On the night presbyters laid their hands on my shoulders and prayed, the night I was "officially" a minister, something happened. The incident has been playing in my head all day We were holding our district council at a downtown Milwaukee church. I was standing in a line to receive congratulations as people do on such occasions, and the only person near me that I knew was Val, a longtime friend. She and her husband had been our neighbors in "married couples housing" at Trinity. They had taken a pastorate in Wisconsin, like us, and she had just started so speak to me when two women approached.
The first was a small young Hispanic woman. She spoke very softly. "Are you...a preacher?"
"Really? Like...a minister?"
"I had no idea." The young woman was gazing at me like I was something amazing. She shook my hand, and repeated, "I had no idea. I had no idea."
Her English was heavily accented. She backed away, but she didn't really leave. She just kept watching me. I guess I have not mentioned that I was the only woman receiving any sort of ministerial credentials that night.
The second was a very large and very elderly African American woman. She was not quite "all there" and probably suffering from some sort of dementia. But this dear sister, mostly toothless, ran up to me and wrapped her arms around me and hugged the stuffing out of me. I can still see her face. Then she held me at arms length, and as tears rolled down her cheeks, kept loudly excalaiming, "OH, sister, God bless you!" Then she would shake her head as if she could not believe what was before her eyes. This happened about three times, and I was feeling a little trapped. It seemed she was going to continue to hug me, inspect me and "God bless" me all night. I had thanked her each time, and didn't know what to do. Thankfully, Val, who had stepped away for a moment, saw the problem and gently intervened by coming up to shake my hand. The elderly lady reluctantly stepped back, but she continued to say, "Oh, sister, God bless you" and smile at me till she was out of sight in the crowd.
During all this the other woman stood not far away. When she caught my eye, once again, she shook her head, almost looking bewildered. "Is something wrong?" I asked, growing concerned. She did not really answer, but tears filled her eyes as once more she said, "I had no idea." My husband came up about that time and she too disappeared into the crowd.
What was happening to those two very different women? I think I know. I think both of them had felt a stirring in their spirits to serve God in some sort of preaching ministry. One was old, and her mind, it seemed, was going, but she still knew enough to rejoice to see that a woman was among the group of newly licensed/ordained men. The other was very young, and I have often wondered about her. Why did she seem so stunned? What was happening in her mind and heart? I suspect her English was not good, and even if we had been able to take the time she might not have been able to share with me what was happening. Something tells me she remembers that night too.
Why I am remembering this today? Don't know, but can't stop thinking about it.