Monday, February 25, 2008
Discouraged and Disappointed
I have spent most of the night tossing and turning. My mind is playing and replaying the events of the day and each time I think of them I am saddened and discouraged. Today was our first official nominating committee meeting. Without violating the confidentiality of the meeting, I feel an immense burden to express my discouragement with the Seventh-day Adventist church. This morning we discussed the positions of Elder, Deacon, and Deaconess. While reading the February 14th edition of the Adventist Review, I came across a letter to the editor in reference to a previous article about one woman's call to ministry: "The Cost of the Call." The letter closed by asking "I conclude that only one anomaly exists: the deaconess is to the deacon as the (what) is to the elder? (pg 3)" I brought this up in our meeting and asked about this exclusion. The overwhelming response was that while it is a good idea in theory, the likelihood of a female elder at our local church is slim to none. This was reinforced by the shrinking number of female elders in the conference. "After all," I was told, "this is the South." The overall thought was that before the idea of a woman holding a position of such high regard could even be entertained, a complete re-education process would need to be undertaken with regards to a woman's ability to "teach." I let the matter drop while making known my wish for the re-education process to start and my displeasure of seeing a platform of only Elders when that is a position that women are not encouraged--but are actively discouraged--to obtain. "Women have other roles in the church." One of them is that of Deaconess. Never before being a deaconess and not remembering seeing my mother or grandmothers in that role, I was unfamiliar with the duties of that position. But when I was asked to serve as a deaconess for the upcoming term, I accepted. When I got home I took out my SDA Church Manual reference sheets. Specifically I looked at pages 57 and 58 which deal with the duties of a deacon and deaconess. I had always thought of a deaconess as "a female deacon" much in the same vein as an actress is to an actor. Disappointingly, that is not the case. A deacon in the SDA church has six main responsibilities: 1. Assistance at Service and Meetings, 2. Visitation of Members (I think it is of note that not once in the two and a half years that I have been a member of my current church, and not once that I can remember in the 10 years I was in Boston, have I ever been visited in my home by a Pastor or other church officer. Perhaps this is because I am a single female?), 3. Preparation for Baptismal Service, 4. Assistance at the Communion Service, 5. Care for the Sick and Poor, and 6. Care and Maintenance of Church Property. In contract, deaconesses have only three main duties: 1. Assistance at Baptisms, 2. Arrangements for the Communion Service, and 3. Care of the Sick and Poor. I find this very unsettling. The deacons take up the offering and dismiss the congregation each week at my church. But if a deaconess wants to contribute to the service all she can do is to fold the napkins over the communication table once a quarter. Is this really all that the young women growing up in our church--including myself--have to look forward to? It pains me that the Seventh-day Adventist church--both corporately and locally--see me as a second class citizen. A church founded on the teaching of a prophetess resigns it women to the pews. Yes, we can teach the Sabbath School lessons and tell the children's story. But it seems to me that in a time where a woman and a black man are the top contenders to govern our country, the only places for women in my church is that of wife (to support her husband) and mother (to train up her children). Where does that leave me? In the kitchen at potluck?