I am convinced that the church will be saved by its women. It seems they are the ones doing the very things that will save us.
Women clergy and lay ministers are the ones doing the most creative things in the church today. They are engaged in much out-of-the-box thinking while still inside the box, essentially creating a new box in which the rest of us can live. Several popular examples come to mind.
Becca Stevens, an Episcopal priest, created Thistle Farms, a sanctuary for healing women-survivors of abuse, addiction, trafficking, and prostitution. She writes on her website, “We believe that in the end, love is the strongest force for change in the world.” Thistle Farms has birthed a number of similar ministries across the nation, and inspired thousands of people to rethink the church’s role in the gritty work of social justice and personal redemption.
Sara Miles, a parishioner of St. Gregory of Nyssa church in San Francisco, is a former political radical and journalist who has given new life to the ancient practice of feeding the hungry. One day a week, St. Gregory’s sanctuary is turned into a large fresh-produce market. Where parishioners normally stand around the altar Orthodox-style for Sunday Eucharist, boxes of lettuce, tomatoes, squash, and eggplant are stacked in neat rows each Saturday. Poor people eager for fresh food line up around the block to get inside, while others stream out the side door, carrying home loaded grocery bags of produce. The remarkable thing is that most of the food is donated, and the market is operated by volunteers who are the very poor people it seeks to serve. Sara’s book, “Take This Bread”, is a best-seller and a textbook for anyone who is considering a ministry in food and hunger.
Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran priest and the founder-rector of House for All Sinners and Saints, in Denver, CO. Set up in a warehouse on the seedier part of town, it is a parish for those who some describe as “the marginalized of society”: transgendered, addicts, prostitutes, street creatures. Bolz-Weber says that HFASS is “a group of folks figuring out how to be a liturgical, Christo-centric, social justice oriented, queer-inclusive, incarnational, contemplative, irreverent, ancient/future church with a progressive but deeply rooted theological imagination.”
I find all these women incredibly inspiring. All of them have re-imagined church in a way I do not often see among men. I suspect their charism comes from their position as women in the church, women who spent much of their lives outside the salon of power, looking in through the window but not allowed inside. Forced to be creative, they discovered the freedom of The Outsider: someone not required to conform in order to succeed because they would never be allowed inside anyway. Freed from conformity, they have created incredible ministries.
Because few on the inside listened to them, the women themselves practiced radical listening, and heard the cries of the poor, cries which fell on many a deaf ear in the salon. As the women practiced radical listening, it produced radical love, radical sacrifice, and radical ministries.
All of the women above are pastors of growing faith communities; people are attracted to the authenticity of their lives and their understanding of the Way of Jesus. With each passing season, more and more souls are showing up at their front doors, looking for a place in the Kingdom they can call their own. I could list other women in my own diocese who are doing similar excellent, creative, holy work, but I won’t embarrass them. All we need do it look around, for they are there, leading us.
There is a popular maxim in the business world that goes, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” I often think how we need to get out of the way of these women and follow them, as they are leading our church into its future. God bless ‘em all