by Rev. Lura Groen.
Lura serves as pastor of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Houston, Texas. Lura is on the roster of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. Visit www.gracelutheran-houston.org.
I had coffee recently with a college classmate I hadn’t seen in years. She’s a smart, competent, beautiful, compassionate professional, the kind who alternates between international human rights work, and grant writing in the US for the kind of causes I love to support. We were having a grand time catching up, on, well, everything since college.
When I started telling her about our work through ELM to make ministry possible for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, she started to tell me about her experience attending a Catholic Church recently with her family. She said a woman had carried the cross down the aisle in the procession, then sat in the front pew for the service. Despite the ridiculous smallness of this token, my friend was taken aback by how powerfully emotional her response was. In fact, she started crying in front of me.
She was visibly embarrassed by this- we were hardly on intimate terms, this was a public location, and weeping isn’t generally seen as appropriate in these situations. Besides, her head said this was such a little thing to rejoice over. Given the denial of female ministry in the Catholic Church, the history of Catholic Doctrine being used, and too often written, to demean and restrict women, why does one female body in a procession (not even making it to the altar!) matter?
It matters because it is powerful, powerful, who leads worship. Which bodies are in front of congregations sends resounding messages about which bodies are able to approach God. It matters because if certain types of people-people like you- aren’t fit for ministry, what does that say about you? It matters because we read into our worship leadership ideas about what bodies are loved by and close to God. For better or worse, who is in ministry tells us what bodies are holy.
Despite my friend’s embarrassment, I was glad to have shared the moment with her. In fact, it was a treasure, a gift that has been sustaining me through a difficult few weeks. Because she reminded me how important this work is. Whenever I’m tempted to think this is only about me, about those of us called to ministry, I remember what message our work sends to all the people of God. I celebrate that we have put our bodies in front of worship- that people who look and love and live like us, and people who love differently than us, have been given the message that their lives and loves and bodies are worthy of God’s love too.
And, it being Lent, I remember that I have work to do making that message even broader. I remind myself that there are bodies who aren’t receiving that message as well in my church. That I need to invite people with bodies of different colors than mine into leadership more, and people whose bodies have disabilities different than mine. Because all bodies, lives, and loves, are called by God.