Mom was a member of the RCA after her marriage until her death, 4 years ago. As a child, she dreamed of being either a baseball player (like her hero Ernie Banks) or a missionary. Again and again, she heard the words, “girls don’t do that.” But girls in her family did do some striking things. Her mother and her grandmother had served the Red Cross in WWI and WWII. Her mom went on to continue working, teaching school. Girls in her family went to college; they didn’t flinch at going to graduate school.
After earning a Master’s degree, she made the decision to remain at home; she launched 4 kids into school before returning to school herself. By this time she had done some real soul-searching. She knew that she was called to ministry. She knew that she was called to serve those who have no voice, those who are hungry, mentally ill, homeless, and otherwise forgotten. While both her church and the ministry affirmed her role and her calling– not everyone was in favor of a woman in such a position.
In coming under care of the Classis there were churches who objected openly to her presence. There was one congregation who chose every meeting that a woman was examined for fitness to arrive en mass, sit as a group, and then upon the presenting of the female student – to walk out of the room. She had plenty of classmates who were also unsure. “I am still struggling with your right to be here,” was not an uncommon refrain. She chose to remain steadfast, to pursue what she knew to be God’s call in her life. Twenty one years ago, we celebrated as mom stood and made her vows of ordination and was installed as the pastor of Heartside Ministry.
Ten years later, we celebrated again, we stood side by side as I was ordained into ministry. In ten years, what if anything had changed? When I stood before the Classis to come under care, there was no voice of opposition to my gender. After one of my rounds of examinations, my mom received a letter from someone who had vocally objected to her ordination. This letter complimented her on her daughter, affirmed my call, and thanked my mom for serving with such dedication and grace. What difference can ten years make! There were still those who openly challenged my call to ministry.
There were still classmates “struggling with my right to be here,” who caused me to think long and hard about what I was getting in to. Ordination of course has not been the end of the conversation. I have served two different churches that have affirmed my call and challenged me to grow. I have served in two different Classes, both of which still have people who are actively struggling to understand God’s call to women. Mom helped with that too – just show up, she used to tell me. Show up at everything, be yourself; be grace-filled and who you are. That is what I seek to do – I show up. It isn’t always easy, but I have formed some truly wonderful relationships over the years with other pastors. I continue to pray when I go to Classis and other meetings that I might be able to simply be myself, that someone will glimpse the possibility that God might use women in the same way that God uses men.
I have been an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament for eleven years. So, what has changed in eleven more years? Some days, very little; as we have spent the past year debating the “Conscience Clauses,” I have heard some dramatic, painful, and occasionally abusive stories of opposition to women’s ordination. In my Classis, I remain the only woman serving an RCA congregation; while my congregation has been nothing but a blessing and is overwhelmingly supportive of my ministry, I run across surprise, apprehension, and occasional opposition on almost a weekly basis. The vote to remove the “Conscience Clauses” will change very little in my day-to-day life. Those who believe in me and my ability to serve will continue to do so, those who openly oppose me will continue to do so; my prayer is that those in the middle who are wondering will find a bit more courage to dialogue.
Before I was ordained mom used to lament that when she entered seminary she prayed fervently that, if one of her daughters should she be called by God into ministry, they would not experience the pain that she has experienced. After I was ordained mom used to pray that her granddaughter — should she have one called into ministry — would be able to do so being affirmed and supported by her church and her denomination as a whole. This is also my prayer.
The vote taken by General Synod on Thursday matters. It matters not because my survival is at stake, not because anyone could deny me my call or my ordination. It matters because I have a sister-in-law who has not yet received her ordination. It matters because I have a niece, because I have young girls in my church, and I pray that one day a young woman who finds herself unable to deny the call into ministry that God has placed on her life will not fear to answer.
I pray for the legacy that my mom left, a legacy of hope and grace, that one more step, one more meeting, one more year might make all the difference.
Rev. Edie Lenz
Pastor, First Reformed Church