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A coffee shop encounter
by Estee in

Yesterday I was having lunch with a friend at my favorite coffee shop in Arlington. My friend works at another United Methodist church where she is responsible for connecting with guests of the church -- a responsibility that I share at First Arlington. Most of our conversation at lunch centered around the topic of evangelism and how our churches go about spreading the good news.

Towards the end of our meal, during a break in our conversation, a woman sitting at a table near us said "excuse me. I don't mean to butt in but I've heard you talking and was wondering what churches you work at. I'm new in town and am not familiar with churches in this area."

A lightbulb went off in my brain. Here I am, having a conversation about evangelism and an opportunity to move from talking to action falls into my lap. So, I get up, walk over to the woman's table and give her my card that says "Rev. Estee Valendy, Associate Pastor, FUMC." I tell her that I'm a minister at the big Methodist church around the corner. I also tell her that there are lots of Methodist churches in town, some big and some small, and we would love for her to come and worship at our church or at another church in the area. That was the extent of my evangelism -- just a simple and non-threatening invitation. Or at least I thought so.

The woman took one look at my card and said, with disdain in her voice "so, they allow women ministers at your church?" This immediately soured the conversation for me. I'm never interested in defending my role as a woman clergyperson. I just don't have the patience right now -- maybe someday I will. So instead I just said "yes I'm a woman pastor," smiled, and backed away and sat down. I wasn't rude and tried to be as nice as I could. I just really didn't care to continue talking to her.

As I sat down, a man sitting near us struck up a conversation with my friend and I. He was also a minister who heard our conversation. We spoke with him for a minute and exchanged business cards.

Then, the woman I'd tried to talk to got up to leave. As she walks out the door, she turns and says over her shoulder to us "it is such a shame that the church has become a business." Then she stalks out.

Maybe it was the business cards she watched us exchange. Maybe it was our overheard conversation about helping guests get connected with our church. Maybe she was just mean! I don't know what the problem was, but the encounter left me feeling angry and frustrated.

In my role as a minister, I see my job as equiping people to talk about their faith, to offer simple invitations to their friends to come to church, to speak authentically about the difference the church makes in their life. And yet, when I myself try to do this, negativity so charges the experience that I just want to give up. It makes me remember that to be a true voice of good news is never easy and I should not couch it as something that can be easily done. It can be painful and hurtful - and that's why evangelism is a calling and a challenge!

10 comments:

Jason Valendy said...

We also ordain people of different heights and skin colors. I heard Jesus hung out with drunks and the socially questionable!

I and others tell you as often as we can how important your ministry is to us and the world. You embody the presence of God in so many ways that I have lost count. Your ability to relate to all social environments, speak wisdom into a situation, console the heavy burdened, vivify those whose lives have atrophied and your initiative taking ability makes you one of the best gifts to the Church. I am just luck that you would allow me into your life.

So in the inspiration of Jesus: "forgive her for she knows not what she does."

Anonymous said...

Jesus may have "hung out" with a bunch of "drunks"
and "socially questionable;" however, Jesus did not ordain these miscreants into the ministry as such.

Jason,

Are you equating women with "drunks" and "socially questionable" people? Interesting...

terry said...

Jason,

That is a bold statement that the anonymous asked.

How as Methodists do we hate the sin and love the sinner, for lack of a better term?

Estee - unfortunately I think you are going to continue to come across that attitude more and more. I find it hard to believe someone would act that way toward you, who has always been warm and loving from what I have seen.

Thanks
Terry Davis

Sarah Boyette said...

I'm sorry Estee. Although I can't be completely empathetic (I'm not a clergy person); I had some problems just today trying to evangelize at our church. It was my job to man the visitor booth before late service. Every time I do that I am proactive about approaching people and always piss people off who inform me they are actually members and not visitors. Some people just are grouchy no matter what you do. I'm sure you were absolutely pleasant and it's that woman's loss.

Anonymous said...

This is not a question about "can" a woman be a minister, but rather, "should" a woman be a minister. This also has nothing to do with how nice/good/warm/loving/kind/etc a person is. The fact is, women have never been "priests." Not in early Judaism or within orthodox Christianity.

Estee, I am sorry that you felt that you were treated poorly by the woman in the coffee shop. I am also sorry that your faith tradition has led you to believe that you are validly ordained.

If you felt that you were erroneously rebuked by the woman, then why did you not stand up for yourself? Could it be that deep down, you know that she is right?

I am writing this with genuine Christian charity and love. Please understand that there are those of us who adhere to orthodoxy in the face of modern theologies that are highly influenced and often led by secular fads.

When pressed about the issue of ordaining women priests, Pope John Paul II simply stated, "...the Church does not have the authority to ordain woman as priests..." His simple answer gets to the heart of the issue. Ask yourself by what authority were you ordained as a minister. Was it biblical? Was it traditional? Was it societal?

Jo said...

Anonymous,
The United Methodist Church does not ordain priests. We ordain ministers and the scriptures are full of women who ministered. Jesus and Paul were both surrounded with women who, under the guidance and leadership of the teachings of Christ and the Holy Spirit, ministered in various ways. That is why we teach the children and adults in the UMC, male and female, that we are all ministers. Some are called by God to become ordained and minister as a full time profession. Some are called by God to minister while holding other jobs. I'm not sure I find anywhere in the scripture that Jesus repremands a female for doing God's work.

Hang in Estee, some days are tougher than others!

TexMethod_101 said...

Jo,

The English term "priest" is simply a contraction of the Greek word 'presbuteros' which we usually translate as presbyter or elder. Please remember that the United Methodist Church has the office of presbyter as well as the office of bishop. Unfortunately, the UMC has strayed from Scripture on the matter. It saddens me that our Church has failed in this matter and led women to believe that they are validly ordained when they are not. The Scriptural prohibition against women presbyters and bishops trumps any "vote" at the general conference. Anon (and John Paul II) are correct.

Kind Regards,
TexMethod

Jo said...

TexMethod,
The scriptural "priest" had specific responsibilities for the temple, the Holy of Holies and the sacrifices that, with the coming of Christ, are no longer required. The priestly role is now different.

I'm interested in your use of the term presbyter. The only reference I've found to that term in UM governance is historical, refering to Coke and Asbury. Is that a term used in the current Discipline? The three terms I found were:
1. Deacons—ordained ministers appointed to focus on servanthood. A deacon models the relationship between worship in the community of faith and service to God in the world. Deacons serve in a variety of ministry settings, both in the church and in the world.
2. Elders—ordained ministers appointed to lead congregations oc Christians in the celebration of the sacraments and to guide and care for the life of the community. Some elders may also serve in extension ministries beyond the local church.
3. Local pastors—licensed ministers appointed to perform the duties of a pastor in a specific church or charge.
None of these definitions really draw a correlation to the scriptural "priest".

The change in the priestly role did not come about by a any "vote". That came about by God's gift of the Savior, Jesus Christ. Once Christ came, and we were given the Holy Spirit, we no longer needed the priest to intercede for us.

The General Conference of the United Methodist Church does not just "vote". They prayerfully listen for the Holy Spirit to speak to them and lead them to guide the church and its members to do God's work. In that, they are no different than John Paul II. As a member of the United Methodist Church, I trust that my leadership and lay members considered Scripture, Tradition, Experience, and Reason in making the decision to ordain women into full time ministry. As a member of the Church, I am grateful for women like Estee who give their lives to full time Christian service.

TexMethod_101 said...

Presbyter is an archaic synonym for Elder. (e.g. The Presbyterian Church is so named because their polity is based upon a plurality of local ELDERS)

My point is that Paul makes it clear that the office of Elder is limited to males. Period. There's no way to spin it or create an "alternate reading" on what Paul wrote. One either cheerfully submits to Scripture or they rebel against it.

I too am a member of the UMC and I think that our General Conferences make mistakes all the time. Are you suggesting that they're infallible? How exactly do you resolve the ordination of women against Scripture and Tradition? It seems that many in our Church have decided to saw off two of the legs of the Wesleyan quadrilateral.

Anonymous said...

Where did Jo go?

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