I am sorry to trouble our dear mother Church with any perplexing questions, but it presses me also, and the Church and myself must decide something. I am so thoroughly convinced that [God] has laid commands upon me in this direction, that it becomes with me really a question of my own soul's salvation. If [God] commands me to just the course I am pursuing, as only they that do [God's] commandments have right to the tree of life, I have no alternative.
- Anna Oliver on seeking ordination as a woman in 1880.
I recently took a United Methodist History course and more than anything, I enjoyed reading the primary documents made available to us. The voices of women silenced not so long ago expressed the struggle they endured- a personal, theological and spiritual struggle where their calls did not jive with the institution of their time. Many, like Anna Oliver, felt they had no alternative even if it was not yet socially acceptable or was against the laws of the church, to preach. When it came down to it, they wondered what options they had but to follow God’s leading if they hoped to be faithful.
I was so enthralled with these stories of our UMC history and of the long line of women whom I owe so much that I eagerly began sharing them on Facebook. After a few posts, a friend of mine commented with interest. “What are you reading?” “All kinds of primary documents,” I told her. “What’s your quote?” she asked. I responded with the specific title of the quote I had posted thinking she was asking about where I found it, but that was not what she meant. “No. What’s YOUR quote?”
Oh. MY quote.
This was just three weeks before my potential ordination would unexpectedly become the topic of conversation at my Annual Conference - six months before my scheduled interview with the Board of Ordained Ministry. The reality of her question settled into my soul but I had no idea how immediately it would beckon an answer.
Reading the words of these women – Fanny Newell, Anna Oliver, Jarena Lee, and others – who stayed faithful to the voice of God in their lives no matter the other noise around them helps me to focus my own life. We all have a path that is ours to walk and as people of faith, we are called to walk our paths with integrity, authenticity, and a commitment to love and justice. This is our life work.
Over the last 12 or so years of my life, the church I grew up in, my Chrysalis community, the Wesley Foundation I worked for, and so many others encouraged me to see that ordination is my path to follow. I came-out to myself in the middle of this ordination process, about five years of hard work into it all, but deciding to stay was still no easy task. I was already wrestling with the church’s partnering relationship to all varieties of “-isms,” and now my own identity was an added complication.
Since, I have struggled honestly and passionately with the church. I have argued with the voice of God in my life. I have tried to convince myself I do not want to and am not called be ordained. And yet, I still return to this place. The United Methodist Church is my church. I was raised in it and I believe in it - in the best of our past and the best of what we can be in the future. And I am called to be a minister within it. And I can’t help that.
Like Fanny, and Anna and Jarena, what option do I have but to follow the voice of God in my life? Who, in good conscience and sound theology, would advise me to do otherwise? It is up to me to follow my call and it is up to the elected bodies of the UMC to follow theirs.
For too many years, however, they have not. The noise of fear, prejudice, and arrogance have distracted us from the Spirit’s guidance. This has resulted in too many LGBTQ voices being kept from their call by being removed from the ordination process. Too many LGBTQ clergy are trying to follow their call but have to do so gagged and bound in the church’s closet. For how many years will the UMC continue to get in the way of God’s work, harming those God calls instead of guiding us? How many years? It has been too many already.
I have a path in front of me and it is up to me to be faithful to it regardless of the obstacles. The UMC has one too. And so do all of its members. Eventually these paths intersect and we all meet face to face with choices. Do we remain faithful to the path of love and justice God has put before us even if it costs us? Or do we listen to the noise around us which drowns out the voice of the Divine?
There is so much listening to be done.
. . .
Mary Ann Kaiser is a recent graduate of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. She has a passion for working in the intersections of church and society. Her love for religious approaches to questions of ethics, particularly in the realms of race, gender, and sexuality, led her to internships at WATER (Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual) in Silver Spring, MD and Texas Freedom Network in Austin, TX. She has also worked for the Wesley Foundation and as a hospital chaplain. She currently serves as Youth Director and Justice Associate at University UMC in Austin and is pursuing ordination as a Deacon in The UMC. In her free time, she blogs for Reconciling Ministries Network.
Click here to read the full account of Mary Ann's story at annual conference.