So Kathy Sullivan Vandenberg of Waukesha has been warned she may be excommunicated from the Catholic Church because she is seeking to be a priest. Her sin? Being a woman. At the funeral of my grandson, members of my family and I were "cut off" from Communion in that same denomination. Our sin? Being United Methodists.
Interesting, isn't it, the wide variety of excuses and rules we all come up with to cut someone off or shut someone out or even kill someone because we are absolutely certain our particular belief about the holy is the truth?
In 1953, at age 13, I was told I could serve Jesus by being a missionary or a minister's wife but not a minister. Three years later, after decades of struggle, the men in authority in my denomination granted full ordination to women. I didn't catch on emotionally or psychologically for 25 years. By the time I went to the seminary, I knew several clergywomen personally. Wisconsin even had a female bishop! I foolishly thought the battle, at least in the United Methodist church, was won.
Ha! My first meeting with a Pastor Parish Committee included a verbal attack by a very angry woman citing Scripture. People left the church. Two men from the small town stopped by because they "wanted to see what a lady minister looked like." I quickly got used to the stares, questioning, criticism and warnings that I was going to hell. (I was told that the souls of the people I served were in peril too.)
Why on earth would anyone : male or female : put themselves in the position of being subjected to such slings and arrows? I don't know why Vandenberg is seeking ordination. But my ordination came after a long, gradual and growing attention to my own deep longing to be close to the holy. I wanted to be present at rituals celebrating life and death. I wanted to touch sacred things. Men got to touch sacred things. Why couldn't I? Because men said God said so? God who?
A religion professor taught, "We ask two questions throughout our lives: Who am I? And what am I for?" My answers to those questions continue to evolve. I was a girl, a student. I am a wife, a grandmother. I am for baking cookies, preaching grace, writing a column for the Journal Sentinel. My role as pastor is a partial but important answer to those questions. (I am still asking them.)
For several decades, the United Methodist Church has been struggling with the question of ordination for gay and lesbian men and women. We celebrated 50 years of ordination for women this year, but we have yet to ordain our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.
Any institution can continue to stick with its rules and deny access to holy things; but no institution or individual can eliminate the hunger folks have within for sacred presence. No doctrine can stifle questions of meaning. No institutional rule can erase ones imagination. No threat of excommunication can prevent all creative actions : like Vandenberg getting on a boat with 11 other women and being ordained in an "unsanctioned ceremony."
Poet Mary Sarton said, "The only real deprivation in life is not to be able to give ones gifts to those one loves." Any institution that continues to deprive its own constituents of giving their best gifts (i.e., loving sacred things) is certainly diminishing its own effectiveness. In addition, the ink or toner of their rules may be tarnishing the crown of glory.