As I was preparing to leave a ministry setting for a new call, she was in rehab recovering from joint replacement surgery. This would be our last visit. She gifted me, one more time, with her blessing. After thirteen years together, she revealed that I was the first minister in her lifetime in the church that she ever trusted. What a revelation at once an incredible gift and profoundly sad. One minister in her lifetime.
As I said, this was not the first gift she gave me.
This first happened when I came to meet the congregation as they were trying to decide if they “could” call a woman as their Pastor. The Elders met with me to ask a few questions. She asked, “Would I welcome Gay or Lesbian members into the church?”
I had reached a point in ministry and in this call process that would not allow me to be anything but authentic about my experience and theology. Particularly my understanding of what it means to be called to serve at the Lord’s Table.
I said something like this: “I will not speak for everyone in the church, but for myself. I know that God is love. I have experienced that love in deep and meaningful ways. I believe that love is for everyone, no matter how differently we are made. I believe that wholeness is what God intends for us. When I share the invitation to the Lord’s Table it is for everyone from Jesus. Acceptance in life-giving/life-changing community is what Jesus offers us. As a Pastor— that is my calling.” It was the beginning of our long relationship of mutual respect.
A second blessing came during a leadership conflict. A few folks decided they did not like my preaching (the presenting issue). A gathering took place with a few key leaders and regional leadership. During the meeting, one of my sermons was read and I was called to account for what I said. The sermon was based on the story of Jesus being questioned by the Pharisees about the healing of a man born blind. His questioners asked, who had sinned, the man or his parents? (John 9)
In the sermon I had said that those asking the questions were trying to catch Jesus in an error/sin; to undermine his leadership and authority. My accusers interpreted that as saying Jesus had sinned. In one of those, life imitates the story moments, I was being questioned about my words and actions, my leadership and authority.
The regional ministry representative asked my testers, “are you saying that if she changes the way she preaches you’d be satisfied? To which they begrudgingly answered, “Yes.” And then I was asked by the representative, “can you change the way you preach?”
It was a liminal moment. My mouth went dry. Inside, I was hearing an old voice saying, “just say ‘yes,’ then this will be over. They will like you again. The church will be spared this divisive moment.”
Before I could answer, my friend/saint did with clarity: “No, she can’t.”
She saved me that day. I was about to do what women have been told to do our whole lives—give up our voices, not trust ourselves.
The damage we do to ourselves, betraying our own lived experience, knowledge, and incarnate wisdom is tragic. I didn’t give up my voice that day because someone I trusted and who trusted me, lent me hers. I will ever be grateful.
It costs to be authentic.
We will be rejected by some.
The alternative is worse . . . do not reject yourself.
My sainted friend . . . Jesus and I want you to know, you are not alone.
You have a voice worth hearing.