During the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Scott, Michelle, and I found space to connect and plan the upcoming Soul Matters worship year. We envisioned a mini-series ranging from Imagination, Beloved Community, and Commitment. We envisioned congregations employing their prophetic imaginations in January. Having that foundation, we believed congregations would be moved to continue or begin Beloved Community-making during Black History Month. With these new commitments, we find ourselves in March. Women’s History Month. But why commitment for March?
As a woman in America, I am all too familiar with the ways that patriarchy are deeply entrenched in each and every one of our systems. Each day, each moment, I must show up for justice. I am compelled to by my calling to do so. But showing up for myself, for others, and in my calling takes commitment. Unwavering. Unfailing. Unafraid. And begin commitment, being a commitment, is… you got it, a verb. It makes our principles, that which is important to us, active. And sometimes, it calls us to places of even deeper marginalization because we cannot be on the side of injustice, in any form.
It is amazing to me how invisibilized the International Women’s Day is for men. Literally, invisible. It is as if it does not matter, it’s just another day. Well, I am a commitment to showing up for my sisters who cannot speak for themselves, even if they are in ministry; particularly and especially if they are in ministry. And last year, for the International Women’s Day, I found myself exhausted by the commitment to show up for justice and equity. What I found by scanning the internet, looking at the planned worship in the congregations of my colleagues’ churches, was astounding. In less than 12% of my colleagues’ churches were they either planning to recognize the International Women’s Day or have a woman’s voice that morning.
One colleague in particular had been struggling with feeling valued on an all-male ministry team. She was serving a large UUA congregation in a metropolitan area and had been excluded from most of the important congregations related to pastoral care. Consistently, she would say she was an afterthought. But, she had a commitment to show up for the people, and did. In the face of feeling less than, marginalized, forgotten. It was her strength, her grit, her determination for justice and liberation, that compelled her to stay.
The congregation was surprised that the Senior decided to step down from his position. The congregational leadership begin to be in conversation with her about opportunities to serve, take on more responsibilities in the interim, and become a more regular part of the staff. Finally! She was beginning to be seen for her gifts, her skills, her passion, and her calling. This seemed very promising.
As the planning for the International Women’s Day continued, she was not asked to preach, she was not asked to show up with any of her gifts. In fact, she was simply just asked to be there and read announcements and prayers. Not one of the people on the pastoral staff or congregational staff thought it was appropriate to have a women centered worship service (the congregation has an all women’s chorus), or women performers, or much less a woman’s voice preaching. She was devastated. Yet again, her colleagues in ministry had forgotten about her and the leadership of other women.
I inquired about the Sunday service. I reached out to the pastor on staff who is tasked with social justice. Flabbergasted, he attempted to walk away from responsibility and ensured me that they were focusing on women’s voices. He was planning to preach a sermon honoring women. Also, he informed me, a Black woman was coming to speak in two Sundays and she was very well respected. A long list of excuses. The female pastor at the church was still not invited to preach. He responded to my email early in the week, let’s say the Monday before the Sunday service.
Well, on that Sunday morning, the morning of the International Womens Day, the pastor of social justice seemed to have taken the conversation seriously. He invited everyone to wear white in honor of the day. Instead of preaching, he invited small children to talk about what they learned in school about women like Harriet Tubman. The service was appropriately beautiful. And still, the woman pastor was not invited to show up in any substantive way. In fact, she was embarrassed and humiliated. The pastor of social justice had not informed her, as he had with everyone else, that they were wearing white. When she arrived, in all Black, with her pastoral collar on, it was evident to everyone watching that she was different. Can you imagine the hurt and humiliation of optically being othered? Invisibilized? Forgotten?
For many women, this blanket invisibilizing is far too common place. We have pulled on the sisterhood of those who have come before us and those mentors in the field who can encourage us when the world around us fails to see us. Out of this place of being othered, we find resilience and healing-in community. And in this place, we refine our commitments to justice and liberation. We persist. We persist not just because we have too. We persist out of our commitments to each other, our commitments to equity, our commitments to family, to justice, to liberation… our commitments to healing. We persist because we must survive. And that commitment to survival is what keeps us alive.