This past week, the Church of England voted to start ordaining women bishops. Next week, in the Episcopal Church, we mark 40 years since the original 'Philadelphia 11' were 'irregularly' ordained - our first female priests whose ordinations were then 'regularized' after the 1976 General Convention (look it up if that story is not familiar). Because of these events, there seems to be renewed attention, criticism, and celebration of 'women's ministry', which is making me both grateful and grumpy. On the one hand, yay women's ordination, and on the other, why is this still news? And of course, why is it still controversial? Oh, I do understand the answers to that last question. I was raised Roman Catholic, and even though I felt called to the priesthood at an early age, I understood that it would not be happening for me (or so I thought then). I grew up listening to the reasons that women could not be ordained, from Paul's insistence on women's silence in church to Jesus' maleness, and his calling of 12 male disciples. I do understand the arguments, and in all honesty, I do not believe I have to win them. I am actually ordained, along with about 3,000 other women in the Episcopal Church since Philadelphia: duly prepared, examined, approved, and upheld by the people of the Church and the Holy Spirit. Women's ordination may not be accepted by all, but it cannot be denied. I do know that some people will always be uncomfortable with the ordination of women, and actually, I am comfortable with that.
When I was in seminary, one of my classmates earnestly and in a detailed way explained to me why he did not believe in women's ordination, and I said to him, 'that must be so hard for you.' I was not being sarcastic. I get it. There are issues that mean a great deal to me, that matter deeply in terms of my belief in God and my practice of Christianity, that literally pain me to see happen in the church in what I feel is the wrong way (hello, receiving the Eucharist without being baptized!). I am not making light, but I am living in community. Even a community that does not and will not see things (important things!) the way I do. The late, great president of Georgetown University, Fr. Timothy Healy, once said in a sermon I will never forget, 'only for God is 'truth' a noun. For the rest of us it is an achingly incomplete verb.'
Having said that, it is also hard for me to get triumphalist about women's ordination, even as I clearly benefit from it. I get very weary of 'women's' ministry, because it seems to undermine every argument that has led to our ordination: if there really is 'no Jew or Greek, no slave or free, no male and female' in the Body of Christ, then there is also not 'women's' ministry, 'women's' ordination, etc. There is ministry, there is ordination, there is priesthood. Again, I understand and appreciate how some of the first women ordained had to struggle and how poorly they were treated. I choose to show my gratitude by respecting their right to not be separate but equal. And my own, too.
I am very fond of saying, because it is true, that my Roman Catholic family does not believe in the ordination of women. But they do believe in the ordination of me. And I think this is a very honest theological position. We are all striving to exist in the space between what tradition and Scripture have revealed of Jesus and what we experience and discern of Jesus' presence today. We all need the disciplinarian of the Law and the freedom of Grace. And we get these things as we bump together along the road of proclaiming the good news of God's Kingdom.
But none of us get Law or Grace alone, as individuals, and we mostly don't even get the same insights at the same time. We are constantly butting heads about what is the Christian thing to do, to believe. We clash and we fight and we learn about our life with God this way. Again and again. Since the beginning of Christianity, as far as I can tell. I cannot think of a single topic that all Christians agree on, although it does seem to be ones about sexuality that get us so riled up (that is another blog post entirely, however!). And in all this, despite all of our careful arguments and our passionate beliefs and all of our insistence that we know the truth, 'Who knows?' is really the best we can say when it comes down to whether anything is truly the will of God. I am a priest. I am a woman. Is this wrong? It is possible it is. In the meantime, I show up every day and bear the sacraments and the traditions of this church in the most faithful way I can.
And part of that will indeed be giving thanks for the ministry of the first female priests, and the male bishops who ordained them. But that will be as far as my own celebration will go. Fifteen years after my own ordination, and 40 years after Philadelphia, I believe that I have earned the right to simply be a priest, full stop, without an adjective or an asterisk or any kind of modifier. I don't need special clergy clothes or titles, and I don't need anyone else's permission or assent, a decade and a half after the Holy Spirit and the church laid their hands on me. I've got everything I need, and while people may still oppose it or may still make a big deal about it, my priesthood is just fine, and just is.