My friend Roberta was ordained to today. It’s a start.
A well educated, mature woman, with a theology degree and a Ph. D., Roberta became Roman Catholic and sought her theological education at a time, fresh after Vatican II, when thousands of women thought that the Roman Catholic Church was going to start ordaining women to the priesthood any day now. In the meantime, Robert is a writer, teacher, and professional mediator.
Forty years after Vatican II, she’s still waiting, of course. I can’t help wondering if we are now all waiting for the present Pope to die for things to finally change, or for the church itself to die. Hmm.
Today Roberta was ordained as a Deacon, not a Priest— in the American Catholic Church, one of those independent churchbodies that traces their line back to the Old Catholics who broke with Rome in 1870 over last-straw dogmas which they would not accept: papal infallibility and the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven, etc.
Roberta was ordained in our Lutheran parish sanctuary, of course. Welcome, my friend to the original “old” Catholics – the churches of the Reformation, who have been waiting 500 years for reconciliation.
We have little to brag about, of course. We didn’t start ordaining women to the ministry in this country until 1970. It’s almost as if Vatican II made more of an impression on us than on the Roman Catholics. At any rate, 38 years is a long time to wait for ordination.
As desperately as the whole church of Christ needs servants and ministers, it continues to find ways to drag its feet. My friend Scott, an ELCA heterosexual seminary graduate, waited about two years for a call and ordination to serve a congregation. What as wrong with him? Is he chopped liver? And in the meantime, dozens of congregations in our geographic area are dragging their feet, unable to work the process to select and to call a Pastor. Why? Scott wanted a call very much, and continued to be a servant of the church in a non-ordained position while he was waiting. On hold, as it were.
“Your Call is important to us. Please hold.” This seems to be the church’s message to its seminary graduates.
Then I got to thinking: Was there something wrong with this guy? I mean, did he fail some key courses? Does he have an attitude problem? Is he a closeted heretic? Why are they overlooking him? I finally asked him one day at a clergy gathering face-to-face, “Whom did you piss off?”
“That’s what I’m beginning to wonder,” he said with a sad chuckle in his voice.
Women routinely have to wait a long time to get the Call. And for their second call (if— God forbid—they should ever want or have to move on to a new opportunity to serve), there are “on hold” for a very long time.
It’s especially true of course for lesbian and gay, bisexual and transgender students and graduates and pastors. The institutional church has spent the same forty years ditzing around with its LGBT children.
“Are we welcome in the church, or not?”
“Well, yes, sorta,” they tell us.
“We have faith, and we have been loyal to a fault to an institution which really doesn’t know what to do with us, so are we welcome to participate fully in the life of the church or not?”
“Does that participation include professional ministry, under Call, as ordained servants of the servants of God?
“Your Call is important to us. Please continue to hold.”
It really isn’t a matter of whether the church will ever finish studying us, like butterflies pinned under glass. It is a matter of whether the church of Christ will ever get on with its mission to follow Jesus, serve people, and move on to new and exciting opportunities. But sadly, the institutional church seems to be incapable—institutionally—of carrying out real ministry and stepping up to anything new.
So here’s to you, Deacon Roberta. Congratulations!!
She has selected her area of missional concentration as a Diaconate for Spirituality and the Arts in the Los Feliz area of Hollywood/Los Angeles. I don’t think it’s been tried before, and of course there’s no money for it, but knowing Roberta, it will happen. Like thousands of women, minorities, lesbian and gay people, renegades and troublemakers within the body of Christ, she has the vision while the whole church seems to be blind. You go, Roberta!
—Pastor Dan Hooper, Los Angeles