Saturday, February 11, 2012

Virtual Church

I grew up a ‘tomboy’. I lived in a neighborhood of all boys. That didn’t bother me. I didn’t like playing girly things. Dolls had no interest for me. Jacks provided no thrill even if I could do loopty loops and jumping rope was BORING! I loved anything you could play with a ball. I could play Cowboys and Indians and l was ecstatic when I got a double holster and cap pistols for Christmas much to my mother’s disgust. I really didn’t like being a girl at all. The boys’ games were so much more fun. And even through jr. high, we had to play “girl’s rules in Phys. Ed. What a jip!

It wasn’t until high school that I began to see women around me that I respected. A couple of my contemporaries had mothers who I could look up to. I am not saying that my mother was a bad person—not at all! But I could not find in the way that she lived her life anything that I wanted to emulate. From the time I was in my early teens, I knew I did not want to marry. I did not want to mother children. All signs of being a woman...

But when I met the Ursulines as an adult, I began to understand what kind of woman I wanted to be. While I was lesbian, I was not motivated by a desire to change sex; I had just not witnessed women that I admired.

The Order of St. Ursula is a Roman Catholic religious community whose ministry is to teach girls and young women. I met them through a sister who played in the local community symphony that I did. I have commented on them several times because I credit them for introducing me to prayer and community in my mid-twenties. And that longing for community and prayer still is part of my life today.

Last week I had the opportunity to visit the convent I entered some 40 years ago. Our cruise for Revgals sailed from New Orleans and I took some of my colleagues to visit the chapel and a couple of sisters that still live there. When I entered there were 50 in the community. There are only 2 there now and none of them still teaching in the Academy. But as I sat down with Sister Carla, it was just like when I was a postulant. The connection, the twice kissed cheek, the twinkle in the eye, the warmth and welcome was still there. And even though I had left the community 37 years ago, we knew we shared something that none of the others did. It wasn’t just a few years as housemates; it was a 500 year old legacy of ministry, teaching and appreciating the God-given talents that we as women shared.

I think that that sense of community is still something that I need to be who I am. I look for it among women colleagues, among groups of women in my parishes and even among online groups where women can share their opinion is safety and respect. I have over the years found that mixed groups of men and women CAN be safe places where men and women can share faith but they are more the exception than the rule. And I treasure those groups as precious places.

One of those mixed groups is the NACC (No Anglican Covenant Coalition). Most of us have never met each other in person. We are a virtual community where the work of defeating the Anglican Covenant has become our cause. Sometimes (fairly often) we get in each other’s face about one topic or another. We are frustratingly exact about how we word documents and press releases. English spoken in Scotland, Canada, England, New Zealand and the US is not the same and we are often offending one another with the way we speak. And yet we keep each other in our prayers. We wrestle with each other about our vision of the Church Universal. We theologize and struggle with each other in a way that makes us want to pull our hair out (or theirs) and yet can still come together to get the work done. It is the stuff of community—important Christian community-- that I believe keeps us reminded of just how hard it is to keep this community called Church together.

While in New Orleans I met one of my NACC colleagues. I have read her blog for years and corresponded with her. She is a lay woman of great grace and charm who speaks the lay voice with dignity and more than a bit of steel magnolia. I am graced by her friendship on line and even more so now that I have met her in person. We have laughed at each other’s posts and grappled with each other’s vagaries but I know that I have someone in Louisiana that I can depend upon if I need prayer, or am up a cypress with an alligator on my tail. She is another one of God’s gift of community to me and I feel so enriched by her presence.

Who says that virtual communities aren’t REAL? Who says that virtual Church isn’t efficacious? If my Ursuline community is still a source of spiritual energy after 40+ years, why is not the community of those I speak to through the computer daily not just as important? The Revgalsblogpals are as much a community of faith as are my colleagues in the diocese who I claim as the ‘college of clergy’ in my area or the parish I attend weekly. They allow me to be myself in ways that I might still be unwilling to be in person. They are willing to let me speak freely and critique me with loving (and sometimes not so loving) kindness so that I can be transformed by their loving. Is that not Church? Is that not what each one of us is about who is serious about living out their Baptismal promises?

It doesn’t look like the white steeple church that is beginning to fail but the effects the same. It is going to be interesting to see what Christ’s Church is going to be in another 100 years. I hope I will be able to watch.

1 comment:

Grandmère Mimi said...

Muthah, what gracious and lovely words about me. How I enjoyed meeting you and the other 'gals', including the 'foreigners', Elizabeth and Eileen. We had a grand time, didn't we, despite the noisy women at the nearby table?

You were just as I expected, a wonderful, strong woman of great faith, as were all the women at table. I have seldom been surprised when I meet people whom I have known online for some time.

When I graduated from high school, I attended Ursuline College, which closed after my freshman year. The year served to introduce me to the Ursulines, a group of wise women, who taught me well the year I was with them. I transferred to Loyola the next year, but I may have learned more in that one year than in any year that followed.

Thanks again for your gracious words. I am so very pleased that we were able to share a meal and pass a good time.