Over the weekend, I spent a few delicious hours watching episodes of the BBC's The Vicar of Dibley, including the Christmas special from several years back where Geraldine** (Dawn French), the eponymous vicar, receives two surprise gifts from her parishioners in honor of her 10-year-anniversary at shepherd of St. Barnabas.
1) A chocolate fountain and
2) a visit from the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Overcome by the thoughtful gesture from her congregation — and her all-consuming ardor for chocolate — Gerry dives head-first into the chocky-font. Unfortunately for vicar, her full-immersion by chocolate comes just moments before the (very convincing look-alike) Rowan Williams enters the parlor to greet her.
Mother Geraldine is one of my all-time favorite television characters. Apart from her regularly hilarious antics, she also has a beautiful pastoral touch and way of communicating the grace and mercy of the gospel with honesty, passion and great humor — not unlike many of the women clergy I am blessed to know and have known over the years.
While women clergy are a given part of the life of the church for many of us, their presence in the Great Conversation remains a point of contention and controversy for not a few of our brothers and sisters in Christ. I was reminded of this Monday while reading the latest blog entry from our God's Politics contributor Nadia Bolz-Weber, pastor of the House for All Saints and Sinners church in Denver.
On Sunday, Nadia, an ordained minister of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, received an email inquiry from a friend of a friend informing her of some less-than-love coming her way from her more conservative cousins in the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) who are aghast at something that went down at House for All's post-Easter Vigil party a while back.
As part of their celebration of Jesus' resurrection, House for All's Easter party included a three-tiered chocolate fountain set up in the church's baptismal font.
"My name and church are being tossed around by some LCMS (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod – they don’t ordain women) types (again) as an example of all the horrible things that go wrong when women become pastors," Nadia explained. The woman who sent the email was kind, Nadia says, "She wanted to hear from me about why we would do this rather than joining the others in rending their clothes and gnashing their teeth about it."
Here's what Nadia said in her response to the chocolate-in-the-baptismal-font inquiry:
Having buried the Alleluia on Transfiguration Sunday and entered into the 40 days of Lent (remembering our mortality and sin)…as a community we walk through the paschal mystery of the Three Days. We gather to remember the night our Lord was betrayed unto death and yet washed the feet of those whom he loved, and having Friday experienced the death of God on the cross on which hung the savior of the whole world, we gather on Holy Saturday to tell one another the great salvation history of God and God’s people. We finally finally finally enter the church singing Alleluia and baptize the catechumens as a celebration of the great and glorious resurrection of Jesus. For us there is no better symbol of Easter – nothing says “He is risen” like a chocolate fountain in the baptismal font. It is a celebration of pure joy and not one we would ever suggest is right for all churches but for us it is life.
Not unexpectedly, some critics dived at the chance to use HFASS's chocolate fountain (if not head-first into it, like Mother Gerry) to indict its pastor for ... well, for being a woman. One such critic's blog, dedicated to "defending truth and contending for the Faith while carrying the Light of the Gospel into a world shrouded in darkness," alerted its readers about Nadia's "creeping unnoticed into the Lutheran Church."
The blogger described Nadia as, "The tattooed, female, pro-sodomy, emergent, foul-mouthed, feminist, Lutheran pastor who has Martin rolling in his grave."
While I'm fairly certain Martin Luther was not referring neither to women priests nor chocolate fountains when he famously entreated his nervous friend Philip Melanchthon to loose up a bit, I believe his words are apropos to this would-be doctrinal donnybrook:
If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2 Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign.
It suffices that through God's glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.
Nadia concluded her response to the email inquiry by saying:
I offer you this as you are a friend of a friend. But I am called by the gospel and am in no way answerable to those in the LCMS who would deny the gifts of the Holy Spirit.Pax,NBW
Amen, sister. May you and yours sisters (and brothers) in ministry continue to fulfill your calling and vocation as lightbearers of the Gospel, boldly bringing its message of grace and mercy to all sinners and saints.
And may your chocolate fountains ever runneth over.
**P.S. Did you know that French's character Geraldine in The Vicar of Dibley is based, in part, on our very own Joy Carroll Wallis? True story. Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis' better half was one of the first women priests (and the youngest) ordained in the Church of England. When the producers of Dibley were looking for real-life women vicars to inform the on-screen life of their Geraldine, they came to Joy for guidance about how to make Dibley's vicar more realistic.
Cathleen Falsani is Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners. She is the author of four nonfiction books, including the memoir Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace, and her latest, BELIEBER!: Fame, Faith and the Heart of Justin Bieber. Follow Cathleen on Twitter @GodGrrl