“Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
The soft lilt of a woman’s voice washed over me. I heard a woman say these words for the first time in my life. Everything around me became fluid. I smelled flowers and the inside of the church became washed in a palette of colors never before experienced. “Rabboni!” I’m not sure I heard much more.
My mind went to a time when I stood in my bishop’s office as a senior in divinity school. I was totally excited.
“The deacons want me to be their pastor and I can still be Catholic!”
He looked at me and said, “Pat, you can’t do that. The church does not call women yet.” I was stunned. Then, quietly I asked, “What if God calls us?” He left me in his office—alone. For a moment, I stood there and then I ran to my car and drove to the church and found the deacons who were meeting. “I accept.”*
A lifetime of preaching this gospel but never hearing it preached by another woman struck me like lightening. This was the first time.
I wondered about others whose experience was like mine. I looked around the church as Emrie was preaching her first Easter sermon. People were still and I could see tears. I felt my own face and it was wet. Emrie finished and there was an eruption of clapping. Everyone around me was experiencing something special, too. She was their first woman pastor.
Our Easter experience was not over. Communion. She held a loaf of bread high and broke it. I almost couldn’t breathe. Here was a 20-something young woman with waist-length red hair continuing the tradition that Jesus began that Thursday of Passover.
“This is my body…” How different that sounded when Emrie spoke the words. How different it felt when she held the cup smiled, and looked out to us and invited all to Jesus’ table.
“This is not a Presbyterian table. This is not a Cumberland Presbyterian Table. This is Jesus’ table, and he is the one who invites.” I knew at that moment what I did by whispering “ad sum”** to the sky, running from the bishop’s office that spring day in 1990, was for my own liberation, but now I understood it also was so young women would be able to carry on.
Many of our sisters in other traditions who are called still struggle to be heard. All ordained women struggle with and for our sisters wherever they are. Sometimes, women in traditions ordaining women suffer at the hands of patriarchy by being denied in other ways. The struggle is larger than to preach a sermon or a homily or to preach at all. It is to answer the drive of rising hunger for meaning and depth missing from old ways of doing things, for rituals which no longer translate holiness nor meet the needs of a call to that holiness. We walk together so what Jesus came to reform we continue to reform working toward a balance of women and men bringing the Good News and grace to all people.
*Colgate Rochester Divinity School required that each student become a student pastor in a tradition other than their own. The deacons were from the church where I was a student pastor.
** “Ad sum (I am here)” is the phrase a young man in the Roman Catholic tradition answers his bishop in the process of ordination.
Pat Pickett, OblSB
Photo: Emrie, a woman minister, preaching on Easter, taken by Matthew Rogers