If you are of a certain age, you might remember “Church Chat” on Saturday Night Live. Dana Carvey’s character, the Church Lady, manifested all of the stereotypes of old, religious women. She thought very highly of herself and quite poorly of everyone else.
I can imagine being interviewed by the Church Lady: “So, you married two women . . . to each other. Well . . . isn’t that special. I see you’ve never read the Holy Bible, but somehow you are a pastor. I wonder what could have prompted you to go into ministry. Could it be . . . SATAN?”
It’s a fun stereotype to play with, but the church ladies in my world are nothing like the purple-suited talk-show host of SNL fame. In fact, these older (than me) Christian women have helped to carry me through my credential review and the negativity that followed that review; they have laid a foundation of support on which I rest as I prepare for our upcoming district conference.
There was the woman who stood behind me in the communion line at our national convention last summer. “You’re Joanna?” She said. And the minute I replied “yes” I was enveloped in powerful, life-giving hug.
There was the woman, a spiritual director I had met with once on retreat, who sat next to me during the delegate session of last year’s district conference. Her prayers held me as delegates stood up to say what they thought about the Leadership Commission’s decision to let me keep my pastoral credentials.
There are the women who have pulled me aside at various gatherings to thank me. To tell me about their son, nephew, daughter, grandson who is gay. Women with tears in their eyes. Women who love the church, but not how the church is treating some people.
And there are the women who write letters. God bless the women who write letters!
Now, don’t get me wrong. I appreciate Facebook and email notes of support. Still, there is something about a letter. Written on paper. Sent through the United States Postal Service. From hand to hand. I cherish the words from these women who want me to know that they support me, that they are praying for me. (I think there is basically an entire Mennonite retirement community praying for me these days. I can feel the prayer energy–it’s powerful stuff.)
We have a tendency to think that young people want a fully inclusive church while the older generations work to maintain the status quo. And this is simply not true. Many older people have been working and waiting for decades to see a church that embraces gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people. They’re still working. And they’re still waiting. Along with their children and their grandchildren.
Like the Catholic nuns, these Mennonite church ladies are a force to be reckoned with. I’m glad so many of them are praying for me. And, if I know Mennonite church ladies, they’re praying for you, too.