In sermons, my mom’s strength shines

A student reflects on his mom, who works as an Episcopal minister, despite discrimination against women.

This past summer, I watched from my seat while my mother performed the rites of service at my home church.

Since both of my parents worked as Episcopal ministers during my childhood, it was not unusual for me to sit in the front pew on a Sunday morning and watch them speak to a crowd of dozens from the pulpit.

I always thought I was my mom’s worst critic. Jokingly, I nitpicked her word choice, mannerisms and expressions at the end of each service. 

I didn’t realize until I became an adult that there is a deeper, more serious criticism of my mom that some congregants expressed when they watched her preach: she shouldn’t be up there at all.

Women were not permitted to serve as ministers in the Episcopal church until the General Convention, a governing body for the entire denomination, approved the ordination process for them in 1976.

But that did not stop 11 women, now remembered as “The Philadelphia Eleven,” from being ordained at the Church of the Advocate on Diamond Street near 18th in 1974, creating a crack in the glass ceiling of the church’s bureaucracy.

In the Catholic Church, which bears similarities to the Episcopal tradition, women are still formally barred from being ordained as priests, though several women have conducted “illicit” ordinations in defiance of the patriarchal establishment, according to the National Church Reporter.

My mom was ordained in 1989, at a time when some still were reluctant to the idea of a woman delivering a sermon or serving communion.

To this day, some in the Christian faith continue to make disjointed, theological arguments as to why women should not serve: Christ was a man himself, they say, and only chose male apostles to start his church for a reason.

Others have gone as far as to say that women do not think of God in the same logical manner that men do and therefore cannot teach others lessons in theology and the Bible.

But I don’t buy it. 

When she puts on the white collar, my mom is a force of nature. She can make assertive, compelling arguments at the pulpit while also being a gentle, attentive listener to her congregants. She can use an animated, energetic voice during the Eucharist while also being a warm, kind friend to those in the church who are in pain or need.

Having stepped aside from serving as a full-time pastor, my mom now works as a freelance religion reporter and columnist. It’s no coincidence that I aspire to work as a journalist as well, as I have been motivated by reading her fascinating stories.

My mom continues to fill in as a part-time pastor when the local diocese needs her. Whenever she steps up to the altar, I can’t help but smile. 

When I see her delivering a sermon or wrapping her arms around a congregant, it’s hard for me to believe that God would have thought my mom unfit for the vestments. It warms my heart to see her up there, brave against the odds, standing in a long tradition of women trailblazers in the faith.

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