by Hannah Adair Bonner
In two weeks, I will be one of the first people since the 1950’s to become an ordained Elder in full connection with no expectation of security of appointment. Not wanting to respond reactively, over the past couple days I have been reflecting on what that means. On the one hand, removes distractions from the spiritual element of what will be taking place that day, by taking away the sense that with ordination come rights or protections. On the other hand, it leaves me relying upon the human systems that I struggle to trust in order to receive justice in the carrying out of my calling. In the midst of all that, is God – the God who called me, the God who leads me, the God who loves me, the God under whose protective motherly wing I go for refuge. So in one way, nothing has changed because God is unchangeable and God loves God’s church. In another way, quite a bit has changed.
Recently, I was dialoguing with the male pastor of a large congregation as he explained why there were not many female pastors of large churches in the area. He told me that it was because in the past there had not been a good pool of female candidates. He said the phrase as if he had said it many times before, with little awareness of how inappropriate, hurtful and most of all incorrect that would seem to me. In his mind, he was somehow giving me a compliment that I was different from the women who had come before me, this ‘inadequate pool.’ I pray that is not true. I pray that I can claim a fraction of their courage, of their strength, of their long-suffering witness. The reality that I have watched, heard, and experienced for myself, is that gender justice does not exist and women are not playing on an even playing field. And the church, called to be a prophetic voice against unjustice, often is instead the place where we find the greatest injustice.
I am still processing what all this means for me and for my colleagues. Everyone who is here from my Conference tells me that I have nothing to worry about because I am effective. And I respond, I hope very much that I have something to worry about, because to imply that I have nothing to worry about would mean that I have no prophetic voice. No reason to fear that someone may misuse or distort this legislation to try to silence me. I hope very much that I have something to fear because I hope that I will speak up when I see injustice in our systems. I hope very much that I will help marginalized voices be heard. I hope that I will be obedient to the God who called me and speak up when God prompts me to regardless of the repercussions. I hope that I will not live my life in fear but in courage and boldness and strength - the way that the women who have gone before me have done. They suffered and they struggled and they triumphed over their obstacles at times and at other times were crushed by the rock that they were trying to push up a hill.
With all the things that have come to the floor, with all the emotions involved and all the lives impacted, it pains me that the plenary session did not find the justice issues that the Rev. Wye Hyun Chang and the Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm brought up worthy of their time. Regardless of the outcome, it would have meant a great deal to those who will be most affected by it to have the body at large be willing to discuss publicly the potential implications that this legislation could have if only for education and greater accountability. There are still a lot of questions that only time will tell the answers to, and the answers have the possibility of being very painful. As a new generation rises, will they feel they have success in making their prophetic voices heard, or will they be silenced? A system that was first put in place to protect prophetic voices, has now become in some cases one that protects ineffective ministry. As a result, that protection has been taken away in order to encourage more effective ministry. The side effect, however, could be that this legislation could be used not only to cease ineffective ministry, but also misused to silence prophetic voices. This could mean that, once again, my generation will pay the heavier price for those that have gone before them. May God give us all integrity as we move forward so that good may be done rather than harm.
Hannah preparing for ordination in the EPA Conference in May, and serving in a missional appointment to reach young adults in Wilmington, Delaware. She brings a background in justice and reconciliation work, and a commitment to building strong multiethnic communities. After studying at Duke Divinity School, she lived in intentional Christian community at the Isaiah House in Durham, North Carolina; and in 2008, received “Woman of the Year” recognition from the UMW of North Carolina for founding an empowerment program for urban young people at Asbury Temple UMC. Hannah comes from West Chester, Pennsylvania, is proud of her big family of five siblings, and loves connecting with God in nature.