I lead a fairly privileged life, and I am incredibly grateful. I’m also fairly well protected, much of that protection comes from being well-loved. Here in the center of PA, I am an opinionated vocal laughing outloud woman leading a church that’s a happy amalgamation of so many points of view. For me, it’s heaven right here on earth. I’m proud of the work we’re doing and I’m pretty darned happy.
It took a while to find my place here; But I had old contacts to lean on and met and fell in love with one of the Valley’s most well-loved men. So being a Goddess-worshiping religious radical seemed to just get folded into their notion of Ann and I feel welcomed and accepted most of the time. I get to be me, right here in River City. That’s priceless, and believe me I’m aware of how lucky I am.
There are a lot of women ministers in this valley. I am neither the most radical nor the one accomplishing the most. Good women doing good work. I’m in great company. There are also good men doing good work, but this column isn’t about that. Life has changed in these local churches as more women ministers show up ready to serve in rural PA. All in all, there are more women in ministry now than there have ever been. That’s as true here as anywhere else.
So I am surprised when I garner hostility or outrage for who I am and what I believe. I mean, geezum, folks, if rural Central PA folk of many faiths and traditions can happily check with in with me on a question about their elderly parents or join the UUCSV in a fund drive for Staten Island Residents affected by Hurricane Sandy, you don’t get much more accepted than that. When the staunchly conservative republican woman stops by my breakfast table to remind me to remember to vote, life is good.
Then this winter, out I went to Palm Springs — California, that is, to find people horribly overset that a woman was performing a wedding ceremony, wondering about what kind of new-fangled tradition UUism was (um, about 1530ish?) and whether I was pushy enough to call myself Father Ann. (uh, really?) It was sort of funny, no one’s questioned me about my bona-fides for years, especially since i took on weight and grey hair. (And of course, in the meantime, lots of women were still getting ordained and flooding the market with a new kind of capable, caring ministers.) Not so funny, of course, were all the underlying hostility toward a lot of traditional targets, which I was kept busy addressing. And then, back home, the other day I ran into someone who just, to use a Swedish verb, nonchalanted me — just pretended I wasn’t there. (did i mention the weight gain? I’m there.) And this wasn’t at all belief related, because he made sure not to ask anything about who I was even though we were doing something together. He had something he had to do, and I didn’t want to make him nervous, so I let it run.
These days, I’m actually pretty secure in myself. It’s been a long journey to this point. But now? I love my work, I love my life with its web of friends and family, I love this beautiful, needy Valley filled with incredible resources — not the least of which is music. I’ve fallen jelly-side-up and I’m aware of that, I’ll tell you. So I don’t really have a personal response other than… oh, well, that was surprising!
But it does make me sad as I think about the distance that I forget needs to be covered for some of the world so we can move into greater Peace. I forget that I can’t just be looking ahead, and have to be looking behind for work that that needs to be done to pull people into the present. Some of that I won’t be able to do, this is why we all need help on the road, because you can do work I am incapable of doing and vice versa.
It’s easy to be outraged, but it’s not really useful. In this case, I am not wounded, although one of my sister clergy might not have the support I have. But there are so many who are not safe. So, may my experiences serve as a February wake-up call. And if we feel outrage, let it only be used for fuel and not for endless venting. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and dig a little deeper. Our world needs Peace. And we’re just the people to handle the job. There’s work to do in the world and work to do right here at home, wherever home is. And if you’re asked who told you that, tell ’em Father Ann, a witchy woman of Peace. Shalom, Salaam, Peace everyone!