Seeking a Mothering God and Changing Our Church Leadership to Reflect Her Image
On June 29, the Right Reverend Megan Traquair was consecrated as the eighth bishop of Northern California, the diocese immediately to our north.
As Bishop Megan lay prostrate before Presiding Bishop Michael, I was struck by the form that was before all of us.
The Rev. Liz Tichenor put it best in the moment, “She has hips!” And she did indeed have hips and shoulder-length hair that fell around her face and pointy high heeled shoes. She was so clearly and undeniably a woman, blessed with the form that God had created her in. A form that allowed her and allows many to bear children and to nurture them as God nurtures all Her followers, feeding them with goodness and mercy and discipline just as a mother would her children. There, Mother Megan lay, called to serve among us by our Mother, the Creator, in heaven.
As the Veni Sancte Spiritus was sung and the red-cloaked bishops gathered around Bishop Megan to lift her up in the Prayer of Consecration, I was again, struck by her difference from nearly all those who stood around her. Among her was a crowd of older male bishops with three female bishops sprinkled about them. I toyed with the image we were being shown. Surely, it was one of great community and love, but it was also one that perfectly illustrated the ceiling left all too concrete within our church.
From our dioceses to our legislatures, we still struggle to choose women for leadership. And even when we do, we fail to support them in their ministry. When we look at the people given places heading up a diocese or serving at the altar table, we see a stunning lack of diversity.
Since the first election of a female diocesan bishop in 1993 (yep, just 25 short years ago), 37 women have been elected as bishops (diocesan, suffragan, assistant or assisting) in the Episcopal Church. For reference, by my count, there have been three times as many men named William elected as bishops in the United States as there have been female bishops, in total.
And I can’t help but wonder what we lose when we fail to entrust women with leadership. I also wonder what (and who) we lose when we choose to pay our female clergy less than their male peers. I wonder what we lose when we settle for the nearly sole use of male pronouns and imagery in our liturgy and prayer.
Personally, it has been hard to conceive of a God the Mother, She who created all things, when all that I have heard for the entirety of my life has been God the Father, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. I imagine it might be tough for others as well. I know the patriarchal norms that our liturgy is founded in drive many away from faith. We are not
inclusive when we only use male pronouns and masculine imagery. This action hinders us from fulfilling our promise of “all are welcome here.” God says that “All souls are mine,” thus all souls, all people, must be able to identify with the God who claims them, loves them, leads them, and shows merciful forgiveness unto them. All people must also be able to see God in others, regardless of gender.
I often question why it often feels natural to address a male priest as “father” but slightly clunky to address a female priest as “mother.” I do not think it is coincidental that “Father”s fill our scripture, prayer, and preaching. As a commenter on this piece said, we are apt to associate man with God. I know I was. As a child, my imaginations of God looked an awful lot like my male rector. My rector was not God and men are not God, and yet our conventions and choices of imagery perpetuate a not-so-subtle narrative that perhaps man is closer to God than other genders. I wholly suspect that the choice to accept a male God keeps our church from being as inclusive as we might want to be.
I truly do believe that we are unable to expand the reach of our gospel of truth and love and reconciliation when we are hesitant to change the conventions we proclaim it with.
As the Rev. Dr. Ruth Meyers said in a July 2018 interview with The Washington Post, “When we use solely masculine imagery for God, we make it difficult for women to really, truly understand themselves as created in the image and likeness of God, which is what the Bible says in Genesis.” Spirituality and faith become infinitely more familiar when we as individuals and as a collective entity can identify with the God we follow.
Perhaps it might become easier to elect bishops that reflect the true diversity of all God’s children if, through the language we use, we do not alienate members of our community on the basis of a gendered God. Perhaps more women would feel comfortable and safe fulfilling their calling to the priesthood if we opened up our language to be more inclusive. Those who are called to be priests and other ministers of God’s holy work are called to do so by a being whose grace, love, power, and forgiveness know no confines of a worldly gender.
In order to fully entrust women and others with leadership we must stop associating leadership with the traits assigned to God in the masculine imagery used in The Book of Common Prayer and other holy texts. We must broaden the concept of what it means to lead, we must lean into God the merciful, God the nurturing, God the mothering.
Furthermore, we must look inwardly at our own tendencies. Certainly, the Episcopal Church prides itself on its liberalism, but there is hypocrisy to be found in the way we loudly proclaim our beliefs of justice and equality while largely upholding a masculine image and description of God. Just as we outwardly call for fundamental human rights for all people, we must look inwardly and seek out justice within our language and leadership.
Ultimately, in the consecration of Bishop Megan, I find great cause for celebration and joy. This is good news. But it is also a reminder that there is much work still left to be done.
I imagine a reality in which a woman like Bishop Megan is being consecrated and she is surrounded by a group of fellow women bishops, laying their hands upon her in the motherly strength and grace and love of our God. Fully within Her image they stand together and proclaim Her gospel widely, for all to hear. And with this image laying heavy on my mind, heart, and soul, I am called to action. I hope you are too.
— Lily Conable
High School Immersion Trip
I am a member of the Godsquad and so are you. If you cringed at the name, you would not be the first. The Godsquad has been around for many years and is primarily comprised of youth from several local Episcopal churches from Danville to Walnut Creek to Alameda. In past years the Godsquad has gone from a rural Omak, Washington, to rebuild fences on a family farm, all the way back to Santa Rosa to help with ongoing fire relief.
This summer, 30 youths and several adults are heading out to Dulac Parish, Louisiana including five youths and two adults from All Souls. Dulac Parish is home to a large Native American community located on the floodplains. Their houses have been built on stilts up to 15 feet off the ground, however, this has not stopped water from rising above that—damaging their homes. This is caused many residents to flee to towns on higher ground. However, some residents of Dulac do not want to leave or cannot afford to. Many people have lived in Dulac for generations and cannot imagine leaving their homes. For others, the plummeting value of their homes means moving is financially impossible. We are going to Dulac to help with continuous flood relief, helping residents remove water-damaged areas of homes and rebuild.
Just as in years previous, the Godsquad is not going alone. The only reason we are able to do this outreach is with the financial and spiritual support of our community. This Sunday we are collecting from the offering plate as well as have set up a go fund me here where you can donate to the cost of the trip. I believe that this year’s immersion trip will be incredibly rewarding with hard work in the Louisiana summer and youth striving to embody the spirit of All Souls.
— Tess McGinley
All Souls T-shirts
Get ’em while they’re hot!
This news just in: the shop to purchase All Souls t-shirts is now open for orders again! Every couple of years we run a new set of t-shirts, and this year all proceeds, after the cost of the shirt, will go to support the High School Immersion Trip.
The process is wonderfully simple: order the t-shirts online here, pay online, and they will be mailed to your house! They’re printed by a fantastic local unionized shop. The online All Souls store will be open until August 15, after which point they will print the shirts and mail them to you.
There are the three designs available this time, each available in both women’s and unisex t-shirts. They are:
Mealtime Prayer Practices
Welcome to summer! This summer at All Souls will have a decidedly different feel for our children. We are having all our Sunday School classes outside on the playground where the kids will have space to play and the adults can have a chance to chat as well.
Each Sunday will also focus on a theme: a family practice, including take-home resources with some ideas and suggestions for ways your family might make a change or two to our normal schedule. We’ll be sharing them here as well, so that as you travel and adventure this summer, you can also gather some more tools and ways to come together as a family in faith.
For our first summer Sunday School this past week, we started with a basic building block for Family Christian Practice: mealtime prayers. As Jesus showed by example, praying with his disciples before the Last Supper; we are given a model to follow.
How might this look in your family? That all depends on what works best with your family members and your schedule. Often, dinner is a time for the family to sit down together for a meal. Maybe breakfast works better or even just setting aside once or twice a week. Whatever works for your family, is the best plan for you.
Depending on the age of your family members, prayer can be led, recited together, or even sung. If there are family members that don’t wish to pray, sometimes just sharing a moment of thanks is the best way to include everyone at your table, no matter what their faith tradition. Everyone has something to be thankful for!
A fun project for the whole family is to create a “Grace cube.” These can be made from wood, paper, or other materials if they will keep their shape when rolled on a table. The goal with the “Grace cube” is to have a way for different family members to participate in mealtime grace by either “rolling” the cube to pick the grace to be used for dinner or reading it for the entire family. Each cube can have multiple sides (image a dice) with a prayer written on each side. Or perhaps a picture could work to remind your family of the prayer or even colors. Make the project work for your family! You can find templates for the grace cube here.
Resources for Kids:
Children might enjoy reading a story about meals and mealtime prayer. A few suggestions:
- “Before We Eat: from farm to table” by Pat Brisson.
- “Stone Soup” by Marcia Brown
Resources for Adults:
- “Graces” by June Cotner
- “Table Graces” printed by the Forward Movement (found on their website)
- A funny take on when to say grace: “Pre-meal Prayer: the official rules” on Youtube.
Stand up for immigrants: it’s the American thing to do.
This Saturday, July 13, from noon to 2pm at Civic Center Park, Berkeley City Councilmember Rashi Kesarwani will be hosting a rally in support of migrant children and families held in cruel, inhumane conditions in the border detention centers. The rally will demand that all detainees be released, the facilities shut down, and families reunited.
If you’d like to volunteer, write to Councilmember Kesarwani at: rkesarwani@cityofberkeley.
Save the Date
Parish Retreat 2019
Mark your calendars for our annual Parish Retreat! We’ll be heading to the wonderful Bishop’s Ranch in Healdsburg September 13-15. (Note that this is on the early side — it’s still the 3rd Sunday of the month, but the earliest that can be!) It’s a fabulous time of fun, connection, good food, time to listen and reflect, and all kinds of intergenerational fellowship. More info coming later this summer, but please set aside the time!
BIG SUR CAMPING TRIP
Last chance to sign-up!
There’s still time to sign up for the annual parish camping trip to Big Sur, July 19-21! This is always an amazing weekend of relaxing beside the river with favorite people, of skipping stones in the water, conversations with new friends, soaking in natural beauty, getting dusty and getting clean, eating great food, counting stars, singing and praying around the fire… in short, making church away from church and building the beloved community. Please join us — sign up here!
SUMMER BOOK GROUP
Our Summer Book Group continues next Sunday, July 14! Please join us at 10:10 am to start our discussion of Searching for Sunday, by Rachel Held Evans.
Sunday, July 14: Part IV (Communion);
Sunday, July 21: Parts V and VI (Confirmation and Anointing of the Sick);
Sunday, July 28: Part VII (Marriage) and Epilogue.
You are welcome to join for any or all sessions.