Editor’s note: The following statement was read towards the end of the Pacific Northwest Plenary Session on the afternoon of Friday, June 16, 2017. Rev. Schindler was kind enough to share a written copy with us.
By Rev. Elizabeth Schindler
Last night was the installation service for Bishop Elaine Stanovsky in the Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Annual Conferences.
I was excited for the service, so happy to see my friends at the beginning of Annual Conference, and to process with them in robes and stoles; and I was completely unprepared for how emotional I felt during the service.
When Bishop Elaine was introduced by the Committee on the Episcopacy, tears welled up in my eyes.
Before she had even begun her part of the Covenant Service, those tears began streaming down my cheeks.
I cried all through the promises; through the presentation of the signs of her ministry, and through much of her episcopal address.
I felt the power and weight of what she is called to do: to be pastor and servant, to hold the body of Christ in unity, to be “a means of reconciliation and healing.” I felt overwhelmed at the thought that a person – even with God’s help – could ever make such promises. Who are we, that God is even mindful of us? And to think, then, that we could shepherd, encourage, and support the people, fearlessly proclaim the Word of God, renew the church and the world, and inherit the crown of glory? It’s almost inconceivable, and can only be done under the miraculous power of God and the indefatigable, undeterred leading of God’s Spirit.
I cried for the weight of it all: the significance, the consequence, the responsibility.
But I also cried tears of joy: for every feminine pronoun in the service, knowing that, at one time, they all said “he” or “him,” and had to be changed. In a year in which my gender has seemed a greater liability than ever, a greater target than ever, when I have often tried to blend in rather than stand out, to hide myself rather than show the vulnerability of my womanhood… to see the stole placed on a woman’s body, to see her hand holding the shepherd’s staff, was an encouragement that quenched my spirit, which was far more parched than I had realized.
I cried tears of relief: that while I had never seen a woman pastor before I went to seminary – seminary – my daughter knows (of) a woman bishop. She will never wonder whether God could possibly call her into ministry, whether God could possibly have her do the work of mothering and pastoring at the same time, whether she could be a “successful” leader in the church, even without a booming baritone voice.
And I cried tears of awe, as I realized this same weight – the weight that Bishop Elaine holds – is open to me. Not that I will be elected bishop, soon or ever, or that I would even want to be… but that it is possible, that the door is open. That possibility existed for me last night in a way that it never has before. I know it is possible, because I have seen it with my own eyes.
I cried tears of awe for the power God has to change a world that would appear, in so many ways, at so many times, doomed to catastrophe and failure, to repeating the same mistakes forever until the spirit of the people is broken and they just. give. up.
I cried tears of wonder, admiration, reverence, and even disbelief at the power of God – the humility of God – the imagination of God – to use people like us, someone like me, even me, to bring life. It is too much for words, but the tears spoke last night – those “weak,” “feminine,” emotional, vulnerable tears – and I pray that they keep on speaking.
Elizabeth Schindler serves as lead pastor for the people of Faith United Methodist Church in Issaquah, Washington. She is also Provisional Chair for the Pacific Northwest Board of Ordained Ministry.