At 63 I feel the same tremors I felt on the first day of school: I wondered what my new teacher would be like and which of my friends would be in my class. Would I be able to do all the new schoolwork?
Part of the curriculum for this 64th year is telling my story for my kids and their kids. I’ve begun to do that at jill rommel.com, “Chocolate Chip Cookies for Tea.” Each post springs from a picture that grabs a vivid memory. The memory burdens me. Writing helps, but as I begin I feel overwhelmed. I’m sure I’ll never unscramble the chaos of ideas into a clear story. Putting the right words onto paper feels like lifting heavy rocks and throwing them at a wall, hoping they’ll stay there. Once I labor through writing, editing, rewriting, asking my husband to read it, rechecking phrases, discarding unnecessary details, and reading it out loud, I publish the story on my blog. I feel released from the burden. Satisfied. I’m done. Nervous. Would anyone read it? Then a few days later, a friend says, “I liked your story.” Joy. I connected with someone. The next day, I worry. I’ll never be able to write another story as satisfying as that last one.
Then, again, out of nowhere comes that sharp longing; a new idea consumes my heart. It happened a few Sunday afternoons ago. I was watching a Facebook video of the 75th Anniversary Celebration of Wooddale Church, a place I had belonged for forty years. The program was emceed by an elegant looking woman in a black blazer with white rose boutonniere. I hadn’t known her when we went there. She was the chairman of the Elder board.
“A woman on the elder board, and chairman at that!” I marveled silently. When I attended , the elder board was made up of men. Women served on other boards and committees, but not the Elder Board.
I could see her in my mind for days after that, standing, poised, at the podium.
Many still argue about what a Christian woman is allowed to do at church. As a girl, I had heard quoted, ““Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”—Samuel Johnson, 1763
I was fourteen when I went forward in an evening service to dedicate my life to “full time Christian service.” In 1969, that was limited to: being a Sunday School teacher (as long as they were girls, or boys under the age of 21), singing in the choir, being a missionary, or composing hymn lyrics.
Wheaton professors challenged me to put more thought into my expectations as a woman for serving. My major was Christian Education. I learned how to lead Bible studies, facilitate small group ministry and principles of spiritual formation. We were women and men in classes learning all the same stuff.
From ivory college towers I entered back into real church world where the thinking was still “men do this,” and “women do that.” It didn’t really bother me, because I loved working with kids. I got busy writing and leading an evangelistic mom’s program. Facilitated small group Bible studies with women. I didn’t agree with some hazy positions on women, but rationalized, “There’s plenty I can do without making waves.”
I believed that what the Bible illustrates, and what’s healthiest for ministry, is men and women serving the Body of Christ together, gifted by the Holy Spirit. The spiritual gifts are not designated on the basis of gender. But I kept my beliefs to myself.
Then last week I read Bible teacher Beth Moore’s May 2018 “A Letter To My Brothers.” (blog.lproof.org.) She spoke out on misogyny, “dislike, contempt or prejudice against women,” she experienced in the church. It happens. I’ve experienced it. I’ve witnessed men’s eyes become vacant when I speak, because “I’m only a woman, and the Bible says women should be silent.” Misogyny in the church has two roots: one placed in an interpretation or misinterpretation of what Scripture says about women. The other is simple jerkiness, which afflicts even Christians: men and women.
The quiet presence of Shelly White, chair of Wooddale’s Elder board, contrasted with Beth Moore’s feisty letter, yet both forced me to revisit my own reticence on the subject of women and what they can do in the church. There’s an added urgency: I’m 63. Time is running out. My two granddaughters are growing up. I didn’t want to create unnecessary fuss but maybe I should have. God might want Addi as part of a team of men and women serving on an Elder board.
He might give Sophie the gift to ‘preach the Word.’
God’s plan has always been men and women serving together in the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s presented to fathers and mothers in Deuteronomy 6:7: “Repeat my commands again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.” I learned what I believe about the spiritual work of men and women at home.
Dad had four daughters. We were never second class to him because we were girls. He was fully engaged in our lives. He took us to church, on vacations, offered us spending money on Saturdays when we walked to Woolworths, made us lunch on those days, took us to music concerts, and would call to us, “Girls, come and listen to this!” when he heard an exceptionally beautiful piece of music on the stereo. I’ll never forget how his smiling face would quietly peek around the corner of our bedroom door when we were little, to check on us.
He expected us to be aware of the current events of the day. We discussed politics each evening at dinner. Questions were modified by age. Wendy, the oldest, was asked something more complicated, while Pam, the youngest, was asked, “Who’s the President of the United States?”
Dad would exclaim, “Think, girls, think!” if he felt we were missing the mark on a topic. He had worthwhile hobbies, like tennis and classical music, and encouraged us to have them, too. Mine was choir, which he supported by driving me to early morning rehearsals before school on his way to work.
Dad believed in me. That provided me with security and acceptance of myself as a person. He had a quick wit and delightful sense of humor. But he never stooped to teasing, which I often unfortunately witness unwise parents do with their girls (and boys.) Instead, he often told us he loved us.
“If you think something nice, say it,” he would say. He told us we were terrific. Girls that have a father like that generally don’t allow themselves to be around men who belittle them and don’t take them seriously. At school, work or in the church.
If Dad taught confidence, Mother’s life exemplified a woman using her Holy Spirit gifting. Her family was her top priority. But she also shepherded other women teaching them the Bible. Mother taught young adults at church, in addition, and that meant teaching men along with women, not the norm in that era.
“Mother doesn’t sound like other women’s Bible teachers I’ve heard,” I quickly noticed when I first heard her teach. I was in college, and had listened to other women speak in chapel. “Her voice isn’t breathy, and she doesn’t quote poetry.” Mother sounded the way she did at home, as natural as when she asked us to set the table for dinner.
Dad and Mother were my first and best experience of seeing how men and women serve God together. They were on the same team, loving each other and their kids. God uses men and women working together, gifted by the Holy Spirit, to build up the Body of Christ. I haven’t heard of a catchy slogan for this ministry concept. But I’ve seen it happen in small groups, children’s programs, Bible studies, in homeless shelters, Sunday School classes, and worship teams. The list goes on.
Addi and Sophie, when the Holy Spirit gives you a gift for service, whatever it is, use it for the Body of Christ, alongside Henry and Ethan. I hope you remember me doing that, too.
“…your sons and your daughters shall prophecy…” Joel 2:28