Wednesday, March 20, 2013

They Even Had Me Fooled

It’s amazing how I have been able to go through the years thinking that I am so progressive when it comes to the advancement of women in the church.   When I first went into ministry I realized that there were women who came before me and paved the way, often times they paid a great price and made many sacrifices. 
There were those women who fought their way through seminary, trying to be taken seriously next to and by their male colleagues, only to be offered jobs as secretaries in churches and denominational offices – that is if they could find a paid position anywhere.  Many of those women never married because it was too hard to fight the expectation that they should be the one to stay home and raise the children and support their husband’s career.  Some of them married men who became pastors.  Those women were in fact partners in the ministry but never were recognized as anything but their husband’s wife.  Most of these women were not ordained, or were ordained many years later.  They took any job they could in order to do ministry – with or without recognition.
Those women opened the door for the next generation of women.  They still had trouble being taken seriously in seminary, but every once in a while they found men who were progressive enough to support and encourage them.  These women tended to be the more outspoken women.  They were the ones that started the groups and organizations that promoted and advanced the cause of women in ministry.  They were the women who, along with a few progressive and supportive men, were the ones who brought resolutions to the floor and created positions that were to open more doors for women.  They are the women I respectfully call the “bra-burners.”  Many of those women ended up in various mid-level denominational positions and as associate pastors.  Many went into campus ministry and then interim work.  Few, if any, made it to the position of senior pastor, or even solo pastor. 
Then there was my generation.  For the most part I felt like I was taken seriously in seminary.  There were a few incidents, but those will be left for another post.  Once out of seminary it was difficult, but not impossible, to find a job.  For a woman, positions in children’s ministry, Christian education, youth ministry and campus ministry were the jobs that were open.  A man, just out of seminary had all of those possibilities too, but also, solo pastorates.   All of the positions open to women were seen as a stepping stone for a man.  For a woman it was the first and final destination.  My generation knew that could change.  And that was what we were working toward. 
Then there were the women who opened doors and we didn’t even know it.  When I was in college I was a regional officer for Guild, a girl’s organization in my denomination.  Each summer I had the opportunity to attend what was called Western States Conference.  These conferences were planned by young women, like me… or at least we were under the illusion we were planning these conferences.  I now know that there were some women who were allowing us to labor away under that illusion.  They were lay women who were a part of the leadership of ABW, the women’s missionary society; you know, the ones that ate crust-less cucumber sandwiches, rolled bandages and cut quilt blocks – Ha!  What we didn’t notice was that they were the ones that managed to invite newly ordained women in our denomination to be camp pastors and conference speakers.  Sometimes the only opportunities these young women had to preach were those opened up for them by these lay women.  What that meant for a young woman like me was that we were exposed to these ordained women at an age when we were exploring what we wanted to do with our lives.  I never even considered that professional ministry was an option for me until I met the (newly) Rev. Margaret Cowden and the (also newly) Rev. Marilyn Marston, who were speakers at the Western States Conference held at Camp Burton, WA, in the summer of 1977.  I even needed a little push from my Guild Advisor, Anita Pittman, Kindergarten teacher "by day" and rabble-rouser on weekends and during the summer.    There were other women, whose names I don’t remember, but I do remember that a couple of them were a force to be reckoned with! 
Eventually, I went into ministry and was ordained.  I found various roadblocks, but I would always find an opportunity to preach or to speak at ABW events and conferences.  They would be the ones that would make sure that an ordained woman would be the preacher for Women’s Sunday at their church… often the only day of the year that a woman would step behind that pulpit to preach.  Occasionally I would even meet a woman who would let me know that she had been praying for me all through college and seminary – even though she had never met me in person.  I could see their strategy then.  But it wasn’t until recently that I realized that way back at those Guild Conferences, those ABW ladies had been strategizing while they were rolling those bandages and cutting those quilt blocks.  They had a plan for making a change for women in the church, one that they knew would take a while, but one that they knew was long-overdue.   They were just ordinary ABW ladies.  Yeah!  They had me fooled!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Church at Cindys

                L.A. is a very big place, but nestled throughout the big city are little “towns” that make up the big city.  Ours was Eagle Rock.  We had our favorite places in Eagle Rock, most of them were places to eat.  One of them was Cindy’s. 
                Cindy’s was and still is a diner.  In fact, sometimes when there is a diner in a commercial or even a TV show or movie it is Cindy’s.  No joke!  It is such a stereotypical diner that it is used as such on the big screen.   It may have been the way that they could keep their great low prices, and every once in a while get new blinds or pie cabinet.
 Back then, in the morning you could find Helen and Laurie cheerfully waiting on tables.  James was there too.  He owned the place.  He mostly sat and talked with the customers, every once in a while going out to the parking lot to admire someone’s new pickup or motorcycle.  James rode a Harley.  We went there almost every Friday (our day off) for breakfast, after we got the kids off to school.  My whole family went to Cindy’s and so often I would find out what was going on with my sister or my mom from Helen or Laurie.  There were the regulars, people who ate there every day, some twice a day.  In fact, there was a group of guys that wanted to meet at 5 in the morning.  The restaurant wasn’t open until 6:30 so James just gave them a key.  They would start the coffee in the morning and would leave about the time that the restaurant would officially open.  They liked to pull pranks, so the trick was to find out what they had done.  One day the “specials” sign said, “Helen 50 cents.”  Helen and Laurie would always treat me like I was family but they would give Rod a hard time (I guess that is like family,too).  Laurie, especially, would smile and take my order.  Then she would just glare at Rod and when he ordered his usual biscuits and gravy, she would answer with, “hmmph,” and walk away.  One day we drove into the parking lot after being on vacation for a couple of weeks.  Before we got out of the car we could see through the big windows that Helen and Laurie had scrambled to the door.  Helen turned the sign around to say, “Closed” while Laurie opened the door and yelled, “And we’re out of biscuits and gravy, to boot! “
                One of the “regulars” was a guy who used a hand held electronic device to his throat to speak.  We could always hear what he was saying because it seemed that with the monotone mechanical voice there was only one volume.  It was not annoying, though, it was just part of being at Cindy’s.  It was fun to hear the banter between customers and the staff.  One day another of the “regulars” came in.  Micky looked a bit frazzled.  He picked up the restroom key that was attached to the long stick that customers would need in order to use the restrooms out the front door and around to the side of the building.  He said, “I forgot my keys to the house.”  Laurie said to him that those were the restroom keys, not his house keys.  Micky continued to insist that they were his house keys, not in angry way, more in a frantic way.  His friends among the regulars were all around him, mostly at the counter.  After a while they were able to get him to understand that these were not his house keys.  Meanwhile, Helen came to our table to refill my coffee.  She explained to us that Micky had recently had a stroke and since then he would occasionally be confused.  As things settled down we heard Micky say to the small group of guys around him, “I’m sorry.  I don’t know what is going on.”  And then as if confessing to something he had been trying to deny, “I guess there’s just something wrong with me.” 
                The next thing we heard was that familiar electronic monotone, “Don’t worry about it Micky.  Don’t you know?  There’s something wrong with all of us.”  All we needed was a closing hymn and a benediction.  We’d had church… at Cindy’s.