Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Always Being Made New

Dear Walter and Sally,

Something big happened today.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the denomination I serve as a pastor, elected a woman to be presiding bishop for the first time.

Her name is Elizabeth Eaton, and when she was elected she was serving as bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod. I don't know anything about her other than what I saw and read today.  She seems earnest, which I really like, and smart, and passionate about her faith and the life of the church. People who already know her as a leader say she is honest, direct and wise, and that she's weathered many storms already in her time as a synod bishop with grace and compassion and integrity.

We don't know yet what kind of presiding bishop she will be.  So far, she seems kind of nervous and overwhelmed, which is very understandable.

You're probably wondering why this is such a big deal to me.  I hope, anyway, that by the time you two read this the novelty of women reaching the highest leadership positions in the church and elsewhere is thoroughly out-of-date.

Like you, I grew up in a church where women could be ordained and serve as pastors.  The rules changed to allow it in 1970, and I was born in 1981, so I never experienced life as a Lutheran without women pastors.  The congregation I grew up in had several pastors who were women, and they had a profound influence on me and forming my faith and my identity as a Christian.  Of course, the pastors I grew up with who were men did that, too.

But it was a powerful experience for me, growing up in a predominantly Roman Catholic town, to grow up in a church where women could be pastors.  I realized very early on that I had options my Roman Catholic friends who were girls didn't have.  My parents always told me I could be anything I wanted to be, and do anything I set my mind to doing.  I felt like my church affirmed that message, not just for me but for all girls and boys: you are beloved, you are special, you are gifted and called by God ... and whatever it is that God is calling you to do, you can do it.

Of course, it wasn't completely true, back then.  There were still rules and other barriers to people being ordained and being elected to leadership positions. As I've gotten older, the church has gone through some amazing transformations that have made that feeling of being affirmed and empowered in my calling that I had as a little girl an actual reality for more and more people.  In 2009, the ELCA voted to change the rules so that people in same-sex relationships can be ordained. This year, one of my favorite professors, recently ordained, was elected as a synod bishop--the first openly gay person in a committed relationship to be elected as a bishop in the ELCA. And today, the first woman presiding bishop was elected ... and not only that, but of the top four candidates, three were women.  There wasn't just one qualified woman leader to choose, there were many.  

I used to think that I wanted to be the first woman presiding bishop in the ELCA.  The idea of being a history-maker appealed to me.  But this is so much better.  I will be able to tell you, Sally, that just before you were born a new possibility for women in the church was born, too. And Walter and Sally, you will both grow up in a church that allows me to look you in the eyes and say, with total honesty, "You can do anything God is calling you to do."  You may not want to be pastors or bishops, but being gay or straight or a man or a woman isn't automatically going to disqualify you from doing those things.  The door isn't pre-shut.  And that's a pretty exciting, wonderful thing. Something to celebrate!

The theme of the assembly that's going on right now is "Always Being Made New," so I think today and every August 14th we should celebrate Always Being Made New Day.  On that day I think our family should celebrate options and possibilities and potential.  On that day we should also celebrate Umma and Baba's wedding anniversary, because their love is Always Being Made New, too.  And also because they've always encouraged me to dream big, and to look toward the future with hope.

On that day, we should eat cake.  Because cake is delicious and Baba and I really like frosting.

Anyway, in some ways I hope this hoopla seems a little silly to you.  But I hope you also know how proud I am to be a pastor in the ELCA, and how proud I am of both of you, and how limitless your potential--our potential, all of us--seems to me right at this very moment.  I am feeling hopeful, excited, and very much being made new.

I love you!  Happy Always Being Made New Day!


Sarah said...

It is indeed a good day!!!

Pat's Place said...

As a former Roman Catholic who had a calling, but was prevented from answering in my own church community, I can truly affirm your observations and pray one day the RC community will have their eyes opened to a larger truth than what is now held.