By Rev. Tillie Duncan
Shocked, I stood up, turned right, and walked up the aisle and out the doors of the chapel building on the seminary campus. It was the last decade of the twentieth century, and it was Women’s Day, the celebration of which included a chapel address. The speaker was male, and his exhortations to women included the expected behavior held by some men: immaculate house, gourmet meals (on time!), perfect children. As the “sermon” progressed, the speaker began an intrusive foray into my bedroom. I was told in no uncertain terms what I should not wear when retiring for the night, with the implication that a “hootchy-kootchy” outfit was the approved sleeping apparel. I felt embarrassed and demeaned.
Second-hand information came to me that the next day that I was labeled in some classes as the feminist heretic on campus. I suppose that refusing to submissively sit and listen to instruction in how to fulfill a man’s fantasies was somehow a rejection of the faith.
The interruption of a social order followed by a majority does produce some strange reactions. For those who perceive themselves as being more important, who are accustomed to being deferred to, accepting women as equals, rather than as attendants, seems like a breaking apart of the natural order.
A few people still become agitated over the issue of women in ministry. After a couple years of filling a supportive role in the missions ministry of a large church, I was called as missions minister when the man who had held that position moved to another church. The church had ordained women as deacons since the 1940’s and had ordained at least one woman into church ministry, but, except for children’s minister, had not had a woman on the ministerial staff. Shaken by this disruption of precedence, one of the male ministers on staff visited my office. He left after an hour of verbally assaulting me. His voice was quiet, calm and seemingly harmless. He began by condescendingly asking me why I read my prayers in worship (prayers that I prayed as I wrote them and as I delivered them). Subsequent questions and comments were full of innuendo about my fitness for the job and my ability to fulfill it: The overseeing of a large budget, the marshaling of multiple volunteers, the maintenance of several projects and proposals for new ones all came in for their share of a doubted accomplishment.
The disruption of the established order held more joy and promise than fear, however. Particularly the women of the church sensed a new day and rejoiced in it. To see a woman in the pulpit on a regular basis, even though in a minor role, was uplifting and affirming to them. They felt their full acceptance by God in a new and powerful way. And their support gave me the confidence to move to another church, as I accepted a pastoral role. To a church in which the disruptive presence of women in ministry was accepted as a mirror of the disruptive presence of Jesus whose life encourages us also to work at breaking apart the world’s domination system, through whatever medium that system is expressed.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.