Wednesday Words

Pr. Cathy Daharsh

I have this very vivid memory from high school of walking along the lake with my good friend Scott Leannah. He was getting ready to attend Marquette in Milwaukee and after he graduated to attend seminary to become a priest. We were in high school youth group together at St. Peter Claver Catholic Church in Sheboygan, WI. On that particular day walking along the lake, we were pondering the questions, “Which do you think might happen first, priests getting married or women becoming priests?”

We came to the conclusion that we didn’t think either would happen in our lifetime. Scott and I lost contact with each after that, but 22 years later we met up again unexpectedly. I was on internship, practicing becoming a pastor and I came across Scott’s name on a preaching schedule at a nursing home nearby.

Scott was no longer a priest for the Roman Catholic Church, but a priest for the Episcopal Church. I gave him a call and met him for lunch where I discovered that Scott was married and had a daughter. He learned that I was studying to become a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). On that day, we smiled and had a different answer to our question from 22 years ago. The new answer was “Yes, priests can become married, and women can become priests, just not in the Roman Catholic Church.”

I am grateful for the pioneers in our church that have worked hard to pave the way for women like me to become pastors. At the Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee, they celebrated the milestones of 50 years of women’s ordination and 40 years since the first woman of color was ordained. Our church continues to take seriously and challenge itself in being open to the many different people that God calls to our church and into ordained ministry.

My Uncle Ralph, who passed away a few years ago from cancer,  joined an ELCA church in Denver around the time I was studying to become a pastor. He was gay. When he came out after my grandparents died, he decided to look for a congregation that would accept him. He was not interested in a church that had all gay members. He wanted to be in a church that was full of all kinds of people: gay and straight, intergenerational, and racially diverse. He decided to try out an ELCA church. I will never forget the conversation I had with Ralph about the ELCA church that he had discovered. He was so excited. He went on and on about the message they taught about grace and he said, “I can be gay and work with youth and no one judges me. They see me as a valuable leader in the church!”

Ralph’s pastor also happened to be openly gay. At the Churchwide Assembly, they celebrated 10 years of full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ clergy. A statement that has profoundly impacted people in positive ways as we impower new leaders.

My hope and prayer is that our church continues to work at being a safe, comfortable, and welcome place for all people: white, black, and brown, conservative and liberal, women and men, straight and gay, married and single, and young and old. May we continue to develop a place where all people truly feel welcome at our church and that we provide open and affirming spaces for those who are called to lead. Amen.