Thursday, May 22, 2008

I'm in Mainline Land Now

I have been having a wonderful time at the Festival of Homiletics. I wasn't sure if I would or not, being a bit of a square peg in the proverbial round hole, but I have been listening to some truly amazing and wise teachers. I will be sharing more as I am able when I get back home with my computer and some time. Meanwhile, let me say that I am greatly enriched by what I have seen and heard this week.

There are some stark differences in the style of typical Assemblies of God gatherings, or even...hmmm...shall I say typical gatherings of the more "conservative evangelical" branch of Christendom?

Here were a few clues that I was on the other side of the aisle, so to speak:

Liturgy, and lots of it. I guess that goes without saying.

The pipe organ. Ahhhhhhh.....love it. And hymn books. And not one "contemporary praise and worship" chorus sung all week. (I will add that the current ELCA hymnal is impressive. It includes lots of newer music that is ethnically diverse and quite powerful.)

Stained glass. If you see stained glass in an AG church it's because the Lutherans, or whoever, moved elsewhere and we bought their former church building.

Jeans. Lots of jeans and sandals and stuff like that. Hardly a sport coat or a tie anywhere to be seen. When these folks say dress is casual, they mean it.

Beards. (I like a man with a beard, myself.) The male ministers have an aura, a sort of professorial mien that I can't describe but that I noted right away.

The occasional scent of pipe smoke.

Ale drinking parsons. ;-)

Paintings and art on the church walls that do not have Jesus depicted in them.

Jazz. There has been lots of it. Today we had a "Jazz Worship Service." I have never imagined such a thing before. Duke Ellington in church? (The liturgy was the best of the week, IMO, and one part of it moved me to tears.)

I have heard many conversations and comments about "call." (It's not that mainline people feel called and we don't. I just don't think we talk about it in the ways they do. I wonder why that is?)

Greater comfort with scriptural ambiguity.

People are masterful at expressing themselves in gender inclusive language. It seems to come naturally, though I know it must have been work once.

There are more things that I won't take time to mention. Some I liked, some I didn't, some I was neutral about. Some were a little humorous to me. Some were a little sad to me. All of it was interesting.

But an obvious, ever-present and wonderful thing was the presence of women. I love and appreciate my male peers. However, I have never attended a clergy meet-up where I was not part of a very small female minority --and aware of it even when I wished I weren't and tried not to notice. More than once I have been the only female present. From the looks of things, there are at least as many women clergy attending this conference as men.

A pastors is not assumed to be a "he" and discussions on the "role of the pastor's wife" are absent. (I am not saying that pastor's wives are not important or do not deserve attention.) The platform participants in the worship, the speakers, preachers and worship leaders are both male and female, and this is the obvious norm. I have never before heard conversations among a group of women (or women and men) regarding their seminary experiences, their call, their joy and sorrow with parish life, their sermon preparation struggles, etc. These conversations are all around me, in the halls, in restaurants, on the sidewalks as people walk between the two host churches, in the restroom lines, and in the pews before services. I am in another world.

This has caused a rather confused mix of reactions in me. Some are not blogable. Others will be, after a time.

The Assemblies of God and other Pentecostal denominations and movements, and the holiness movement, and the Wesleyan branch of the Church Tree from which we sprang all once had women preachers in abundance. Women did not serve in "higher" offices of leadership, but our voices were heard in great numbers as we planted and pastored churches, preached evangelistic crusades, and travelled to various mission fields.

What happened to the preaching women? I have had gracious conversations with Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, and Episcopalian clergywomen this week. All of their ecclesiastical bodies have ordained women for much less of their history than the Pentecostals and some others. Yet today our sister preachers in other church bodies far outnumber us. What happened?

Women once comprised close to half of the preachers in the Assemblies of God. Where are they today? Why did two women approach me some years ago, after an ordination service in which I was credentialed, saying they had no idea a woman could be a preacher? What happened?

I am not unaware that I have some differences of opinion, probably even significant ones, with some of these women preachers in Minneapolis, as well as some things in common. That is not the point. Being around so many women who clearly take their call to preach seriosly was a totally new experience, a blessing to my heart, and also caused me an odd kind of sorrow.

Perhaps even more than asking what happened, I should ask if my Pentecostal brothers and sisters care that it happend? Do we even see it as a problem, or a sorrow? Is anything lost because there are so few women's voices among our preaching ranks? Does it matter? And if so, what can we do to change it? What can we learn about this from our mainline friends?

Off to bed for me. Last day is tomorrow and I want to make it to the morning session.

12 comments:

P.S. an after-thought said...

Hi from over your normal home direction. Your post was so interesting. I can relate to the woman part because when we were at my daughter's house on Sunday, two young women dropped by who are also seminary students! The women are trying to fit this in around other things in their life.

It is interesting to hear what you comment on. I suspect that Lutheran church can be somewhat "high church" if they choose to be, but they don't have to always be that way. But a cathedral type building can lead us in that direction anyway.

In N. Minnesota, there has been a tradition in the R Catholic church of a polka mass. One time these folks came to our church to do this. I was prepared to hate it, but I loved it. Now, I'm told, the current Bishop won't allow it in the RC church. Too bad. the words were such a direct expression of the love and grace of God and our responses to that. That's what it is all about, not the melodies, really.

The Lutheran church I attended on Sunday had only the so-called "praise" music. With a little band. I guess I don't get denoting this as praise music because our ELCA hymnal has always had very "praise-ful" music in it. We are praising God for what He has done for us.

I feel like I know you by now. Maybe we'll meet some day.

Iris said...

Thanks for sharing with us so openly. I attend an A/G church but have credentials with Elim Fellowship which is interdenominational in its scope. It has more women in pastoral roles but we are still lagging behind. So often meetings of ministers (pastors and the rest of us credential folk) is an "ole boy's club" and you know it immediately.

I am blessed that you are having such a good experience. Your questions are good -- the answers hard -- I suspect.

Blessings

Diane said...

this is so thoughtful, singing owl. I'm so sad we couldn't have bumped into one another and shared a lunch. At least part of my problem was feeling overwhelmed and ill.

you see, a long time ago, I had a sort of pentecostal experience.... and I've always tried to reconcile the two sides of me. I believe there are some powerful aspects of the pentecostal experience. I experienced both liberation and some constriction at the same time.

I hope we get a chance to meet someday!

Kievas said...

Sounds like a fun event...not sure how I'd handle the liturgy, but the ale-drinking parsons get my vote :)

St. Casserole said...

Loved meeting you and seeing your sparkling eyes and smile in person. I love the F of H and am so glad to meet you and other RevGals.

much2ponder said...

Mainline Land?

Singing Owl said...

Mainline churches, M2P, are denominations such as Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopalian, etc. Pentecostals, Baptists, Alliance, Evangelical Free, etc. are not considered "mainline" churches. I'm not sure when that designation started being used. Now I think I'll have to look it up.

Singing Owl said...

Diane, I'd love to hear about your experience and perhaps help shed some light. I think I might understand a bit of what you mean by liberation and constriction. Well, you aren't that far away, and I do have family in Minneapolos, so it isn't impossible that it might happen. :-)

Kievas said...

P.S. I tagged you for a meme.

Mary Beth said...

I LOVED reading this. thanks for taking the time to share so thoughtfully about your experiences.

Hope your homegoing has been peaceful (!) and that your mom and BIL are doing ok.

much2ponder said...

I guess I hadn't given it much thought how few female Pastors there are in the evangelical church. My life as you know is in the middle of some strange shift in my view of religion on more levels than I care to mention. I do however feel that just as many women in the evangelical church are called to preach as in the mainline church. Many sad to say, are put in their places and that is where they are comfortable and feel they should stay. This comes partly from those teachings on women's roles in the church and then they are fortified with attitudes of both men and woman over the years. Young women don't seem to go through the same "grooming" as young men when it comes to such things. It seems young men are given far more opportunities to grow in this area. How does a woman remain content with the status quo? That is more likely the question and who will be there to give a girl a leg up when the time is right? I believe more room will be made for women clergy as more and more of them realize the "call" placed on their lives and then step forward with what God has put in their hearts even when they are guided in other directions.

Sista Cala said...

As usual, your posts from the other side of the fence, intrigue me. I enjoy taking a literary peek into the spiritual practices of the non-AG members of His body.

One day I would like to make a trip "up North" to meet you and some other fellow bloggers.