

    For my two cents, I am profoundly and positively affected by the fact that you are both a “youngster” and a woman. What a joy to hear the word of the Lord through someone in my own demographic. The disdain of the small minded is passing and eclipsed by the fires you ignite in those around you.

  • http://revkory.wordpress.com/ revkory

    Erin, while I’ve never witnessed it first-hand, I firmly believe you tear up the chancel every Sunday, and it has nothing to do with your footwear. So thankful for your voice and witness!!

  • Worthless Beast

    I remember, years ago, the first time I attended a Methodist church and encountered a female pastor… Even though I am female, myself, and I was totally for it, it felt just a touch weird to me because the only church I had ever been in before that was Southern Baptist and they were big about men having the “biblical authority” to preach… I remember, in that moment, wondering if what was going on in the church was “biblical” and then thinking “It’s right. Screw what my old church taught!” The pastor I witness was actually preaching about following one’s calling and how she had to fight to follow hers because of the gender politics of the Church.

    I related this story to a Jewish friend of mine who was formerly Orthodox and coming out of it into one of the other modern sects of Judiasm. She said she felt the same way the first time she attended a Conservative service with its various differences from the ultra Orthodox ways…

    Just commentary on how interesting things can get ingrained upon one’s psyche – and the collective psyche, how traditions are.

    What’s even weirder is that I’m here, talking about this when I actually haven’t been to any church in years. I still believe in things (with a healthy or possibly unhealthy dose of doubt), but I’m just so excessively introverted that even if I found a church that was “right for me” anymore, I’d probably still be shy of going just because of my mental issues. I like reading blogs on this collective, though, and kind of kept on reading yours when I saw the desert imagery that made me homesick. (I was raised in Arizona, I now live in Pennsylvania).

  • kacorey

    My churches lead pastor’s wife is just awesome, a true woman for God. After her husband she is my favorite speaker at our church. IMO it doesn’t matter man or woman, if you have a gift to reach people for Jesus you should follow that calling, wasting that gift is a sin- no pun intended *g*.