April 26, 2004
The calling

Lately gender has become the talk of the Christian blogosphere again, and the perennial question of women's ordination came up. I was ruminating on a post about this, but I realized I should actually do two posts, because there are really two subjects at issue: what gender means, and what ministry means.

I've thought about the former most of my life, since it's impossible to avoid in our society; but the latter I'm only beginning to think about. I wasn't brought up to have a minister. When I read about the sex-abuse scandals in Catholicism sometimes I'll see victims say how awed they were by priests, how awed even their parents were, which made them reluctant to challenge the bad ones. Such a feeling is foreign to me.

But two things, or rather two relationships, have been giving me some idea of what pastorage means. One is my relationship with Telford, who, as I've said before, functioned as my de facto pastor at the big church we used to attend. The other is my relationship with my current Lutheran pastor. In some ways the relationships are the same, but they are also different, and this has partly to do with denominational difference.

When the women's-ordination issue was discussed recently at Lutheran Confessions, Clint points to the New Testament women who are "preachers and prophets and speakers of the Word" as support for women's ordination. This led Thomas to ask, "What if being ordained is different from preaching and prophesy?"

To Pentecostals, I gather, there isn't a whole lot of difference. Telford's own defense of women's ordination, especially as he has elaborated it to me, leans heavily on the Pentecostal idea that the Spirit bestows gifts on all, and you can't really predict who gets what gift until it shows up. This leads Pentecostal churches to not only frequently ordain women (though not all of them do), but to have little formal clerical structure at all.

I've long been of two minds about this. I like the attempt to recapture the God-intoxicated days of the early church, when the old power structures of ancient Mediterranean societies were being superceded by the kingdom. On the other hand, how do you know when somebody really has the Spirit? Generally, the response of the audience decides, which, especially in today's culture, can blur the line between charisma in the Christian sense and charisma in the rock-star sense. Hence televangelists.

My current pastor is not a great preacher, but unlike with my previous pastor, I've been able to form a friendly relationship with him. He's a kindhearted, unimposing guy, so I did not feel any particular awe of the office with him either. But I have gotten little flashes of it lately. The first time I felt this was on Ash Wednesday, when I went up to the alter to receive the ashes. Afterwards I found I was literally shaking -- I don't know why, but somehow going up there and receiving the sacrament moved me. Since Easter, I've been going up during communion, which I didn't do before, to receive a blessing.

My response might be to the sacraments themselves, more than to the pastoral office. But I understand how the office has its mythos. I can see why people get irritated when people make the same arguments for women's ordination that they make for women's equality in any other employment. We're not talking about civil-service contracts here.

Still, where I come from, the burden of proof rests on those who would bar a gender from an office rather than those who would let one in. So, I really don't understand what about the pastoral mythos forbids women.

I've also been thinking about this because, oddly enough, my pastor thinks that I would make a good pastor. The first time he said this, several months ago, I thought he would be rid of this delusion as he got to know me, but he's brought it up several times since then. I wonder what he sees in me.

So I'm curious what you readers think the office of pastor is all about. Since I know several of you are pastors or future pastors, I would think you must have some feel for what you're called to. But hey, it goes out to the congregants too -- what does the pastoral role mean to you?

Posted by Camassia at April 26, 2004 06:33 PM | TrackBack

I'm not ordained, though I went to seminary. I did go through part of the discernment process, as it's named in the Methodist Church, but decided I wasn't "called." To me the pastoral role means preaching, teaching, celebrating the sacraments, and pastoral care. It also means helping the congregation realized we are all called to Christian ministry in our own way. There's also administrative type of pastoral duties, but I think that fits under pastoral care. Here's the BEM on ministry:

Some people argue that the pastor represents Christ, especially in the sacraments, and thus can't be a woman. To which I say, if the church is the Bride of Christ, then how can males represent a bride? If they can represent a bride, then I can represent Christ.

I don't have much awe towards my two pastors, though I respect them greatly. I think that awe was killed off in seminary, cause suddenly these future pastors are your friends, people you go to bars with, talk about the opposite sex with, etc. They're just people. Though in their role as ordained ministers, they can help us experience that awe of God's grace. So I guess I'd agree about the feeling of awe sometimes, but it comes more from what they do than who they are, which I think was what you meant.

I'm not saying the pastor should be your friend either. In fact, I think that's a big danger of pastors, trying to be people's friends rather than their pastor. Trying to be liked by everyone is dangerous.

Posted by: Jennifer on April 27, 2004 12:00 PM

Also, it occurs to me that another metaphor for Church is the body of Christ. So if females can be part of Christ's body, why can't they represent his body?

Posted by: Jennifer on April 27, 2004 12:48 PM

Most people, I think, regard the primary role of the pastor to be that of a teacher. It's not surprising, therefore, that many see no problem with a woman in that role.

But that's a role that the pastor can easily delegate. There's nothing specifically "pastoral" (or "priestly," to use the term that I prefer) about teaching. But the unique role of the pastor is to stand in the place of Christ and deliver the salvation which Christ accomplished to His people. When you think about it, to claim to speak for Christ, to absolve sins "in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ" (to use our Lutheran language), is a fearful thing. But it is that which enables us to point to objective and concrete actions and say, Yes, my sins have been forgiven. Otherwise forgiveness is something we may read about and think about, but has not been concretely delivered to us.

So to me, the office of the pastor is to carry out the means of grace - the Word and Sacraments - so that we may rely objectively on our salvation.

Note that there's nothing in this understanding of the pastoral office that excludes women as pastors. This is an issue on which I am conservative even though I'd rather be liberal. I know plenty of women who would make good pastors, but Scripture, Tradition, and Church history are (to me) decisive against it.

Posted by: Christopher Jones on April 27, 2004 02:44 PM

The best short treatment of some aspects of this issue in my opinion is "Man, Woman and the Priesthood of Christ," by the Orthodox Bishop of Diokleia, Kallistos (Timothy) Ware. He notes that even the Orthodox Church - which has no women priests - recognizes that women are certainly called to be missionaries and apostolic preachers (like Mary Magdalene), to be ordained as deaconesses (the jury is still out on this in the Roman Catholic Church), and are more than capable of being spiritual guides. Thus, there must be something different about being a priest/pastor. What is a priest?

Bishop Kallistos first distinguishes between the unique priesthood of Jesus (1 Tim 2.5), the priesthood of all believers by virtue of our creation and baptism (1 Pet 2.9), and certain members of the Church set apart in a specific way through prayer and the laying-on of hands. These members are set apart for the Eucharistic oblation. Bishop Kallistos writes, "It can even be said that the ministerial priest possesses, as priest, no identity of his own; it is his vocation to be transparent, for his priesthood exists solely in order to render Christ present."

Thus, when thinking about priesthood and gender, we have to think about a double transparency. The priest has to act in the Liturgy as an icon of Christ, lest we think that he/she is another priest alongside Our Lord. Cyprian: "our Lord and God Jesus Christ is himself the high priest of God the Father; he offered himself as a sacrifice to the Father, and commanded that this should be done in memory of him; thus the priest truly acts in place of Christ." The priest also has to act as an icon of the Church, lest we think that he/she is another supplicant alongside the congregation. Bishop Kallistos: "The priest, acting in union with the people and in their name, thanks God the Father for the blessings of creation, for the saving incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ, and in particular for the institution of the Eucharist; but at no point in all this does he speak as if he were himself Christ. Then, still acting in union with the people and in their name, he recites the epiclesis or invocation of the Holy Spirit; addressing God the Father as before, he asks the Father to send down the Spirit and so to effect the consecration."

The question about gender resolves into: Can women - more than capable of teaching, baptizing, and spiritual direction - possess this double transparency? At this particular place and time, can a woman symbolize God and the ecclesia without distortion, without her priesthood inevitably being about "something else" besides God and the ecclesia? The good Bishop reminds us, "The Christian explorer is best envisaged as the one who waits on the Holy Spirit."


Posted by: Neil Dhingra on April 27, 2004 04:39 PM

I love your question and I really want to spend time with this topic, because it’s actually been on my mind lately. Among other things, I have been analyzing a survey recently sent out to alums of the seminary where I work, and the answers and comments have been engaging and intense.

So anyway. To deal with the first part of your question, and as you might expect of me, I see no valid reason to restrict the pastorate to one gender. I see nothing in the different arrangement of chromosomes and organs that would make a woman’s intellect, body or spirit any less capable of ministry than a man’s. But as you didn’t dwell on that topic, neither will I.

I have always been fascinated with the “awe of the office,” as you put it, that some people seem to place on their pastors. I have the perspective of a one who grew up in a clergy family, and I know perfectly well that pastors are human beings like anyone else. While I may be allowed the subjective privilege of a daughter’s adoration for a beloved father, I can also attest to the fact that my father was not the magical person that many a parishioner seemed to think he was.

It always bothered me that some people would put my dad up on a pedestal and treat him as if he was some kind of perfect hero. It annoyed me that people called him just “Pastor,” as if it were his name, and not a title that preceded his surname. I felt these admirers were pie-eyed, naive, unrealistic and incredibly unfair to him, to expect extraordinary purity in him; because should he ever burst their bubble and prove to be, in fact, a human being—by what, losing his temper, or stubbornly sticking to his principles, or forgetting someone’s name or birthday—they could turn on him and dismiss him because he suddenly did not meet their exalted expectations. Adoring parishioners can be incredibly unrealistic, childish, fickle and unfair.

So I do not do pastors the disservice of holding them in awe. I do not foist upon them any of the “Pastor, you’re just like Jesus” stuff. I see pastors as colleagues of my dad. When I was a child, I called them uncle: Uncle Roger, Uncle Lowell, Uncle Hans, Uncle Don. As an adult, I address them as my parents did: Roger, Lowell, Hans, Don ... Karen, Jerome, Mary, Bill, Rob, Daniel.

I do, however, have a deep respect for clergy people. I know how hard they have to study in order to receive ordination. I know the crap they have to deal with in congregational politics. I know the long hours, and the branded identity that is inescapable. I have seen pastors act with true, selfless commitment to their call. I recognize that pastors have a strong faith in God. These are folks who feel a need, a call, to serve the people of God, and to serve the church. The fact that they are compelled to answer that call, sometimes in the face of incredible personal sacrifice, is something to respect them for. That is what I believe sets them apart.

But only that. They are not set apart because they are better than anyone else. They are only set apart in that they feel called to do the work of the church as their occupation, and that the leaders of the church agreed with them enough to take them on and train them to do it.

What do I expect of a pastor, then? I expect a pastor to be a knowledgeable reference point for me, to answer my theological questions and give me the perspective of the church and of the gospel. I expect a pastor to be creative and able to make ongoing new connections for me between scripture and daily life. I expect a pastor to lead; I expect to follow. I expect a pastor to be compassionate, kind and open-hearted toward all parishioners, even if they don’t agree with them. I expect pastors to do the hard job of trying to show God’s love to people who are sometimes very difficult to love. I am one of those difficult people, and I need, and expect, to be accepted in spite of myself.

But these things can be done by all of us. We need not be pastors to show the face of Christ to others. The difference is that pastors are learned, practiced, skilled at doing it; and that God, the church and congregations call them to do this as their primary work and livelihood.

What does your pastor see in you? Through my work on the survey I mentioned above, I can tell you that seminary alums (both pastors and lay people) are challenged to assist the work of the church by identifying people who have the gifts for ministry, and to help gifted people discern what God may be calling them to do. Perhaps it is your persistent and earnest pursuit of faith, or your obvious intellectual capacity that your pastor respects in you. As a searcher, you have demonstrated qualities that pastors know are necessary to succeed at their work. But there is a difference between possessing the gifts for ministry, and being called. The call part is between you and God, whatever your gifts may be.

Enough. I’ll save the other flotsam for another time. Thanks, Camassia.

Posted by: Dash on April 27, 2004 07:30 PM

Uh, one more thing...

I expect that my pastor will fail, once in awhile, at least nominally, to meet my expectations.

Posted by: Dash on April 27, 2004 08:25 PM

Early Quakers were, I guess, like modern Pentecostals, both in having little formal clerical structure at all, and in seeing the gifts of the Spirit as equally accessible to men and women. Now some Quakers have pastors (though I'm in the branch that doesn't), but didn't inherit any sense of what a pastor was that would lead to excluding women.

Now, I have been wondering, myself, about what the role of a pastor is, but without any conclusion. If I define it by what Catholics and Anglicans seem to have that silent meeting Quakers don't (I can't speak for what pastors do in most Protestant churches), the most obvious things would be sacraments, somewhat longer and more organized sermons, churches that are open every day and have regular weekday services, and someone who has more extensive time for pastoral care. What Quakers do still have, even without pastors: preaching, teaching, pastoral care (via the clerk, the Ministry and Oversight committee, and clearness committees).

The other thing I have to say is that this thread reminds me of Samuel Butler's remark that "The clergyman is expected to be a kind of human Sunday." My grandmother, a bishop's daughter, has made similar remarks to Dash about people thinking of her father as super-good.

Posted by: Lynn Gazis-Sax on April 27, 2004 11:17 PM

My approach to the pastoral role, one that I'm embracing in my own life, is that each person who is called to ministry is called to it for the unique gifts that he or she possesses. There is someone out there, I like to think, who will be comforted or enlightened by God working through me in my unique way, and that person will be comforted in part because of who I am. I think the same is true for everyone who feels the call to ministry. A God who would leave an entire flock behind for one lost sheep would nudge a person into ministry for the sake of one vital pastoral moment, one meaningful sermon or written word. Thus, I think anyone who feels called to ministry should be allowed to explore it: man, woman, gay, lesbian, transsexual, whatever.

I know a woman who was abused sexually as a child and who entered the ministry. She found herself in a pastoral role with a young woman who has also endured sexual abuse, someone she could really help, and for whom she could be Christ's representative on earth in a way that few others could. The presence of a strong male authority figure was not what this young woman needed in her pastoral situation. This is a heterogeneous, heterodox culture, and any safe harbors that we can establish within it only work to the good. It's fairly simple: if you don't want a female clergyperson, don't go to one. If you don't feel comfortable with a gay minister, your loss but also your choice. The thing is, what troubles you could be exactly the thing someone else needs desperately.

Here's what I think about traditional roles: they work in their context. But outside of their context, they become obsolete and clunky. Revisioning roles is something that happens all the time in society. The role of pastor has changed immeasurably over the past century or so, and this is one area where I fear tradition must give way to the greater good. Temple worship, ritual sacrifice, strict adherence to the Law, these were all deeply worthwhile traditions to Jews until Jesus came along and changed the context for some of them. It wasn't that these Hebrew traditions weren't meaningful to the early Christians, it was just that they lost their context in light of a new reality. Tradition is our teacher, not our master.

And now I have rambled. Camassia, you inspire a good ramble like no other blogger I know.

Posted by: Matt Sturges on April 28, 2004 08:53 AM

Thanks, all, this is very interesting. I should clarify that when I wrote of flashes of awe at the office, I really did mean the office and not the person. Outside the sacraments, I regard my pastor as I always did, as an equal. I guess making that distinction is crucial to avoiding the thinking that has been criticized here.

I notice that one word that hasn't come up here is "authority." If I remember right, that was the word in that key phrase in 1 Timothy that seems to rule out female pastors. What kind of authority does a pastor have? Being an icon of Christ seems to render a certain authority, although it also makes the person himself sound strangely irrelevant, as if he were a painted image. Christopher mentioned forgiveness of sins ... ah, it's late, I've gotta think about this some more.

Posted by: Camassia on April 28, 2004 10:18 PM

Have you seen The Whale Rider? That is an interesting film to think about in regards to women's ordination. It's about a little girl in New Zealand who is a Maori, and her grandfather is the chief of their village. Her father lives in Europe and she has no siblings (her twin brother died at birth). Therefore there is no male to become the next chief from her family. The grandfather loves her very much but he follows Tradition and she can't be chief because she is a girl. He begins training the other little boys in the village to see if they have what it takes to be chief, and the little girl wants to be part of the training school, but she is forbidden, so she trains secretly.

The girl is portrayed as having the strength, courage, gifts and graces to be chief, and she is deeply, deeply committed to the tradition of her people, as is her grandfather. Both of them turn to their spiritual practices for guidance about the situation, and then...well, just see it!

Posted by: Jennifer on April 29, 2004 08:47 AM

What kind of authority does a pastor have?

In our Lutheran tradition, the authority of the pastor includes "the power of the keys." That means, at the very least: (1) the authority to absolve repentant sinners; (2) the concomitant authority to refuse to absolve those who are not repentant (whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained); (3) the authority to admit - or not to admit - persons to communion in the sacraments. It is also part of the authority of the pastor to mediate the grace of God by employing the "means of grace," which are the Word and Sacraments. This means, among other things, that the pastor has the authority to control what is taught in his parish, so that only orthodox doctrine is taught. That is a necessary part of the ministry of the Word.

That is not to say that others in the congregation may not participate in the ministry of the Church, whether by preaching, teaching, or assisting in worship. But it is the pastor who has been called and given authority to do these things in Christ's stead and by His authority, and it is the pastor who shall answer on Judgement Day for how and whether these things were done. Therefore, as St Ignatius of Antioch wrote, "let nothing pertaining to the Church be done, apart from the bishop".

Posted by: Christopher Jones on April 29, 2004 04:21 PM

I think the basic role of the pastor is to be a shepherd. He needs to coordinate the meetings, encourage those that need encouragment, and to be a teacher.

My Pastor, Pastor Mike (or Mike as he preferred), is a great example of a pastor. He is humble, yet not timid. He is good at reading our character traits, and figuring out where we would best fit in the church. Also, since he has been of the world before he was saved, he is not judgmental.

Personally, I haven't figured out how I feel about women being pastors. There isn't any concrete example of that happening in the NT. But, I do believe that women can be great teachers, and they have their place in the church. I know that God has used women as great leaders, especially when no man was willing to take it up. Think of the great Judge who ruled over God's chosen people.

But, on the other hand, Paul does say that women are to remain silent in the church. Of course, this could be directed at nosy busybodies who have nothing better to do but gossip.

Anyways, continue to seek God on what your calling is. Most importantly, don't let your calling replace your relationship with God. I've known a number of missionaries that got so caught up with their mission that they harmed their relationship with God. Remember, not by works are we saved.

Also, I don't think a person needs to be ordained by a group of people in order to become a pastor, or servant of some other kind.

Posted by: jay on April 30, 2004 09:07 AM
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