I feel called to birth a new way of being Church – one where clergy, religious, and lay all work the vineyard of our Lord in true collaboration, each according to their gifts, regardless of gender. I feel this group might be the doula I need.
Let me share with you my story: I am a lay woman who had entered religious life as a young adult but discerned out before making vows. I think God knew I had to become a wife and, most especially, a parent to really know what unconditional love is. I have, in my teensy eensy way, a knowledge now of how much God loves us. I have always felt I missed having a community to pray with and share life with like the way religious communities have. In my mid-life, I was invited to go through our Institute for Leadership in Ministry. It was a 3-year program that gave me a taste of something I didn’t know I was missing but now wanted more. I remember coming in very parish-centric and left there more with a more diocesan sense because the Institute had students from throughout the diocese.
A year later, God led me to the Advanced Lay Leader/(Permanent) Deacon formation program. That was a 4-year program where our academics were through Santa Clara University’s Graduate Program in Pastoral Ministries. The deacon candidates only needed 11 out of the 15 classes to be ordained but many of us lay women and men who won’t be ordained actually go on to finish the program by taking the extra 4 classes we need to get the Master’s degree. I love the community I had formed with the people I went through formation with and with my classmates at SCU. I have created a Student & Alumni Network for the purpose of having a way to keep in touch with everyone.
The end of my formation was a real trying time. I was at my first year when I saw how the Advanced Lay Leaders were treated at the end of the formation program. The men had their ordination and the woman and man who pretty much walked with the men every step along the way got no recognition at all. There wasn’t a way to celebrate their readiness and willingness to serve the Church. I asked about it, told them what I thought but I let things be since I thought I had planted the seed. In my second and third year, there was no lay leader completing formation. In my final year, the men to be ordained and their wives had all the recognition – dinner with the bishop and a whole spread on the diocesan newspaper. When it became clear that nothing would happen unless I say something about the situation, I mustered up the courage to ask for what I would like, and that is, a blessing. I would like to know that the Bishop (as head of the local Church) recognizes me as a servant leader ready to be sent to where I’m needed. I treasure that I don’t have the vow of obedience to the Bishop and can pretty much go wherever the Spirit leads; however, I also feel like a lone ranger without any backing from the Diocese. Slowly I have accepted that I and my fellow Advanced Lay Leaders are like the secret agents of the Diocese. Slowly I am finding community outside of the Diocese. Slowly I have accepted that I’m already a deacon and the Church just doesn’t know it yet. (This story is quite simplified for the purpose of being brief. It leaves out many other details, including the people who supported me and helped my efforts…and continue to support me.)
I prostrated on that Cathedral floor with my brother deacons, I bowed my head to receive the blessings, and took to heart the words “Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.”
A story was told that permanent deacons were restored in our diocese because the Bishop has said “I can’t believe the Holy Spirit has not called men to the diaconate”. And my reply is: “I can’t believe the Holy Spirit has not called women to the diaconate or priesthood”.
The Holy Spirit calls and continues to call — men, women, straight, gay, white, brown, here, there, everywhere! The Holy Spirit calls. God wants all to God-self. I’ve responded to the call and have consecrated myself to a life in service of God.
I want to serve the Church the way priests and deacons do. “The powers that be” looks at their gifts and talents, looks at the needs of the Church, and assigns them ministries. What do women and unordained men get to do? Apply for a job! The lucky ones may get a job tailored to their gifts and talents but for many of us, we have to try and find the best match we can. And when we do get a job, we may end up working at an environment where you’re expected to stay only in your lane. The structure of parish leadership needs updating. I long for a parish that has a team approach in doing its mission of making disciples. And the team shouldn’t be limited to the paid staff.
Since I am not able to effect change in parish structure, I am birthing what I have agency over. And that is, creating a community for lay leaders like me. Or perhaps I dream of creating church or being involved in one that operates in the model of true collaboration.
I believe the Holy Spirit continues to call and that people continue to respond to the call. Yet they are not joining the traditional paths of priesthood and religious life. However, I believe there is still a need to be in community. I am struck that whenever Jesus went to pray and felt the call for the next thing he must do, he never said to his disciples, “see you later, I must go…” He always said, “let us go…”
I want to live my life of discipleship in community. I want to collaborate with people in the mission of God — making disciples, working for justice, bring to fulfillment God’s reign. Who is it that I’m called to be in community with? What exactly does that mean to be in community with? Might there be other people who feel the same way I do? The ideal is usually a “pie in a sky” dream but where and what are the steps that gets me/us closer to that dream?