I remember vividly the first Sunday that my two children and I were introduced to a different kind of mother. Since they were born, we had attended a church in the denomination in which I was raised; one in which only men are ministers. But this Sunday, at the repeated invitation of our next-door neighbor, we decided to visit the quaint little church in our neighborhood. As expected, the service began with an opening hymn and an entrance procession of a child bearing a cross, followed by lay ministers, altar servers, and finally, a priest carrying the gospel book.
As the priest passed by the aisle where my 14-year old daughter sat slouching at the edge of the pew, my daughter suddenly snapped alert. She whirled around to face me, eyes wide. Just to be sure she wasn’t imagining things, she swung around again to look at the priest. Yes, she was sure. Turning back to me again, with a look of shock, my daughter gasped, “Mom – that priest – she’s a…WOMAN!”
And so she was. “Yes,” I smiled, “Isn’t it great?”
My daughter’s whole face lit up, “Yeah!” she said.
At that moment neither I, nor anyone else, would have dreamed that a few years later, I myself would be ordained a priest, not because I could and not to make a “statement” for equal rights. Simply because it became clear to me that this is who I was created to be and what I was created to do. It was what God was calling me to do.
In the denomination in which I grew up, all priests are called “father.” It’s a fitting address – all God’s children need fathers. Although relatively few congregations address their female counterparts by the title, the appropriate corollary to “father” is of course – “mother.” I have learned that just as all God’s children need fathers, all God’s children need mothers, too. So that is what I am, both to my biological children, now grown, and to my spiritual children, most of whom are grown – I’m a mother to them.
I am blessed to minister to men, women, and children. Yet it is with women that I see the greatest hunger, the greatest response. I have found that a woman can minister to another woman in a way that a man simply cannot do. Women tell me things that they cannot, and in many cases perhaps should not, tell a man – even a man wearing a clerical collar.
Young women seem to sense in me that I love them as a daughter. And other mothers intuitively recognize that I know the heartache of a child that is hurt or ill, a child that just can’t seem to find their place in this world, a blue-eyed cherub that’s grown into a rebellious teenager with body piercings in impossible places, an outgoing schoolchild turned non-communicative drug addict, a star athlete injured on the football field. I have many children – some of whom have never met me in person - but I have prayed for them and for their mothers. What I can give them, besides a heart that understands, is a hope and a promise that will not die.
In my faith, the Christian faith, we believe that Jesus Christ died so that we might have abundant life – life with peace and joy: not only in heaven, but here on earth. It’s a peace and joy that’s not dependent on our circumstances, on whether things go the way we want. I pray that those who need healing receive it, and that those who are lost become found. I pray that way for parents and children, and those at all stages in between. I have seen incredible miracles take place, literal miracles of physical and emotional and relational healing. Yet whether or not the desired outcome occurs, I can offer to all the mothers and children of all ages the greatest miracle of all – a miracle I myself have experienced - the miracle of having deep peace in the midst of whatever happens – a “peace that surpasses all understanding.” [Phil. 4:7]
I laugh and cry with women who are mothers, or wish they were mothers, or simply have mothers, over the joys, pains, and challenges of life. Being a woman, no one seems to mind if tears well up in my eyes as I hear their stories. I can offer from personal experience the promise that they WILL make it through their pain - not only to survive, but to flourish. In Jesus, I can offer them a love that will never leave them, even when they feel that all others have deserted them; a love that will never condemn them, even when they feel that they have failed at the very thing which they were called to do – namely, to raise happy, healthy children. I can offer them hope that, whether or not their deep desire becomes a reality, they can have peace and joy again. Through Christ, I can be a mother to them, and I can be a mother with them. A different kind of mother.
The Rev. E. Kathleen Christopher is an assistant rector at The Falls Church in Falls Church, Va., an Anglican District of Virginia member parish.