Tuesday, April 1, 2008


I got a book in the mail the other day -- a book that had come into the A.V. Club offices for review. It wasn't a book I had asked for, and examining it, I couldn't imagine that it would be suitable to write about on the site.

But I started reading it, because the book I had been working on had bogged down, and the subject matter was certainly right up my alley. It's called A Church of Her Own: What Happens When a Woman Takes the Pulpit.

Almost against my will, I got caught up in the stories of women's struggles to be ministers. The author, who had gone through the process of becoming an Episcopal priest herself, both comments on various aspects of ministerial training and experience and integrates interviews she's done with other women. While the tone is somewhat earnest and psychoanalytic, I was moved by the many ways its subjects dealt with the entrenched traditions of their churches, and tried to be honest with themselves and others about their call.

As Noel noted when I discussed it with him the other day, that language of "call" is part of the problem. Talking that way is sure to limit the book's audience to those who take for granted that God taps certain particular folks to do the divine work on earth. But as someone who's always struggled to understand my own undeniable sense of being called, I responded to Sarah Sentilles' description of vocation as the point where one's greatest desire meets the world's greatest need. It doesn't have to be a personal God donating a particular mission to specially chosen individuals -- that sense of knowing what needs to be done in terms of what I need to do is the sense of vocation.

I've never gotten rid of my young adult fascination with that notion of calling. Even though I wrote my dissertation about it, I still spend a lot of time thinking about that experience and how it continues to shape me. Reading about how these women felt about ministry resonated with me, even though I know that the clergy is not the place I need to be. Yet the way they feel about the pulpit and the altar, I feel about the classroom and the college.

I'm probably also fascinated because female ministers were not even conceived of in the churches of my upbringing. Our own church is about to get a woman priest, and reading about the struggles of women to become ministers and perform ministry, I have a new perspective on what she is facing.

There's no way to deny that I've succumbed to this book, so much so that I'm probably going to write about it despite its apparent unsuitability for the A.V. Club demographic. Call it a mission.


Eric Grubbs said...

I think my mom, a PhD in Religious Studies and an ordained minister, would like to read this. Thanks for sharing.

the secret knitter said...

Thanks for pointing out this book. I'll have to mention it to my mom. I can't remember how much you and I have talked about her experiences as a woman in ministry (or the scandal that rocked the church of my youth when a female pastor was brought in). Suffice it to say that this is one area where people can still be stubborn and actively prejudiced and still get away with it.