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The McCormick Herald — Breaking the Stained Glass Ceiling

Read the newest edition of the Herald!  This issue’s cover story features student Violet Ricker’s reflections on the “Breaking the Stained Glass Ceiling” event featuring clergy women leaders.  Click Herald March 4 for the full issue.

I had been looking forward to last Thursday all week. The Center for African American Ministry and Black Church Studies and the Women’s Urban Ministry Network at McCormick had been promoting the International Women’s Day of Celebration event “Breaking the Stained Glass Ceiling: Women in Ministry” for weeks, and my calendar was blocked off to be there. I needed to hear women’s voices sharing their experiences and challenging McCormick and the world to stand up to not just the patriarchy, but the homophobic, racist, ageist, classist, transphobic bigotry that silences any voices that speak God’s love and justice. Women’s History Month needs to be about intersectionality. In the words of Barbara Sostaita’s powerful Huffington Post piece from March 2nd:

“I don’t want a whitewashed feminism that tokenizes, fetishizes, and abuses women of color. You can keep your Taylor Swift squad goals, Ready for Hillary, Ban Bossy feminism. I want Nicki Minaj’s “Miley what’s good?” feminism. Beyonce’s ***flawless feminism. Sandra Cisneros’ “becoming a woman comfortable in her skin” feminism. Toni Morrison’s thick love feminism. Warsan Shire’s give your daughters difficult names feminism. Maya Angelou’s still I rise feminism. Gloria Anzaldua’s mestiza consciousness feminism. Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls feminism.”

Within this understanding of feminism, McCormick welcomed a pan- el featuring Rev. Shawna Bowman, Friendship Presbyterian Church, Rev. Dr. Barbara Wilson, Presbytery Community Organizer and Min. Jessica Rivera, Director of Education at the Carpenter’s House. Professor Deborah Kapp began as a participant on the panel and appropriately moved herself to the audience when Rev. Bowman arrived to, in Professor Kapp’s words, “provide more balance” in the voices represented. This prevented white voices from having the majority on the panel and I was thankful for her thoughtfulness, but the point of this article is not to celebrate when white people do the minimum of what we should do.

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Alum Jené Colvin moderated the panel featuring Shawna Bowman, Deborah Kapp, Jessica Rivera and Barbara Wilson

The panelists offered insightful reflections on the work they are doing and the ways their prophetic voices are changing the church. It’s a powerful thing for all seminary students to see strong women leading churches, setting educational priorities and doing community organizing. Again, this should not be something so extraordinary that we celebrate it – having women’s voices prominently featured should be the minimum of what seminaries do.

You may have seen a post on social media of the audience in the room, a small group of us, mostly women. One person captioned their photo, “Where are all the men?” Fine question, but that is not the point of this article either. I will not focus on the absence, ambivalence, or apathy of men in the room that day because while I was tremendously disappointed in it, that is also not the point of this article. Showing up to listen to and learn from each other is the minimum of what we should be doing.

What I do want to share is the theological brilliance and bravery of Rev. Valerie Bridgeman, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Homiletics and Hebrew Bible from Methodist Theological School in Ohio, who keynoted the day.

She shared a beautiful essay reflecting on a trip she took to Brazil, and the profound experiences she had there. Her lecture focused on the ways in which Christians rely too strongly on the Western traditions and orthodoxy of our faith, essentially trying to limit the ways in which we experience God.

“We’ve been told everything from Africa is not just inferior, but demonic, whether it was with those words or not,” she shared with great lament and frustration. “I was terrified to encounter God outside of the Bible.” As Rev. Dr. Bridgeman explained her spiritual experiences dancing and celebrating in Brazil, she shared stories of those “thin places” where we “have to hear across the veil,” translating this into “the Bible way,” as she called it, for those of us who need the scripture quoted. Hebrews 12 talks about the great cloud of witnesses, “but we act like we’re doing this work ourselves!” she exclaimed. And what about “dancing with the dead” in Psalm 30? “I’m convinced we don’t read our own Bible,” laughed Rev. Dr. Bridgeman.

Her insights into the real theology – the real life things that feed us and give us strength, the willing- ness to challenge what we under- stand to be “Christian” and consider when we limit God, were in- credible. She closed by telling us that the point of her talk was to challenge us around our spiritual wells, paying attention to what really feeds us instead of what is “supposed to,” and I might add – who the people are who are telling what you are “supposed to” do. For more on her work, visit www.womanpreach.org