I came to GS 2014 as a General Synod Seminarian, despite the fact that I have already graduated from seminary, and no longer fall into the category of seminary student. I knew that coming to GS involved a lot of sitting and listening, observing the forming of policy and polity, as well as the arguing of difficult subject matter between opposing sides (and even including the input of some neutral opinions as well). Yet I never surmised that my time at the only national gathering of my beloved denomination would involve me (and my other seminary comrades) remaining entirely silent. For those who know me well (and even for those who spend any length of time with me), being asked to remain silent is a “David and Goliath-like” battle, especially when it comes to matters of Theology, Church Order and Worship…forget about matters of human rights and social justice. I have had to grow into the understanding that my voice, while important, has a time and place, and while welcome in this world, isn’t always welcome at the center of the conversation at all times.
However, this week, I’ve felt voiceless, especially when it comes to issues such as our possible transition from annual synods to biennial synods, offering children space at the Lord’s Table, and Commissioned Pastors. What should be a time to discuss matters of the heart, soul and spirit (and even theological inclinations) has turned into a time of voicelessness, punctuated by the spread of frustration, sadness and ultimate helplessness. Yesterday afternoon, we were broken down into small advisory groups with the intention of discussing further one particular subject matter, and to say the least, mine was lackluster. Out of respect to the moderator, for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect and will keep her in my prayers as she is my sister in Christ and ministry, as well as a member of this body that is my beloved RCA, despite the fact that I was treated with a great deal of disrespect and further silenced, I will keep the details of the group out of this post. What I took away from the advisory group is that I am without a doubt voiceless in this year’s General Synod, despite my inside and out knowledge of the BCO, and my great knowledge of the GS Workbook. I am not invited up to speak at any of the microphones, nor am I invited to hit either number 1 nor 2 to cast my vote on an amendment to make a difference that will undoubtedly directly affect me not sometime in the murky and unknown future, but in the very real here and now.
But not all is lost – my voicelessness is not a Terminal Disease or an incurable condition of my seminarian status in a room filled with powerful Ministers of Word and Sacrament. Simply because I can’t get up at the microphone and speak to the big wigs at the long table by no means indicates a lack of vocal tenacity or knowledge or passion of/for the issue at hand. A lack of a voice here at GS 2014 does not mean that I (or anyone else) will forever be voiceless, and in fact, what I observe and take in here is powerful information that I can take back to my ministry context at home. Everything I observe is a weapon, a tool and an instrument that can be used to empower, to heal, to mend a relationship and to further strengthen the kingdom of God in my teeny tiny little corner of the world.
My voicelessness is not a metastatic disease, not a disease that has spread to the remainder of my ministry, but a factor of my youth, perhaps a factor of my inexperience, perhaps a factor of my position as a woman who felt the call to attend Princeton Theological Seminary over the two RCA seminaries, one being only 17 miles away from the institution I attended instead. My voicelessness is rather a curable disease, something that can be irradiated, if only we work together and are proactive to listen, make space for one another’s differences, and offer forgiveness for sins and grievances. Muting one another, whether it be a factor of a current or long-standing power dynamic, or whether it be out of fear of the unknown will never make progress a priority, nor will it allow for true and authentic unity, especially among the tenuous, fallen and fragile Body of Christ. Muting some voices and magnifying others sends exactly the message that speaking out is wrong, and that discerning God’s voice in the midst of chaos is certainly problematic, if not heretical.
I feel blessed to be surrounded by mentors – mentors in ministry, mentors in academia – who support me, who push back at me, and who prayerfully challenge my voice in this season of voicelessness so that I still feel empowered, but most importantly, so that I can cultivate an attitude of courage even in the midst of this wilderness. Just because I can’t get up and introduce myself as a synod seminarian from _______ classis and as a graduate from Princeton Seminary, I can still hold my head high and encourage others that my voicelessness (nor my age, gender, or lack of a call at this moment in time) is not therefore result of anything other than my position at this moment in time. My desire to fight for God’s predestined future for the denomination – and yes, I am truly a Calvinist, for whatever that’s worth – is wholehearted; I shall hold to the belief that we must discern together with united voices, and that begins with allowing all voices – both the old and young, white, black and every color in between, English-speaking, Korean, Spanish, Dutch, Japanese, and every other language represented, and if any voice is muted, reconciliation and progress cannot be reached and a future will look very different than the glorious potential it possesses.
I do not and cannot believe silence and a state of voicelessness is for forever, and yet, in the here and now, it feels paralyzing. My encouragement for anyone in leadership is to give those of us who have no voice an opportunity to share what we see and hear; prayerfully yield the floor, intently listen to the younger generation of pastors (and younger MEANS those who have just been granted their M.Divs, not just those of us who didn’t seen Watergate, the Vietnam War, and who might miss certain Who and Beatles references…), as we are extremely perceptive to God’s call for the denomination, but just need a mic and a listening ear.