Had a slightly disorienting experience last weekend… Emily was up for an award at Augie, so we went to the Viking Days Chapel Service on Sunday morning, held in the Elmen Center. During the service, the only male involved in the service was Rob Oliver, the college president, who opened the service with a brief welcome message. That was it. Everyone else — other than the male members of the band and choir performing for the service — was female. The procession involved only women… The Scripture readers were women… The preaching was done by a woman… Communion was served by women… The service sounded pretty much like any generic Lutheran service I’d attended in the past; a liturgy very reminiscent of that followed by Catholics every day around the world, which is probably why it seemed strange to me that it was all women. There was no big deal made of the absence of the Y-chromosome that day, but it was noticeable. At least by me.
Augustana College “is a selective, private, residential, comprehensive (liberal arts and professional) college of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America;” the ELCA tends to be a bit more on the liberal side of the scale than any of my church experiences. Female pastors have been ordained and leading churches in the denomination for quite some time, and now the denomination even “partnered gay and lesbian pastors to be ordained and called to serve churches. Previously, the ELCA allowed only celibate homosexual pastors.” Given that, an all-female chapel service shouldn’t have been surprising.
I guess the older I get, the more difficulty I have with things like that; things that are done differently than what I’m used to. When I was growing up (in the Catholic church) only men & boys were involved in leading Mass. Thinking back there were on occasion women (nuns) leading some songs in some of the Masses, but for the most part it was priests and altar boys. Since my day, I understand things have expanded to allow girls or boys (now called “altar servers”), but I’ve been away from Catholicism long enough that that’s outside my experience. I’ve now been a member of a somewhat traditional Baptist congregation for nearly all my adult life; there, women are involved in the worship services and the denomination has ordained women as pastors, but the church has fairly rigid guidelines as to the role of women in ministry. I can recall only one time that a ‘sermon’ was delivered by a woman at that church, and that wasn’t well received by a number of people in the congregation. These days, I think women are allowed to teach Sunday school to kids, but it’s got to be a guy teaching a class of adults. I don’t know if that’s actually in the rule books anywhere, but I’ve heard that from a couple of sources; it would come as no surprise to me if it were true.
The ELCA has pretty much declared that Paul’s admonition against allowing women to teach men is an anachronistic holdover from a time and society where that sort of thing wasn’t acceptable (they seem to have gone to an extreme though with the homosexuals in ministry issue) My own church is of a decidedly different mindset, one with which I’ve grown more comfortable over the years. I didn’t really have a problem with the church service on Sunday; it didn’t make me uncomfortable, it just took me by surprise I guess, because all the things that I had become so accustomed to seeing done by men in a Catholic Mass were being done by women. Like I said; just a bit disorienting. A bit of disorientation is maybe a good thing because it makes us think about the things we take for granted, and wonder if there are valid reasons behind the way things are.
It’s funny that we as Christians tend to pick and choose which Biblical teachings we hang onto, anachronistic or not — for example, you won’t find many people in Christian circles arguing that we start worshiping and enjoying a day of rest on Saturdays instead of Sundays, even though nothing in the Bible gives clear direction that changing the Sabbath to Sunday was something we should do. It’s something that was done ages ago to honor the day that Jesus was raised from the dead, but… The Old Testament is pretty clear; “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” And Saturday has always been the Sabbath.
But anyway… the whole women in ministry thing is one of those contentious cognitive dissonance subjects that we as a church don’t really talk much about, because some people feel pretty strongly one way or another, and because many others (me included) have conflicting feelings about it, and just don’t want to make waves. One day though, it’ll all be made plain to us, but for now, we muddle along pretending we know what we’re doing.