For two years, the parish that my mom “officially” belongs to (although she never attends Mass there) has been pressuring her to be Vice President of the Board. The reasons are fairly simple: the parish is small, and they’re running out of people who haven’t already done it. The first year, she avoided phone calls for weeks, while she vented her frustration to us about how she didn’t have time to be board vp, and she wanted to leave that parish anyway. I urged her to just tell them that she was leaving. But she couldn’t bring herself to do it. What would people say? But she did work up the courage to tell the board that her ideas were probably “too liberal” for the parish and they wouldn’t like the way she’d get things done.
They relented, for a year. Then we went through the same drama this past April. She avoided phone calls. She vented her frustrations. I told her to officially leave the parish. She didn’t.
She got voted in as Vice President. She decided not to fight it.
She told me about the first controversy to arise. The Church is dwindling fast, attended mainly by the same elderly people who have been going there seemingly since the beginning of time. There are a few middle-aged folks left, those like my parents who brought their kids there for CCD once upon a time. There’s hardly anyone younger, except for the occasional grown child back home for a visit. That means that, this year, there are only two kids who will be celebrating their First Communion, and one teenager who will be confirmed. My mom suggested that, since the numbers were so low, they celebrate both the First Communions and the Confirmation on the same Sunday, because: “It’s the women who always have to work for these functions, and women just don’t have time to do this anymore. We have full-time jobs, we have other commitments. The least we can do is reduce the work to one day instead of two.”
The Board agreed with her. Except …
They warned her that SHE wouldn’t like it.
There is a lifer at that parish who, along with a friend or two, has pretty much kept things the way she wants for years. She’s pre-Vatican II conservative. She kept girls from being altar servers even though the rest of the Church had accepted them. She drove out several talented people who came in through the years wanting to offer more contemporary music. She purses her lips with disapproval when a woman reads the first or second reading from the pulpit. And she exerts all this control without holding the positions of authority that would warrant it; she simply makes life difficult for those who try to go a different way.
My mom said, “Well, what is she going to do? Fire me? That’s fine. I never wanted this job, anyway!”
There was a sense of empowerment about that statement that was lacking in those years when she was avoiding phone calls. It was as if a switch had been flicked: now that it was official, now that they’d “forced” her into a position of power, she was no longer paralyzed by fear of “what they would think.” She was going to do it her way, or not do it at all (her preferred option.)
This might be the best thing that’s happened for her faith in a while. While she’s Vice President, I think she’s enjoying cutting through a lot of the waste that women who attend the parish have been resenting for years. I think, for the first time, she has a sense that change might be possible. And if it’s not, what does she stand to lose? Being driven out of a parish that she hasn’t felt connected to in decades would also bring its own freedom. Somehow, she ended up in a strangely “win-win” situation.
I can’t help but think about the many brave women who have been ordained in the past ten plus years, along with the swift threats and then carrying out of excommunications. Many of these women have been beaten down so often in their relationship with the Catholic Church that this ultimate “penalty” no longer holds any weight for them. I’ve heard various versions of “So what?” from women who continue their vital ministry despite their “excommunication.” And the fact that they have parishioners means that many of the faithful are echoing that sentiment. “She’s ‘excommunicated’ — so what?” To those who matter, she’s their priest. The Institutional Church has no other recourse. They’ve already pulled out the secret weapon. And found that she and those she pastors to are immune. What could be more freeing than that?
Somehow, the women the Church has said “no” to for hundreds of years ended up in their own “win-win” situation. And all those whose hearts have ached for years to see a woman at the pulpit are the biggest winners of all.