Thursday, January 19, 2017

You'd best get out of our way



The very first sermon I ever preached came close to not happening. Forty-one years ago on January 25, I had prepared to preach on the Conversion of St. Paul at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Columbus, Ohio. As I recall, it wasn’t a great sermon, but I was a first-year seminary student, and I was relatively clueless and, as the saying goes, we all have to start somewhere. 

I woke up that morning to find the world encrusted in two inches of ice. Despite the fact that the church was on the other side of the city, I was determined to get there. As sleet pelted my cheeks, I skated from my apartment, through the parking, and into the side of my ’66 Plymouth Fury. After chipping through the ice on the windshield while the engine warmed up a bit, I was ready to go. I slowly crept out of the parking lot and drove a couple blocks before I realized it wasn’t gonna happen. My windshield wipers couldn’t keep up with the ice forming on my windshield, and every time I got out to scrape it, my feet slid under the car. 

Should I call the church to tell them I wasn’t going to make it? Did I have a choice? Part of me would be relieved to stay home; I was terrified of speaking in public and couldn’t imagine that I’d ever be able to preach a sermon. But then, I knew this was part of becoming a pastor. I needed to get past it so I could move on. I had to find a way to get to the church. 

So, I called Paula. She was my only hope. And she came through. Somehow, she managed to drive to my place, pick me up and deliver me to St. Mark’s. 

Paula was a year ahead of me in seminary. Our relationship was complicated. When I arrived at seminary, Paula had made a name for herself as an outspoken advocate for women seminarians. She wasn’t one to suffer in silence while the seminary fumbled around figuring out how to prepare women to become pastors. I was na├»ve and so out of the loop that I didn’t even realize ordaining women was a new thing, so I was trying my best to understand what was happening. I didn’t always appreciate the ways my life was easier because Paula had come before me. In a sense, the way she rescued me so I could preach my first sermon on that icy Sunday morning was representative of the role she played in my life. 

Through the years our paths have crossed from time to time. Once, when I was on the bishop’s staff and we were discussing potential pastoral candidates to serve at Trinity in Lakewood, I suggested Paula. This open, somewhat funky congregation seemed perfect for someone like Paula who was smart, creative and a little cray-cray. It turned out to be a great match, and I was gratified to be in a position where I could repay her in some way. 

I haven’t always appreciated the women who have walked before me and beside me as I’ve found my way in the world, but as I’ve aged, I could weep to think of how much they mean to me. Childhood friends, sisters, college roommates, pastoral colleagues… I can’t begin to imagine who I would be without them. 

On Saturday, I’ll be participating in the Women’s March in Washington, walking alongside my daughter Gretchen. My emotions are reeling just thinking about it. I’ll need to pack some tissues to get me through the day. So many of the women I treasure will be marching with me, in Washington and in other cities around the world. Paula will be among them. 

I feel compelled to participate in the march because not marching is unthinkable to me. This is our time and I’m not about to miss it. I must add my body and my voice to the millions of others. We will march together, and we will be heard. The Women’s March is not an end in itself; it’s the beginning of a movement. We will resist any power that pushes us backwards or threatens to advance its agenda at the expense of the poor and vulnerable in our society. 

Women will lead the way. I expect nothing less of us. I learned long ago that when times are desperate and I’m ready to throw in the towel, I can find the strength and support I need from other women. When we march together, you’d best get out of our way.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'll be marching in Asheville NC in honor of the women in my own life (including you, Nancy) who've been a great influence. And in honor of the women who are becoming influencers.

Signed,
One of your former room mates, who wishes she'd stayed in closer touch over the years with such a wise and caring woman.