Answering God’s call

By Bev Marshall-Goodell

When I was 45 years old I made the crazy decision to quit my job and start seminary. Actually, it wasn’t just any job. I had lobbied The University of Iowa to create a new position, Director of the Women in Science and Engineering Program, and then they had the nerve to hire me to do the work. The only explanation I can provide when someone asks why I left that job was that God would not let me do anything else.

After resisting a call to ministry for many years, and volunteering for nearly every position in the local church except pastor, I finally gave up the fight and followed God’s leading. One Sunday I was sitting in the pew at First United Methodist Church in Iowa City, Iowa, and the next Sunday I was serving as the half-time pastor for Aroma Park United Methodist Church in Aroma Park, Illinois.

The Staff-Parish Relations Committee at Aroma Park UMC had told their district superintendent they did not want a student and they did not want a woman. When I arrived with my family for the “put in” meeting, everyone there assumed that my husband would be their pastor! Of course no one told me that until months later.

Looking back, I may have accepted a call much earlier in life if I had known a woman who was also a pastor before I turned age 35. In high school the church was one of the few places where my leadership abilities were nurtured. The other place was in the Girl Scouts.

I was a leader in my church youth group and Sunday school, and was the one who led our “Scout’s Own” worship services on weekend camping trips, but no one back then ever encouraged me to consider ministry as a vocation. Because I did well in math and science, I found it easier to picture myself as a physicist or an experimental psychologist than a pastor.

Very early in my first pastoral appointment, I made a decision to be their pastor first and a woman second. I had worked in the area of educational and occupational equity for women long enough to understand that I wanted to be accepted on the basis of my ability to do the work without regard to my gender.

On the weekends I preached the Word of God, administered the sacraments, led the people in prayer, listened to their hurts, visited the sick, and did my best to be the hands and feet of Christ. Then, every Tuesday through Thursday I left my husband and two teenaged sons at home while I stayed at school 75 miles away, going to class and doing my course work.

I did my best to graciously accept the prayers of church members who were concerned about my early morning and late night hours on the road. Every time a church member would begin their prayer in a small group study with “Father,” I would simply remember to choose a more descriptive (and thus more inclusive) term such as “God of hope” or “merciful God” when it was my turn to pray.

Instead of making an issue of my gender, I loved the people and lived into being their pastor. Once they got over the shock of not getting what they had asked for, the congregation began to share their concerns about not getting a “real” pastor, and their realization that I was real!

I never stopped being a woman, and I remained a student throughout my tenure in that appointment, but the people came to understand that a pastor did not have to pushy or always right. They discovered that they were being challenged to grow in their faith and invited into mission rather than being strong-armed into service.

Three years later, when I graduated from seminary and was ready to leave for a full-time appointment, the Staff-Parish Relations Committee asked their district superintendent for a pastor who would lead them like I had. There next pastor was neither a woman nor a student, but it didn’t matter, because they now knew the role of pastor was not restricted by those characteristics.

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Bev Marshall-Goodell worked at The University of Iowa for 19 years conducting research, teaching and directing the Women in Science and Engineering Program before accepting a call to ordained ministry in 1998. She received her M.Div. from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in 2001, and served at Aroma Park UMC in Aroma Park, Ill,  and Ankeny First UMC in Ankeny, Iowa, before being appointed to Grace UMC in Tiffin, Iowa, in 2004.

Experiencing God’s grace in the aftermath of clergy misconduct

By Pat Trask, GCSRW seminary intern

I hesitate to begin this blog post. Stories of clergy misconduct resonate with experiences and observations from my life relating to domestic abuse. In a variety of abusive situations, one person exercises power and control over another person in an unhealthy manner.   Although clergy misconduct is different in many ways from domestic abuse, one common result is that the vulnerable person is is often blamed or shunned because of their perceived willing participation in the event. They are often told they misunderstood the situation, asked for it, or are flat out lying about what happened. I would like to share a ray of hope with people struggling in each situation. This ray of hope requires the willing participation of my brothers and sisters in faith, so keep reading!

The inspiration for this blog arises, in part, from an article, “Risk,” in the July 9, 2014, edition of The Christian Century. “Risk” gives 10 short scenarios of persons risking to speak and do things outside of their comfort zone. In one scenario, Catherine Thiemann discusses her fear related to starting over in a new church after she had experienced, and filed a complaint about, clergy sexual misconduct by a well-loved pastor in the church of her youth and upbringing. In speaking of her anticipation of entering a new church, she wondered, “What if they knew my history? Would they turn on me?” She discussed her experience at her home church when it became known that she had filed a complaint against the well-loved pastor.

What happened exceeded my worst fears. I lost almost all of my friends. My name became notorious. There was no place for me in my church. If we are all part of the body of Christ, I had become the cancer.”

Catherine’s experience at her home church nearly kept her from trying to participate in a different congregation. I think it is fair to conclude that Catherine experienced some emotional scarring from the experience with the clergy and the continued experiences with the congregation.

This summer, before arriving in Chicago to attend my second year of classes at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, I read “Little Bee” by Chris Cleave. In “Little Bee,” a young Nigerian girl seeks refuge in England from severe and rampant violence in her home country. This profound quote from the book speaks to Little Bee’s theory of survival:

We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means I survived.”

Catherine may have been scarred by the clergy misconduct, but something in her faith kept her alive and it allowed her to survive. Had Catherine allowed her experience of clergy abuse chase her away from the church, she may have fallen entirely away from her faith and from the very sustenance that raised her into the adult she is. She may have slipped into a spiritual despair that would rob her of the joy that a faith in a loving God can bring. This certainly would be a loss to Catherine, but it represents a loss to the family of God and a rupture in the kingdom of God. By her refusal to remain outside the walls of the church and by seeking and finding a safe worship space, Catherine showed a level of critical self-care that bodes well for her spiritual health. This does not mean she will not carry the scars of the experience of abuse and its aftermath. This does not mean she will ever “get over it.” I think it does mean that she, and others, may someday see the beauty within her that is illuminated by God’s grace even in the middle of this misfortune.  The fears that Catherine expressed in the article are the same fears of a woman who had been baptized, confirmed, and raised in a close-knit church community. She felt called by the Holy Spirit to seek a new church community, and she eventually found what seemed to be safe: a “warm, old-fashioned sanctuary of a century-old United Church of Christ congregation.” Yet she was afraid of the reception she would find, in a church, if the new congregation knew what had happened to her in the context of her prior congregation.

I have to ask myself, why, in the name of God, do we make life so difficult for people who want to love God, love their neighbor, practice acts of piety and practice acts of mercy? These are not specifically Catherine’s desires (although they may be accurate), but they do reflect many of the basic reasons people attend church, in my experience. The misconduct of the one person who held a position of power within that one church not only violated Catherine’s human rights, but the toxic and destructive repercussions of that misconduct influenced many of the people with whom Catherine came in contact in the aftermath of the event of misconduct. These people, who could have been a powerful source of healing and Christian love, shut Catherine out of their life, and effectively shut her out of their church. That is the tragedy that our churches face as we continue to overlook acts of clergy misconduct in our midst.

I do not believe all clergy act inappropriately. I do not even believe that most clergy act inappropriately. I do know that clergy who are not held accountable for their words and their behaviors as they relate to sexual ethics can cripple an entire community of faith and stunt its ability to attract people into deeper relationship with God. The church is called to speak out against the “way of the world,” and the area of clergy abuse is one particular area where the church has some control over its own. God calls, but the church ordains. In The United Methodist Church, clergy serves at the direction of the bishops. If a clergy is misbehaving, it should be the clergy called to task, not the victims of the behavior of the clergy.

Yes, people such as Catherine are victims. They can survive. They can recover. They can even emerge victorious. But in that moment of their greatest vulnerability, they were victims of a misuse of power that should not be allowed to occur. They have sad stories to share, if we open our minds and our hearts to let them be heard. What if, just once, we as the church rallied around those who have experienced clergy misconduct and if we refused to accept clergy misconduct as “the way of the world”. Then perhaps we could hear and understand within our context another quote from “Little Bee”:

Sad words are just another beauty. A sad story means this storyteller is alive. The next thing you know something fine will happen to her, something marvelous, and then she will turn around and smile.”

If that is not a witness to God’s grace and forgiveness, what is?

pat trask for web

 

Pat Trask, a former lawyer, is a second-year student at Garrett-Evanglical Theological Seminary. She is this year’s seminary intern for the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women.

 

Check it out: Gender Inequality is a Man’s Problem (crosspost)

Joan Chittister of the National Catholic Review offers an interesting perspective on violence against women and why it’s not just a “woman’s problem:”

The situation is unstated everywhere but in the headlines: Women and girls are still a commodity to be had, controlled, used and discarded.

First, they called it “a woman’s problem.” Then we got civilized enough to realize it wasn’t a woman’s problem; it was a human problem. But we will never really resolve the situation until we begin to admit aloud that it is really a man’s problem.

It is only when men stand up as a class and confront other men on the subject that women can begin to hope for violence-free lives.

We recommend you read the whole post here.

Of ivory towers and care packages

By Pat Trask, GCSRW seminary intern

I am living in the confluence of three experiences. I am in seminary. I am an intern at a general agency of the United Methodist Church. I am living in a community new to me. I have experienced similar times in my life, but perhaps not at the same time. In some ways, I feel like a camper who just needs to hear from the folks back home. You are the one who could tie this all together.

Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh

Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh

First of all, I am in seminary. That’s not new to anyone who has read my blog posts before. Seminary, like other institutes of higher education, can be like an ivory tower separate from the various local churches and parish life of most of the students, and, since the education relates specifically to Christians, separate from its direct community. The topics of discussion and reflection at seminary are related to the life and work of local churches, but they are not always synchronous with where the church is living out its mission. This lack of synchronicity gives seminary the look and feel of an ivory tower,

On top of that fact, mid-term papers were recently due, and the weekly reading and writing obligations continue. Imagine a sponge, having wrung out all the water for the need at hand, and having to take in new, fresh water in order to face the next task. That may be one way of thinking about your favorite seminarian (whoever they may be) as they seem drained of energy right now. (If you don’t have a favorite seminarian, maybe you ought to consider changing this!) Give us a few days or weeks, and we will spring back to full function, particularly since two major holidays are nearly upon us. (A major holiday for many students is anyone that brings days to rest with it.)

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GCSRW is in the Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington St., Chicago

Second, I am an intern at the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW). This agency is engaged in enhancing the life of the church and its people. It is like parish ministry, insofar as the work is thoughtfully engaged and theologically considered. It is like the school, insofar as it provides curriculum and support on topics within its mandate under the Book of Discipline. It is like the legislature, insofar as its advocacy is holistic and seeks to address the underlying rules that protect clergy and laity and provide for a safe worshipping experience. I am familiar with each of these endeavors, and the focus of my time at GCSRW keeps each of these aspects in mind as I do my work.

GCSRW is like an ivory tower insofar as it can seem to be disconnected from the daily life of Christians, specifically United Methodists, whom it serves across the globe. The staff at GCSRW can understand local issues conceptually (they are smart that way), but the local and regional details can best be understood if someone chooses to share them. This is true whether the local person contacts GCSRW or whether GCSRW reaches out. (There are approximately 12.5 million of you, and only seven people on staff at GCSRW.)

Finally, I am away from home. Technically, the only home I own or lease is here in Chicago, and I live here now, but my home church is in central Minnesota, and nearly every person with whom I would choose to spend time, if it were not for my voluntary and deliberate choice to be in Chicago attending Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary (in Evanston), are in Minnesota.

pat - cartoonAll in all, it’s like being away at camp. Care packages, whether they are postcards, e-mails, or long letters from home, are appreciated. Those are not always about the content as they are about relationship and the sense of community that is maintained when distances are foreshortened by such contact. From the perspective of being at GCSRW, responses to these blog posts would be the church-y equivalent of a care package. Again, it’s not about whether your communication rises to ivory tower standards (whatever those are), but that you engage with us. If you have never responded to a blog, this is your chance. (I never had responded to one, either.) Imagine I am the person sent off to camp, complete with snacks, sunscreen, and a hat.

In order to make it easy, I have written a few questions to get us started. I’ll be gone for a few days, catching up on my seminary reading, but I will watch for your responses when I get back! And don’t feel like you have to agree with any of the suggestions within the questions. Tell me about your experience!

  1. If you could change one thing about the physical space at your church, what would it be? And why?
  2. What is one thing you like about the messages you hear in your worship services? Be specific! This could be a short phrase in a prayer, or a Bible verse, something that your pastor says every service, or something totally different. How do these messages touch you?
  3. Consider for a moment one person you know that you would like to attend church with you. What might the church do that would attract that person’s attention to church life?

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Pat Trask, a second-year student at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, is this year’s seminary intern at the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women.

Personal reflection uncovers ‘benevolent’ sexism

Editor’s Note: Lisa Rothman is a new blogger for GCSRW whose series will reflect upon experiences of sexism in her personal life and in the church. This first entry explores a personal experience with benevolent sexism and the ways even this can unintentionally buy into traditional gender expectations and relationships. As you read and share with others, consider these discussion questions (and share your thoughts in the comments).

  • When have you had different expectations for a person because of their gender, age or race?
  • Can you think of a time when you noticed another person expected less (or more) of you because of your gender? How did you react?
  • What steps or books would you recommend to help someone move past gender expectations of themselves and others?

By Lisa Rothman

Recently my congregation received a new pastor who happens to be a woman. Before the transition, I did not expect her gender to have any major impact on me. I have experienced an equal mix of male and female pastors, so a women pastor was nothing out of the ordinary, but a friend challenged me to notice if our new pastor’s gender changed how others related to her. In making an effort to pay attention to how others responded, I realized I was responding differently myself.

I amRothman very protective of all my pastors. I often try to make sure that my pastor has time for self-care in a role which often expands to be a 24/7 job. After some self-evaluation, I realized that how I acted out this protectiveness changed depending on the gender of the pastor. The best way for me to describe this is in an analogy of students on a playground. For my male pastors, my view was let them run, and climb, and jump as much as they want and when they get the normal bump or bruise that students get on the playground, I would find a Band-Aid and then send them out again. For my female pastors I wanted to wrap them up in bubble wrap and follow them around as a body guard and make sure that nothing that might hurt them would be able to get close. I would protect them from stones and dirt as well as mean kids on the playground. Nothing would reach her without my permission.

But these two types of protection are very different. In trying to protect my female pastor from anything, anyone, and any situation, which might “bump or bruise” her, I was removing her agency and her voice from and control over her own experience. My protection (if I could ever have been successful) would have kept her safe on a shelf, but that is not where ministry happens. Ministry happens out on the playground. Empowerment and growth also do not happen on a shelf. Empowerment and growth as clergy persons is critical to the vitality of our congregations. It appeared to me that I was looking out for her, but in reality I was conveying that her wisdom and her experience somehow did not count and that she could not be trusted to have the self-awareness to identify when she might need help. I was protecting her using the dreaded idea of “for her own good.”

My self-evaluation has challenged me. While I want to be supportive and let my pastors know that there is always someone there if she get a bump or bruise or just needs to talk, I also have been working hard to provide the support she feels she needs and not the support I think she should need. It comes down to listening more and “knowing” less. I need to let her out on the playground and play and learn and improvise. It is only on the playground where she will be able to live out her call, flying into the sky, to touch the hearts of others.

 

Lisa Rothman has experienced the complexities of a journey of faith and seeks to better understand where her journey fits in the intersections of her life, her community, and the wider world.  Lisa is a member of Holy Covenant United Methodist Church in Chicago, where she serves as a committee chair and community activities instigator.

Does feminism have a role in Christian ministry?

By Pat Trask, GCSRW seminary intern

I admit it—the waves of feminism have washed by me over the years. I was the only daughter in my family, and I grew up in a male-dominated community. From my family, I knew the world was open to me, even as a young woman. As a tomboy, I never understood the need for women’s studies courses or the reason for bra burning, because neither my family nor my community expressed these beliefs. Nevertheless, as an adult, I refuse to believe feminists are “man-hating”, “whiny” or necessarily “liberal.” (These epithets, as well as others, are specifically mentioned at Who Needs Feminism? To admit to being a feminist submits a person to these and other epithets with the person sitting in judgment not even knowing anything else about you. I have seen and experienced first-hand animosity toward women who assert themselves, so I understand how it sounds and feels. However, I do not understand how people claiming to follow Christ can express such opposition to anyone who professes to be a feminist or who acts in such a way that they might be considered a feminist.

As a baseline, I offer this definition of feminism from a Google search: “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” In her recent article, “So you want to be a feminist, huh?” Niki Fritz writes this for the Redeye:

“Feminism, at its nitty-gritty core, is a two-parter. First, feminism is the idea that men and women should be equal in the work force, at home, in society, on all of the levels…The second, more vital and often contentious part of feminism is the understanding that men and women currently are not treated equally.” (redeyechicago.com, September 10, 2014)

 As people of faith, refer to Galatians 3:26-29, in which Paul admonishes the church at Galatia, among other things, that:

 “You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus…There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Now if you belong to Christ, then indeed you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise.”

 In the light of the Scripture, then, feminism is one method by which people, as part of their theology and ministry, attempt to bring about the promise that women’s rights are equal to those of men. To raise up the need for women to assert those rights is not a hateful act any more than choosing to eat Chinese food for dinner expresses a hatred of Italian food. To stand up for the rights of a woman, not because she is a woman but because the system historically has not beheld her equally, is not much different from saying all people should be able to breathe clean air or drink clean water. People are often perceived as “whiny” by others who have not heard clear, articulated, calm, quiet requests that have been repeatedly shared for so long, and now the speaker must adopt a different voice in order to be heard at all. Women’s voices have been silenced systemically, publicly and privately, by friend and foe alike for so long that their voices need to be lifted, at times, by others. This will help all of us claim our voices, not silence men in favor of women.

The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women steps into the role of voice-lifter quite naturally. The Commission does not take a position on men and it is not angry. Our society benefits when all persons are valued. God, who loves us all, calls us all toward a promise of equality, socially, politically, and daily. Listen now to the voices and behold a world of hurt and anguish, or wait until the pain is so great that a louder voice must be used. Women all over the world want to be heard. They want to be treated fairly. This is a desire of all people. To profess to be a feminist or to live a life concurrent with the beliefs of feminism is to live a life as identified in the Scripture. I think that is something worth buying into, don’t you?

pat trask for web

Pat Trask, a former attorney, is a second-year student at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL.

Disarming the Harm

By Pat Trask, GCSRW intern

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Trask

My internship at the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women comes amid a series of major transitions in my life, including my relinquishing a career in law to attend Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, the deaths of both parents in the last year and a half, and moving from a rural home in another state to an urban apartment. One of my first assignments at the Commission was to read a few particular magazines and books in order to get a feel for the work of the agency. One article, from the September 2014 issue of response, the publication of the United Methodist Women, caught my eye.

The article is “Rebuilding Liberia: Women Continue to Lead Struggle Against Violence and Poverty in Liberia.” What does Liberia have to do with Chicago or Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary or life transition? There was a coup in Liberia in 1980 that resulted in the country being immersed in war for well over two decades. The country continues to deal with the aftermath of war: financial and emotional poverty, physical wounds of people and property, and the lingering resentments that follow any travesty of unequal control imposed on a minority.

We in America have not experienced open war on our own soil for quite some time. However, some members of our communities suffer the results of inequality of control to this day. Some might read this to mean racial inequality, fiscal inequality, gender inequality, or any other type of inequality. At the Commission, the focus is on women. Even with the best efforts of The United Methodist Church, of which 58 percent of the membership is women, opportunities for women in church leadership continue to lag the opportunities afforded to men.

I’ll leave it to you to search the Commission’s website for more information on that topic. However, I would point out that, in relation to the story about Liberia, we face a similar opportunity for growth. The United Nations has been active in Liberia to help restore the country. This has included a process of disarmament. The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, as stated on its website, is active within The United Methodist Church to advocate for the “full inclusion of women at all levels of church life.” This involves challenging the church to “address institutional sexism and sexual harassment/misconduct.”

The process, for both the United Nations and the Commission, involves confronting behaviors and language that is sometimes deeply ingrained. I have heard it said that, “if you want to learn about the culture of a fish, don’t ask the fish.” We are often unaware of the culture in which we spend our time.

Similarly, one aspect of the work needed to effect change on the issue of gender inequality within the church is to follow the advice of one of the individuals identified in the article. Mr. Kinkolenge went to Liberia to supervise a rural school, but his efforts were impeded by the fighting in the country, and he spent some time in the capital, Monrovia. His comments on disarmament are instructive. He said,

“We haven’t truly ended war until we’ve disarmed the minds of the people who fought it. You can give children weapons, but if their mind is disarmed they won’t use those weapons. So even though they’ve today put down the machetes and assault rifles, their mind still has to be disarmed. Otherwise their thoughts become words, their words become actions, and their actions become a habit. They will solve every daily problem with violence. And the war will never really end.”

When we talk about the status and role of women, within the Church and outside the Church, we are faced with a similar opportunity as the people in Liberia face. In order to get to a place where we can realize gender equality, we will need to disarm the minds of the people who have created the inequalities, profited from the inequalities, been harmed by the inequalities, and who are blind to the inequalities. Perhaps then we can hear the dreams of all people and move toward the life offered by Christ.

Pat Trask, a second-year student at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, is the seminary intern for the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women.