I’ve never known the word can’t.
There is a difference between that and no. I am a millenial, I did get my share of participation ribbons and told I was a special snowflake, but my mother made sure I knew no meant no. But can’t…that was a challenge. Can’t makes the hair on my neck stand up, ruffles my feathers, raises my eyebrows and I naturally respond with Really? Watch me.
I will always remember that day during the fall of my freshman year in college. Sitting cross-legged on a friend’s bunk, I told her how I was majoring in Youth Ministry, about how I would become a pastor. She stared blankly at me and said these words:
“You know you can’t do that right?” Can’t. Can not. Are not able to.
“Well…why?” I stammered, having never heard this seemingly important bit of information. After all, I already was enrolled in classes in the School of Theology.
“Because you’re a woman,” she replied, with a slowness of speech reserved for speaking to a small child.
I didn’t understand. What did my gender have to do with it? I graduated near the top of my class (our valedictorian was female), my mother ran her own business, my home church had a diverse staff of both men and women, clergy and lay. I found out later my friend came from a conservative Baptist church which held very intensely to a literal translation of part’s of Paul’s writings on leadership qualifications, specifically the “husband of just one wife” part. (Interestingly enough, there were other parts of Scripture they did not follow quite as intensely, but I digress.) My own United Methodist denomination affirmed all women in leadership, clergy and lay, dating back to John Wesley’s own mother, Susanna Wesley, who once held Bible studies in her kitchen that were more heavily attended than the local pastor’s sermons! Story goes that Susanna’s husband Samuel, away at the time, wrote her and told her to stop holding the Bible study. She wrote back and essentially asked if he was willing to stand in the way of God’s work simply because it embarrassed him, a woman leading more souls to God than a man. Sassy!
This year marks the 60th anniversary of full ordination rights for women in the United Methodist Church. The UMC has only existed since 1968; it was a merger of two denominations. Women were ordained prior to 1956, but not all had full rights or guaranteed appointment. Nevertheless, it’s a significant anniversary and a milestone worth celebrating.
This year I will celebrate the anniversary of the ordination of women by being ordained as a United Methodist pastor. Ordination in the UMC is a multi-year process, usually requiring a M.Div degree (at least 3 years of school), extensive writing and projects demonstrating your gifts, meetings and interviews with various boards and committees, and a minimum of two years of “provisional” ordination (like a learner’s permit for new drivers) before full ordination is granted. I started this process in 2009, and even my seven years is shorter than others’ time in this process.
Tomorrow I will be ordained as a Deacon in Full Connection in the United Methodist Church. A Deacon is a pastor with a specialized ministry, leading through word, service, compassion and justice. Since deacons specialize, we can serve in and outside the church as youth pastors, social workers, principals, lawyers, missionaries, and more. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Order of the Deacon.
These anniversaries make me all the more aware of how special this ordination is to me. I stand on the shoulders of so many women who came before me, and I know that I set the stage for those to follow. The fact that I will be ordained while also seven months pregnant with my unborn daughter…that makes this night ten times more meaningful.
My daughter will be born into a world where a woman is the nominee for a major presidential party.
My daughter will be born into a world where she can be a princess or a hot dog.
My daughter will be born into a world where she can achieve any level of education she desires.
My daughter will be born into a world where she can seek any career path she chooses.
My daughter will be born into a world that does not define her by her gender, or tell her that God expects her to act a certain way because of her gender. She will know that God calls and equips her for who God created her to be, not to fit into a category.
My daughter will be born into a world to a mother who says, “Yes, you can,” because she did so herself.