Formative years are just that--formative. While a sapling, a tree can be bent and twisted into odd shapes that will remain throughout the tree's life as it matures. Just as a bend in a branch becomes permanent with age, habits and opinions learned in youth can be hard to dislodge. That can be good if the experiences and the lessons from them build character and faith, and teach truth. But as we know all to well, lessons of bigotry, hatred, and discrimination learned early on can bring tragic results over time.
My formative years spiritually were spent in a conservative Christian tradition that gave me an unparalleled foundation for life and faith. Fifty years later, I still rely on Scriptures memorized as a teenager, and on the sound Biblical teaching I received in morning worship, Sunday School, youth group, evening services, Wednesday evening prayer times, Youth For Christ, and Bible Club ministries. The Christian adults who invested in me immersed me in an environment of integrity, purity, faith, and love.
But there was one area that perhaps wasn't as helpful as it could have been. Women could teach children and go to the mission field, but weren't allowed positions of leadership in the local church, and they certainly could never be ordained and become pastors.
It took many years in my present denomination to work through this issue. More than forty years ago, I remember a conversation with a friend regarding the Presbyterians and Episcopalians allowing women to become pastors and priests. Many of the arguments against this had already lost their force with me, but I remember worrying that the feminization of the church would not bode well over time; that it would accelerate the flight of men from participating in a robust Christian faith. A few years later while in seminary, the only example I had of women in ministry came in the form of rude, crude and angry women whose reason for wanting to be in ministry had more to do with their particular feminist axe to grind than with lovingly serving the Church. I was not impressed. Unfortunately, that experience was too often repeated later on.
There were some wonderful exceptions, and I have been privileged to know many excellent, talented, and dedicated female colleagues over the years. This morning, I met with about a dozen colleagues for our annual Elder's Day Apart, a strictly volunteer meeting of area United Methodist pastors who have that particular status. We were pretty evenly matched in the male/female ratio, and had a wonderful time just fellowshipping together. After about a half hour of chit-chat, our superintendent called us to worship, concluding with celebrating the Lord's Supper together, after which she invited us to share with each other how we were called into ministry.
I was particularly moved by the stories of the women. They weren't the hard core feminist stories I was used to hearing years ago, but personal stories of difficulties and challenges, and the faithfulness of God, the support of colleagues, and the joy of serving Jesus. It has been a long journey for me from those early days of my faith, and in this particular area, it hasn't always been an easy or smooth ride for me, and I still have a long way to go. However, I am grateful for those women who persevered, particularly those who persevered with me and who now minister faithfully in the name of Jesus Christ and in the power of his Holy Spirit, to the glory of God our Father. Thank you, Lord, for their stories, their steadfastness, their ministries, and their patient friendship.