Seminary recruitment.

I attended a virtual seminary recruitment this week and it left me excited, overwhelmed, hopeful, and hurt.  The seminaries didn’t hurt me, but the people who kept me from them.  The PCUSA, which I’m now a member of, has been ordaining female pastors since the late 1950s.  I wasn’t the only woman in the meeting, either as a seminary representative or as a potential student.  As I looked at the other faces, listened to what they shared, it was so clear that these men and women were equals.  Not only did they appear to see each other on the same level because of how the meeting was structured, they talked with respect for each other as well.  There was no deference to the men, no assumption that they had more to say or more of a right to say it.  When I was asked if I had questions, I admitted that I didn’t even know what to ask.  The presenters used jargon that I didn’t know, words specific to seminary, and it felt like I was the only one who didn’t know them.  The difference between growing up in a world where seminary is a possibility for anyone who wants it in comparison to one where seminary is only for men impacted me greatly yesterday.  I didn’t have basic knowledge that my female peers had, because they’ve heard that jargon all of their lives.  Their gender didn’t prevent them from access to an entire field of education.  They weren’t behind at all, but right alongside their male counterparts.  Their various congregations had prepared them for the chance they might ever feel called to ministry.  I had no idea which school or schools seemed more in tune with me, because I don’t even really know what seminary is or what it looks like, much less how to compare them.  When we were told we could go to breakout rooms for each seminary to ask questions and get more information, I asked to be placed in rooms randomly.  The last breakout room had no participants other than the seminary presenters and I was honest, sharing with them that I have no clue what I want, don’t know what to look for, and have only within the last year or so come to realize that I might be called to further my education through seminary.  I grew up in churches where women relocated for their husbands, because their husbands went to seminary.  The thought of relocating our family for me, for me to go to school and learn about being a pastor, never occurred to me until June of last year after I was asked to do the children’s sermon at our church and I agreed.  I stood there and I shared the words I had written and I could barely stay composed.  My two boys and my husband were watching me, listening to me-seeing me doing something I had always been told I couldn’t do merely because I was born a girl.  It felt more right to be up there than anything I’ve done in a long time.  Other Presbyterians might say that this was me being called.  I don’t know whether that’s true or not.  I do know that when I heard someone tell me that I might end up in seminary, it didn’t surprise me.  I knew they weren’t wrong.  In that moment, it was undoubtedly true to me.  The two representatives listened to me and told me there are others at seminary, just like me, pursuing a life that was kept from them.  Then they told me what I think every human desperately wants to hear.  They told me to try every seminary, make the decision I want for myself– they told me that any of the seminaries would be happy to have me, that my story matters, and I can do good with it.  I don’t know if seminary will happen for me, but I do know that girls need to be in churches where they hear those words when they’re little.  Girls need to know that ministry in all its forms belongs to them too.  They need to know it’s a possibility, a choice, an option, and they should take it if they want it.  No one ever told my male peers in the youth group that ministry wasn’t a possible career, a way to spend their lives, a way to love God.  I think it was just assumed that it was a career available to them like any other, just as it was assumed that any of us that were girls knew that ministry wasn’t ours.  It was known that if a boy felt an urge to be a minister that he should follow it.  For girls, you learned to ignore any urges like that.  It’s hard to undo that thinking.  It’s hard to learn to view myself, my potential, the possibilities inside of me, as worth pursuing.  I have to do the hard work of understanding whether I’m just excited that someone finally opened the candy store to me or if I really do want the candy and if I do, what candy is the best for me.  Had someone years ago seen that my gender should not have prevented me from ministry, maybe I would have asked these questions already.  I can’t change that now, but I have chosen to raise my sons in a different church setting than I was raised in.  Even if I don’t pursue seminary, my kids won’t grow up believing it was because I shouldn’t go.  They will grow up believing that I chose something else for myself.  When their friends are interested in ministry, they will encourage them, no matter their gender.  If my boys themselves see ministry as a possible pathway, they will be ready to engage in meaningful, equal conversation with their female colleagues.  They will not grow up internalizing that the pulpit is only theirs to wield.  They will share it, and this is possibly one of the greatest things I’ve done in my life.

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