Men in Black: On being a Woman among Clergy Men

“This is how we honor clergy in my church,” she said as she bent over to kiss my hand. In front of me, an 86 year old woman, in a bright blue suit top-heavy with a gold brooch in the shape of a lion, returned upright. She kissed my naked hand. I wore no ring for her to kiss. Crooked finger inviting me, now I bent down as she whispered in my ear, “I’m glad you are here, Rev. Laura. We need more women. And they’ll never ordain a woman.”

I was not trying to be provocative. I was simply visiting her church to bring greetings from the wider Body of Christ for the parish’s anniversary. But, the very physical presence of some of us prompts a self-consciousness about who each tradition ordains. For some mainline Protestants, clergy without Master of Divinity degrees are confusing. For some Orthodox and Roman Catholics, clergy women are tricky. For some Christians, queer clergy are problematic.

As a clergy woman whose ministry takes me into churches who may officially consider my ordination illicit and/or invalid, most of my exchanges with clergy men are very professional and respectful. In my experience, it is often the churches that wouldn’t ordain me where I am treated with the most reverence, given the high respect they assign to their “reverend clergy.” When I visited this parish, I was seated with the clergy men and introduced as “Rev. Laura” every time.

Yet, again and again in the ladies’ restroom and behind cupped hands, I hear some of the chaffing between the official policy and personal desires. It doesn’t feel like those whispers have any place to go in our ecumenical dialogues.  I don’t know what to do with these whispers, other than to give thanks yet again for the privilege of hearing them. Like so many of us, I commit to standing in-between.

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