How often women lament that their lives were blocked from answering God’s call to ministry. So many obstructions were put in their way because of their gender. They could not receive theological education, ordination, or employment in a church setting, and many have experienced a lifelong heartbreak that they were not permitted to fulfill the mission to which they had felt God’s leading. But a new wind is blowing.
We live in a time of ecclesiastical upheaval. In my office I see a procession of students who have become disillusioned with the failures of their denominational affiliation and are seeking new forms of Christian community. Daily, the Boston Globe brings news not only of distressing developments within the Catholic Church, but within many other faith communities as well. Many are forsaking their folds of faith.
In some respects, we have entered a period of spiritual vacuum, but now is a time when the Holy Spirit can bring filling. If some can no longer place faith in what their church teaches, faithful Christians can share their convictions about God’s enduring love and faithfulness. Now is not a time for “sheep stealing” (persuading other people to leave their church and to join ours) but for faith affirming. Women, we now have the opportunity to love, listen and share a joyful assurance as to the character of God, the reliability of Scripture, the redemption freely available in Christ, and the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the most surprising of circumstances. This very crisis gives us freedom to speak, where before there may have been barriers to honest discussion of spiritual matters.
Jeremiah wrote of a future day:
“No longer will they teach their neighbors, or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jer. 31:34, TNIV)
Now is the time for such discussions, and it is here that simple and honest sharing can be the most effective. In his second letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul narrates how he brought his own simple sincerity against the polished rhetoric and dazzling platform appearance of his detractors. In the end, his was the enduringly effective approach. What we know for ourselves is the most convincing. Theological training is necessary for our clergy, but often a less sophisticated approach can enter more readily into the heart of the listener. The kitchen table, the backyard fence, the parking lot and the playground can be powerful pulpits.
Faithful women can become the most effective agents for a sweeping spiritual renewal that focuses on warm personal faith rather than ecclesiastical structure. Professionals may be at a distinct disadvantage. Those who do not boast a seminary education or formal ordination may be best suited to share a faith that has withstood disappointment, disenchantment and despair. From Catherine Bushnell’s translation, “The Lord giveth the Word: the women that publish the tidings are a great host.” (Ps. 68:11)