With reference to Psalm 122
Sometime in my first year at 1st United Church in Salmon Arm, I was talking with the lovely Jackie Cannon after church. Jackie played the piano for the fashion show here a few weeks ago. That day Jackie smiled up at me and said, “I love having you as my minister. I’ve never had a woman minister before – oh, except for Rev. Gruchy.” I think my eyes must have bugged out of my head. “Lydia Gruchy, the first woman to be ordained in the United Church of Canada?!” Yes, the very one. Anyone know when she was ordained? It was 80 years ago this month.
Lydia was in ministry when Jackie was about 5 years old. So, it seems fitting to take a few minutes today to celebrate the ministry of this remarkable woman, and gain some inspiration as we continue to honour the gifts of all who seek to serve with justice and compassion in the world.
For some history I am leaning on the Gathering magazine, a worship resource for church and the words of Patricia Wotton, author of “With Love, Lydia: the story of Canada’s First Woman Ordained Minister.”
Lydia was ready to be ordained in 1925 when the United Church of Canada was formed, but the church wasn’t quite ready for her. You may have expected Gruchy to have been a crusader for women’s right to ordination, against the male bastion of the UC of her time, but she was much too busy doing ministry to focus on that. It was her male colleagues and St. Andrew’s College, Sask. where she earned her theology degree in 1923, who initiated and pursued the cause for 13 years. They were cheered on by Nellie McClung, an active United Church member, and a member of the group of five who succeeded in getting women the right to vote in Canada.
Her fellow colleagues… had grown weary of traveling distances to perform the sacraments for Lydia’s congregations. “Why can’t Lydia just do it?” was their rallying cry. These men were determined that the motion put to the wider church should open ordination not just for Lydia, but for all women.
With Lydia’s ordination in 1936, some were celebrating a historic milestone for the church, others thought this was a sure sign we were going to hell in a hand-basket, and Lydia was celebrating the fact that after 13 years of ministering already, she’d finally get a pension! Gruchy chose as her first job secretary to the Committee on the Deaconess Order and Women Workers. She chose this toward the “express goal of winning a pension for deaconesses and women workers, which she did.”
During her decades of pastoral ministry, Gruchy was true to her view of ministry – making time for children and youth in worship, and seeking out the isolated and lonely, be it women in their kitchens, or newly arrived immigrants.
She maintained an unwavering focus on the work to be done – asking then as we ask now – Who needs us? What difference can and do we make? How can we best equip ourselves for the work? How can we support one another in vital, loving service?
I am grateful for Lydia helping to pave the way for me to go into ministry 50 years later.
Well, to use an old phrase, “We’ve come a long way, baby.” We have, but we still have quite a way to go. Even in our Sunday by Sunday scripture readings, there are many women we just don’t hear about, as if they made no difference to the story.
John Bell, the worship and music guru for the Church of Scotland, tells of being invited to preach at the evening service in a prestigious church in England during a Conference. At the morning service, the scripture was from Exodus 1:8-14 the oppression of the Israelites by Pharaoh.
The evening scriptures started at Exodus chapter 2:11 which says, “One day, after Moses had grown up…” So John began his part in the service by saying, Friends, I am sorry to inform you that somewhere between this morning’s service and this evening, five middle-eastern women have gone missing in this sanctuary.
Oh my! The consternation that ensued as people glanced about wondering who these women were and where they had gotten to. Who were they? Why they were the five women mentioned between Exodus 1:15- 2:10 The Hebrew midwives Shiphrah and Puah, who in an act of civil disobedience, refused to kill the male babies born to the Hebrew women. Moses’ mother, Jochebed, who hides her baby and makes a reed basket for him. Miriam, Moses big sister who hides him at the water’s edge until the 5th woman, the Pharaoh’s daughter finds the child. Then Miriam has the wherewithal to offer to find a wet-nurse for the baby, and takes him home to mom! It’s a fabulous story and Moses would not have made it to adulthood without them! That’s a lot of important stuff to go missing.
And in today’s world, despite Pope Francis being so delightfully progressive on many fronts, on the issue of the ordination of women in the Catholic Church, he remains stuck. `No, it’s not going to happen,’ he says.
There are still many places in the world where the voices of women are silenced and the abilities of women thwarted by lack of education and opportunity.
And of course we need to look beyond the gender divide and ask who else needs to be heard from? What wisdom will come from the margins if we will listen? Who can we align with in the quest for compassion and justice?
Psalm 122, the text Lydia used for her thesis, speaks of the joy of being within the gates of the holy city of Jerusalem. I now understand that joy; I was there three years ago today.
Nan Merrill expands the psalm as a desire to enter the gates of Love, and to bring all of humanity along for the ride. Pray for the New Jerusalem she calls; pray for the peace of the world. “May peace reign among all peoples, and integrity dwell within every heart!” As we offer our prayers, we reflect on Lydia’s questions from some 80 years ago. These are still very good questions for our time, and in fact for this very day when we need to make a decision on the direction of ministry in this place.
Who needs us? What difference can and do we make?
How can we best equip ourselves for the work?
How can we support one another in vital, loving service?
Where is the Spirit calling us to pay attention and offer our gifts?