It has been a month since graduation from divinity school. In this time of post-school life and by way of introductory WIT post, I find myself wanting to express gratitude for what has been a liberative formation experience.

I have spent the last three years in a place where it is normal for women to preach and preside. For Catholics this is far from a given. It was in this context that my own call could rise up from where it was buried under prohibitions.

Here, we were all expected to take preaching courses and to fully engage in field education settings where we develop the ministerial arts of pastoral care and worship leadership. I was mentored by women clergy: a Methodist Pastor of a large downtown church who showed me what vulnerability from a position of power looks like; a Baptist prison chaplain who taught me to pray out loud in public and to preach toward the altar call.

Here, I was surrounded by peers who were stepping into their call: navigating with grace and faith and ferocity what it means for them to stand in a pulpit and lead a congregation. Together we have unfolded as we had our notions of Jesus, sex, the church, preaching, redemption shattered and gathered up again into mosaics that we make in our living. We curled up with chocolate to fight off dementors, then stood up to sing words our spirits long to hear. Together we talked politics and liberation and trauma and racism. We healed and were healing. We invited forward more courageous parts of one another, more honest and humble to our blind spots.


In spite of this norming-women-in-the-pulpit context, I lived with the delusion that I could make it through the three years without having to face down my own call. I didn’t know how deep the voice telling me “no” went until I finally let myself entertain a “yes.”

The internal dialogue usually went (and still goes) something like this:

You must have heard it wrong. Must be arrogant. It is not for you. Why can’t you be satisfied with all the space opened up for you to be equal with men out in the world –you are already so privileged, with your education and advanced degree. Why do you want to have it all? Holy orders – it’s not for you, just like motherhood is not for men. 

Most days I feel like a fish caught in the Jesus net and that the Petrine institution throws back into the sea: found wanting. Lacking in the right (biological) stuff and found excessive in the wrong (biological) stuff. My own intellectual prowess can feel weary from the arguments of essence and femininity and motherhood and virginity and who can/cannot stand in persona Christi.

I only want to follow where the Lord appears to be leading.

What I can see now, is that there is no going back.

The call to preach is not some fleeting desire: it is where I meet God most clearly. Not because I think I have something more profound to say than male counterparts, but because I find life in the Spirit as I exegete and prepare a sermon. Not because I think I would be less prone to abuse power if I were a parish priest, but I feel called to stand at the altar as a vessel proclaiming: this is my body, take and eat. I feel called to represent Christ at the moments of entry and exit and milestone in the Christian life: to baptize, to marry, to anoint, to bury.

The witnesses within this protestant institution have given me permission to hear the Word of the Lord speaking to me. Men and women have believed in my voice and recognized my call. Their words of affirmation and challenge bespeak Christ’s own presence proclaiming: I have called you to preach my Word, to feed my sheep, to love me and to follow me.

For their witness and their welcome I say: thank you.

As I enter life after seminary and discern my next steps in ministry I hope to find sisters and brothers within the Catholic folds who can also be transformed by the witness of fellow Protestant members in the One Body.

12 thoughts

  1. I loved this! On the thinking that it’s fair men only can be priests because women only can be mothers: why are those two things contrasted? I’m an evangelical transitioning into Orthodoxy, and I keep hearing those two vocations (motherhood and priesthood) juxtaposed in the sacramental circles. Isn’t the priesthood an ecclesial vocation, while motherhood is a family vocation? Or is motherhood seen as something inherently spiritual and ecclesial-like? I just don’t get the connection. It seems like comparing apples and oranges to me.

    1. Bailey — One of the ways the arguments for an all-male priesthood functions, is in the account of the dignity and vocation of women. Here I am thinking of John Paul II’s MULIERIS DIGNITATEM — it is a lengthy doc and I am happy to converse at length about it, but it indeed sees the complementarity of the sexes (rigidly understood as male and female in the context of JP2’s thinking, though I believe the tradition is more de-stabilized) — as vocationally understood. Women by virtue of their capacity to be mothers have a particular vocation; women by virtue of chosen virginity also have a particular vocation; neither path (both of which are conceived within the “horizon” of a certain reading of Mary) and neither vocation includes ordained priesthood. Another way to put it: in magisterial discourses the vocations are deeply gendered. Hope I am addressing your questions…

      1. Thanks for engaging my question. I did my undergrad thesis on the early church’s connection between female bodies, gender, and their vocation, so I’m tracking with everything you’ve said so far. I’m just hung up on this: Why aren’t men, with their capacity to be fathers and to procreate, not limited to fatherhood as their only vocation? This makes less sense within Orthodoxy, where a priest can be both a father and a priest. If the positions were reversed, it would be, “Men can’t be priests because men can procreate.” So? What does the capacity to procreate or bear children have to do with the priesthood — especially since all priests are celibate in Catholicism, anyways?

      2. “What does the capacity to procreate or bear children have to do with the priesthood — especially since all priests are celibate in Catholicism, anyways?”
        Perhaps what you are naming is actually the procreation of patriarchy?
        I think Linn Marie Tonstad does important work on your final question related to procreation in her book “God and Difference”. I plan to review it, and offer a fuller treatment of her arguments in this regard. What is at stake is the view of tradition and what constitutes orthodoxy: is it a once-and-for-all deposit of faith that must be protected in its state of purity through the non-biological reproduction of ecclesial (celibate) father to ecclesial(celibate) son? If so, celibate priests have a particular role to play in procreation of the faith itself.
        Another way to address your question is to acknowledge that the magisterial argument is not actual based on abstracted reason or rationality. It is heavily reliant on metaphor, and certain gendered metaphors that get interpreted in ways so as to uphold doctrinal claims regarding the all-male-celibate-priesthood… I appreciate your thoughtful question and hope we can continue to dialogue!

    2. Perhaps the example of Mary, the great mother of God, is helpful here. Both a mother and a central ecclesial and sacramental role (mediatrix of all graces and transubstatiator in her own womb and present at every sacrament).


  2. Best wishes on your journey Casey as you seek to follow God’s call. Catholic theology teaches that one must follow one’s conscience, even against the Pope according to Joseph Ratzinger.

    I wonder if it is worth waiting to see what comes of Pope Francis’ looking into women deacons ?


    1. I am encouraged by the Pope’s seeming openness to explore the role of women as deacons — and I trust, somehow, that the Spirit’s fidelity to the Church will bear fruit in this moment as well. Appreciate your well wishes and blessings, in peace.

  3. You sound like the kind of priest/minister any congregation would be fortunate to have as a leader; unfortunately, any congregation except Roman Catholic. I found an exciting and robustly spiritual Episcopal community led by a married lesbian priest raising two boys. I hope you will let God lead you to the right place for you.

    1. I appreciate the affirming words and covet your prayers towards that end of discerning God’s will in leading and guiding my steps.

  4. I did the same thing you did, but 26 years ago. I have had a rich experience as a chaplain and have pastored several churches. I would like to add one thing about women’s ordination. Yes, we are ordained in many of the mainline Protestant traditions. The question is, are we accepted? Not always. In the second church I served, I had to swallow hard as some would walk out as I walked toward the pulpit. The idea of women priests in the RC tradition is supported by many Catholics. The idea of women ministers in the Protestant tradition is not totally accepting. One thing I have thought a lot about this last quarter century is: “Why bother with ordination?” By being ordained, are we not contributing to the same patriarchal culture if we do not have the power to change anything? Some would argue our mere presence will change things. Yes, it MIGHT. There is no guarantee.

  5. I hope it’s okay if I add my comments as a non-Christian. I enjoyed reading your post. I was raised Catholic, but these days my path is elsewhere. I too feel called to preach and to minister. Your experience of learning together with several women is something I cannot experience on my current path. My temple is dormant (a foreign concept to those of us raised Catholic), and I don’t know what form/format my education as a priest would take. But my temple is very supportive of women priests. Anyway, it sounds like you had a wonderful experience at divinity school and I’m glad for you and appreciate that you shared it with us.

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