Today commemorates the 1920 19th Amendment of the Constitution, granting women the right to vote. It is Women's Equality Day, and for that, I am grateful.
Throughout the past year, I have considered more than I ever had before the significance of my gender, not only in my life as a pastor, but in my life as a person, a mom, and a spouse. Why now? I suppose as life moves quickly from one thing to another, it takes some awareness to actually stop and think about it.
And when St. John called me to serve as senior pastor a year and a half ago, some people remarked the uniqueness of a senior pastor who is female. It is new in the life of St. John, and frankly quite rare in the life of even our own denomination, the ELCA. In the larger scope, it is almost unheard of in the Christian Church across the world.
When the ELCA elected its most recent Presiding Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, she was asked many times what it was like to serve as the first female bishop of our denomination. Her response was both epic and prophetic. She stated, I am a bishop, and I long for the day I will no longer be called a female bishop, but simply a bishop.
I pray her leadership and words like those would continue to move the ministry of the Christian Church forward, setting our eyes on God's work without getting stuck on the worker.
There are other words that have profoundly shaped my thoughts about my gender, and how being female shapes my life as pastor, person, woman, and parent. (If you think all of those identities simply meld together and need not be separated, we should have coffee and chat.)
Karoline Lewis, preaching professor at Luther Seminary, wrote what I feel is a foundational book in this conversation about pastors who are women. She: 5 Keys to Unlock the Power of Women in Ministry is a book helpful both for women and for people who know women. =)
She covers ground that had been previously uncovered, naming sexism that pastors who are female face quite regularly, as we negotiate our call to care for all people, while maintaining our own integrity and personal boundaries. These waters can be treacherous, and I am thankful Lewis brought out into the open much of what pastors (not only female, but all genders) have sometimes been expected to live with complacently.
The 19th Amendment created new opportunities for women. It would take more than 30 years after the 19th Amendment passed for women to vote in my own congregation. Only another decade or so would go by before women would preach from the pulpit.
Much has changed in the past century, yet much has not.
I grow weary at every premarital counseling session in which the couple has discussed dividing responsibilities in their homes, and made a plan to work together 50/50. They are excited to work together and call themselves egalitarian. It seems such a logical plan, but I know very, very few couples who pull this off. And I admire them fiercely.
Why should it be acceptable for a woman to work all day only to come home and work all evening, preparing and cleaning up supper, doing load after load of laundry, and putting kids to bed without equal support from a spouse?
Perhaps the 19th Amendment still has some amending to do in our daily lives, as we celebrate the freedom we are given in Christ to be beloved child of God. May the watery baptismal mark on our foreheads assure us we belong to God, not to a system, not to a tradition that takes from our whole self, not to any words that encourage us to believe we (any one of us) is less.
It is Women's Equality Day. Someday, maybe it will simply be "equality day", and we will wonder why in the world it was ever anything different.