This week, I’ve been studying the picture from my ordination day, which was 35 years ago on March 11. I look at that young girl in her mid-twenties and try to imagine what she was thinking at that moment. She was married and had just given birth to her first-born. She was anxious about her first call, serving as an associate pastor with the good people of Trinity Lutheran Church in Jamestown, North Dakota. And she never could have imagined all that would transpire in her life, eventually bringing her to Charlotte, North Carolina, living on her own, serving an extraordinary congregation like Holy Trinity.
Along the way, I had a lot to work through as I figured out who I was and what it meant to be a pastor. The fact that I was a woman and had never actually observed how a woman does such a thing didn’t help. But after 35 years, I think I’ve worked it through, for the most part.
One of the difficulties I had as a young woman was adapting to having a secretary. It was her job to type letters for me, to make appointments for me, etc. But, I just couldn't bring myself to ask her. As I understand it, this is frequently a problem for women who are in a position where they have a secretary for the first time. For me, there was another layer to my discomfort. Our church secretary was a lovely woman named Dorothy, who was about the age of my mother. And my mother had worked the better part of her life as a secretary. I often heard her tell me about how exhausted and stressed out she was because of all the demands placed upon her at the office. How could I do this to another woman?
So, everything that my male colleagues asked Dorothy to do for them, I did myself. Mind you, this was back in the days when we typed on stencils with correction fluid, which I globbed on my pages liberally, and we used messy mimeograph machines with the big tubes of ink that always ended up all over my clothes. Despite the fact that Dorothy was much better equipped to do this work than I was, I didn't want to burden her. Instead, after she went home in the afternoon, my day as my own secretary was just beginning as I took a seat behind the Selectric typewriter in her office.
This went on for a few years. Until one week when I typed up a bulletin insert, which listed all the supplies people could save at home and bring to the church for Vacation Bible School. You know, things like: margarine tub lids, oatmeal boxes, cotton balls, and old shirts. Well, it wasn’t until I was in worship on Sunday morning that I noticed my typo. Old Shirts was missing the r. I was hoping nobody else saw it, and when I heard nothing, I was relieved.
Later that afternoon, I had to stop by the church. When I opened the door to Dorothy’s office, I was mortified to see all the extra bulletin inserts blanketing the room: on her desk, on the counters, on the floor. And on every one, Old Shits had been circled with a red pen. I quickly gathered them up, took them to my office, and threw them away. Whoever left them there assumed Dorothy had typed them and the last thing I wanted was for her to be humiliated for something that I had done.
As it turned out, the senior pastor thought the mistake was hysterical, and he was the one who had spread them all over Dorothy’s office. I fessed up. And that is the exact moment I resigned from being my own secretary.
As I look at myself in that ordination picture, and I think about all the changes that would unfold for that young woman in the years to come, the story of the Old Shits comes to mind. And I realize that most of what I have learned since I was ordained, I had to learn the hard way. That’s one thing about me that hasn’t changed.