Deacons and Elders and Me

In the church of my childhood they were all called deacons. The men who met once a month to lead the work of the church. Some managed the finances. Some oversaw the care of widows and the poor. They prayed for the pastor. They knew the struggles and the joys of the church.

Only the godly men. And so, I was proud my dad was one of them. And his dad before him. I never asked whether or not I’d grow up to be a deacon. I wouldn’t. As a child, I knew how these things worked: where the men belonged, where the women belonged.

I also knew that the role I would play in church had nothing to do with how God saw me. Some things, back then, were easy to separate.

. . .

One year of training, a church’s vote, and I will be ordained on Sunday. An elder. Me. A thirty-five-year-old stay-at-home-mom. Me, the lady in charge of the two unruly blonde boys running wild and stuffing donuts in their mouths on any given Sunday.

Me, a woman.

In the church tradition I now belong to, there are both deacons and elders—deacons to care for the needs of the community, and elders to spiritually lead, support our head pastor, guide the church through decisions. It’s the elders that James instructs (in his little New Testament book) to pray for the sick, anoint their heads with oil.

The weight of the responsibility is enough to make my stomach churn. But still, they asked me. And because they asked, I’ll do it. I will.

. . .

Vows are a sacred thing and I will make them. Knees pressed into the wood of the stage, in front of my congregation. The pastors will anoint me. They will lay hands on me. They will pray for me.

And what will I do with this holy calling? Ordained.

. . .

Nine years ago, I read through all the passages that mention women and leadership in the bible. I studied theologians and their interpretations. I listened to speakers share how they came to conclusions on women and their role in the church. I was already in full-time ministry then. But still, my husband and I sat on the porch of our tiny apartment talking it out. We ate olives and cheese while working through the theological implications of such a choice. If we drew our line in the sand here, if we said I (a woman) was called to ministry (which I believed I was), there was no going back. It would change how we understood our marriage, our expectations of a healthy church.

We didn’t draw a line in the sand that day. Our convictions came slow, gentle. It wasn’t conclusive biblical evidence that confirmed my suspicion that God equips women to lead and serve in the church. (There will always be different ways to interpret Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. There will always be conservatives and progressives when it comes to the Word of God.)

My confirmation was my life and the God who had been on the move within it. My confirmation was a holy conviction that I was called and equipped to lead—and to lead both men and women. My confirmation was that I longed for other women to lead me (and to lead my husband). My confirmation was that God’s voice in my ear was just as true, just as valuable, as God’s voice in my male pastor’s ear.

. . .

In my childhood, from time to time, we went to the little country church where my dad grew up, where Meemaw and Pawpaw still led singing some Sunday nights. I remember my Pawpaw, the deacon, leading hymns from the pulpit while Meemaw played piano. I remember my Pawpaw’s low, deep quiver of a bass and his sweet stories between the songs. When I kneel in front of my San Francisco church on Sunday morning I will be thinking of them: the men and women who taught me how to love the church and serve her.

This is not a story of rebellion. This is not the story of a girl who moved two thousand miles away and learned to take scripture less seriously. This is the story of how my love for scripture deepened and grew more technicolored, beautiful. This is the story of finding myself in a church where I was invited to use my gifts in order to love God faithfully.

I will kneel before my church on Sunday in holy trembling, because of the men who led me as a child, because of the women who led me without titles. I will commit my weak-willed soul to the leadership of my church because of the deacons and their wives who gave me courage to travel all the way to these vows.

On Sunday I will be ordained. I will honor the men who taught me serve, the women who taught me to lead.

(I wrote about last month as well.)

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