Thursday, September 6, 2012

Choosing the Best Part, Part II: Women and the Call to Ministry


“Well, that is the life of our church this week . . . I hope you have enjoyed the changes we made in our morning service in order to give us time to discuss the announcements in an informal, conversational tone before we engage worship.”  Linda was impressed by the way the young Lutheran minister used the time to banter with his congregation as he informed them.  It set an open, comfortable tone for the liturgy that was to follow.

Basking in the moment, perhaps a little reluctant to move away from the connection he seemed to have made with his congregation, he asked, “Does anyone have anything they want to share with the rest of us?”
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Sarah’s hand shot up and before the young minister had a chance to acknowledge her she was on her feet.  She was an imposing woman, tall and “big boned,” as they used to say when I was growing up.  Her size was balanced, however, by the complete eagerness with which she beamed at the minister. 

“Yes, thank you!  What do you have to share?”  The pastor looked up at Sarah with anticipation.

Sarah’s voice reverberated in the small sanctuary, “I just want to tell you . . . well, I just want to say that you are SO good looking!” 

Her face was transformed by the smile that accompanied her words- her eyes narrowed and crinkled and her cheeks crumpled to make room for the grin that was stretching from ear to ear. 

For the space of a single heartbeat, utter silence commanded the room.  The young minister’s face-  in fact, his entire head- turned beat red.

Then his congregation saved him by breaking out in a gale of laughter. 

I have never asked Linda what she said to Sarah after that incident.  It is a story I love to hear and she tells it so well each and every time that I get wrapped up in her laughter.

As it turns out, Sarah was one of 700 or so residents of a home for developmentally delayed adults and as a chaplain at the facility, Linda had the responsibility to take Sarah and many other residents to attend churches in the community on Sunday morning.  The small Lutheran church was Linda’s last stop on the day that Sarah offered an unexpected and utterly delightful communion service.

I love to hear Linda's stories from her days of preparation- how she worked her way through Southern Seminary as a waitress and part-time youth director at a Disciples of Christ congregation and her days as a part-time Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) Intern at a hospital in North Central Pennsylvania, and a chaplain for the residential facility where she met Sarah.  I even love to hear her tell about the agonizing attempt to plant a Southern Baptist church in the heart of Pennsylvania, and about her work as Associate Director and CPE Supervisory Education Student at Geisinger  Medical Center in Danville, PA.
Linda & Aley
Photo Credit: Mark Grace

I relate to so many of those stories, the difficult ones as well as the joyful and funny ones.  They mirror many of the stories that marked my preparation for ministry.

I did not, however, get my education and apprenticeship in ministry while almost losing my life due to an ectopic pregnancy and at the same time losing the ability to bear children at 29 years of age. Though I wasn’t there for that part of her preparation, I can see the rich result of Linda’s crisis of faith and of her faithfulness to God  in the way she goes about ministering to hurting people at Parkland Hospital and Iglesia Bill Harrod.

No one warns ministers about that kind of preparation, just as no one could warn Mary and Martha about losing Lazarus, regaining him, and then losing Jesus in the cruelest of circumstances.  Ultimately, however, I believe that preparation for ministry is less about academic preparation and more about how we grow through and learn from personal suffering as we seek to reach out to others.


Knowing the personal background that informed Linda’s last observations about Christ’s call to Mary and Martha really brought this sermon to life for me.  She has been tested sorely by life, not only through the losses I mentioned above, but in ways too numerous for me to write about here.  In the midst of it all, she has nurtured a sense of humor that I have come to treasure, even to depend upon.  Through all of the heartache she has maintained a fierce determination to be used by God to bring healing.  As much as any person I know, Linda embodies the truth of St. Paul’s words,

“We are persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.” (2 Corinthians 4:9-11)
Linda & Clark
Photo Credit: Mark Grace

Church history doesn’t give us any detail about what happened to Mary and Martha after Jesus ascended to heaven.  What we know from the Bible are two more stories, one in which Mary anoints Jesus’ feet as a moving object lesson, a confession of faith in Christ through symbolic action, and Martha’s equally powerful confession of faith just before Jesus raises their brother Lazarus from the dead.  After this, they are lost to us.  Yet these two stories provide us with an incredible picture of women disciples whose witness to Jesus as Messiah was every bit as bold and influential as that of any other disciple.

I don’t want to idealize either Linda or the two sisters who followed Jesus.  The point of the gospel stories is that Mary and Martha were ordinary people, just like you and me.  The woman who stood in the pulpit last Sunday is just as imperfect.   The fact that these ordinary, altogether imperfect human beings should embrace lives and ministries that are so incredibly extraordinary, that is what makes me want to get up tomorrow and attempt great things for Christ.  And call girls and women, boys and men to commit themselves to the same adventure.

Seeing Linda in the pulpit again last Sunday- hearing her sermon and her life come together was a remarkable experience.  It opened my heart to God's Word. 

That alone, dear reader, was worth the price of admission.

Please comment about the ways in which God has prepared you for your calling and set you free to experience the joy of it in your heart.

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