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.