What was considered “normal” at the beginning of your ministry that might surprise people today? That was a question posed to me from those seeking to gathers stories in 2020 from women clergy for the 50th Anniversary of the Ordination of Women in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Here is mine.
In 2002, after I had been ordained 22 years, I was serving in parish ministry in my tenth year at Trinity Lutheran Church in Danville, Pennsylvania. During the previous few years I had been privileged to supervise five interns from the Gettysburg Seminary. Our most recent intern was Beth George (who continues in parish ministry to this day.)
A member of the congregation had died and following a meaningful, well attended funeral in the church sanctuary the funeral procession of cars was being led through the streets by the hearse to the cemetery for the committal. I was in the front seat of a sedan with the funeral director, Dean, and Beth in the back seat. As he drove us in the slow moving line of cars, Dean gave me the Clergy Record card. I handed it back to Beth and explained that on it was the relevant information about the deceased for us to be able to enter into the official Parish Record Book. It was her first funeral. “Notice that it says Clergy Record on the card. These things used to say Clergyman’s Record but they changed it to make it gender inclusive.”
Dean laughed softly and said, “Yes, we changed that almost ten years ago after we got a letter from someone telling us it needed to be updated since there were now women pastors.”
“Oh, yeah,” I responded, “who was that?”
Dean then laughed loudly as he said, “It was you!” I laughed. Beth laughed. Dean laughed some more, especially since I did not remember writing to him.
But it was certain that I had since during my two decades of ministry I regularly, gently for the most part, had to point out that it was a new age where both men and women were pastors.
- The Gideons International, the group that places Bibles into hotel rooms, would write to me inviting me and my wife to a dinner. So off would go a letter from me telling them that I had no wife but did have a husband. I believe after a few years, they finally changed the language of their annual invitation.
- I would, on a number of occasions, receive letters for the Church Council that included the salutation, “Gentlemen.” So off would go a letter each time telling them that I was not a gentleman, nor were the women on the Church Council who served a long side of the men. I always would offer alternative forms of salutation such as Ladies and Gentlemen, or simply Dear Members of the Church Council.
- My husband was once invited to a retreat for the spouses of pastors. We were pleased that as a Lutheran retreat the organizers had recognized that there were male spouses as well as female. However, he was asked to bring along a piece of fabric that would be included in the quilt they would be working on. I did not bother with a letter on that one as I dearly did not want to hurt the feelings of the women who had planned the retreat. My husband chose not to attend, needless to say. He was one of just three male spouses in my synod at that time.
I had learned that certain responsibilities were mine as one of the first female Lutheran pastors in the United States. (There were about 200 of us in 1980 when I was ordained in the Lutheran Church in America.) It had not really been my plan to be a pioneer. Yet, following God’s call had made me one.
My letters, along with likely similar ones from my clergy sisters around the country, did over time begin to make a difference in our small towns, suburbs, and in the cities in which we ministered.
I am most pleased with the impact that my presence had on children. One Sunday morning, 30 years into my ordination when I was serving St. Michael Lutheran Church in Wellington, Florida, the bishop was visiting our congregation. The bishop was a man. A little boy of about age eight saw him walk by wearing his identifying collar and the child immediately placed his hands on his hips and looked up at me with great joy on his face. “Pastor Margie, do you mean boys can be pastors, too?”
“Yes, indeed, they can, Ethan. Maybe when you grow up God just might ask you to be one, too.”
That is one of my favorite memories, a lovely God moment that warms my heart each time I think of it.
I would love to hear your responses to this blog post and maybe some stories of your own.