In the spring of 1994 I was deep into the process of discerning a return to school, graduate school. My research had led me to know what kind of degree I wanted, now all I had to do was figure out where to get the dual degree. One seminary in my area offered this dual degree in conjunction with a Jesuit University, but it was not the seminary of my denomination. Thankfully all the local seminaries had an agreement: students could enroll in one but take classes at other seminaries. My tentative plan was to enroll in the one offering the dual degree but take as many classes as possible at the seminary across the street, the Episcopal seminary.
Sometime in March or April I received an invitation from the Episcopal Seminary to attend a “Discerning Your Vocation” weekend. I signed up immediately. The weekend included a Friday afternoon tour, attend classes, and worship. Saturday offered a variety of small group discussions on the various kinds of ministry: lay, ordained, priest, deacon, etc. There was also a variety of tables with materials and questions and answer sessions for lay and ordained ministries.
I remember two things about this weekend. The first thing is the worship. The chapel at the seminary had pews that faced one another across a center aisle. At one end was the altar, high up on limestone steps. The other end, the entrance had a baptismal font, organ, and piano. We sat in between. It was gothic, dark, chilly, and awesome. I felt as if I could sense all the prayers that had been prayed in that space over the years. And now my prayers were being added. I knew no one. I was there on my own, alone. The preacher at our evening Eucharist was a woman. This was the very first time I had experienced a woman priest preaching and probably presiding over the Eucharist, although I don’t remember that for certain. I don’t remember what she said, what the scripture was, nor any points she made in her sermon. What I remember was her presence. I was thunderstruck. Wow, I thought. I could never be like that, but if I could…wow!
Later on I discussed this experience with my therapist. I told her how this woman priest had blown me away – her confidence….her assuredness…her down to earthiness…her strength….all conveyed in her poise, her long wild hair, her birkentocks, her voice, and the fact that she preached with out notes. She preached by pacing the chancel step unpacking the scripture for us. I think I was most taken by her keen intellect. Up to that point in time I had never met a woman who came across so intelligent. Oh, I though, I could never be like that…BUT if I could. If I could have that kind of strength and confidence and poise, and intellect. (True, I was forgetting about the woman minister who married me and D, but then, I had never seen her in worship, only presiding at our wedding and then my mind was elsewhere).
This was the first image I had of what it might be like to be ordained, and this time I was scared, but also captivated by something beyond myself, like gravity pulling me in a direction over which I had no control.
A year later, when I lived at the seminary, my daughter became friends with the daughter of this woman priest. And over the years I have come to know her a little. She and I now participate in a Feminist Theology blog and email occasionally….but I am getting ahead of myself.
So, now I had an image of a woman as priest…and I was awestruck by the possibility. But the next day, Saturday, would prove to be even more incredible.