Changing Church: Rev. Stacy Boorn, Pastor, Ebenezer/herchurch Lutheran, San Francisco, California

Rev. Stacy Boorn (photo by Viva van Assen http://www.vanviva.com)

When she was only nine years old, Stacy Boorn announced, “I want to be a pastor. God wants me to do this.” Even though she was growing up in a church that was part of the Missouri Synod Lutheran denomination, that still doesn’t ordain women, she didn’t realize then that women were prohibited from being pastors. As she grew older, she observed that there were only male pastors in the congregations in her town and only male Sunday School teachers and male elders in her church, but she still believed somehow that women could share leadership with men.

Stacy loved confirmation classes at Trinity Lutheran Church in Schenectady, New York. She especially loved the hymns and would take her red hymnbook with her into the bathtub. “I would sit in the bathtub singing hymns,” she recalls. “The red on the edges of the pages had all these little speckles from the water drops. I wish I’d kept that hymnbook. That began my personal journey of the love of liturgy and worship.”

When Stacy began college, she still hoped to become a Lutheran pastor. Along with just two other women, Stacy declared herself a pre-seminarian at Concordia Bronxville in New York, a Missouri Synod college. The three women did not get the scholarships that the male pre-seminarians were given. But her Lutheran congregation and pastor became supportive.

After her first year in college, she declared that she wanted to preach the sermon in a Sunday morning service at Trinity Lutheran. Pastor Arthur Downing agreed. Stacy, only nineteen years old, climbed up the steps into the elevated pulpit of that Lutheran church to preach her first sermon to a congregation of about eighty people. Stacy describes Trinity Lutheran as a beautiful little German church with slate floors, wooden pews, and stone walls with buttresses—like a miniature cathedral. When she reached the pulpit, three women raised their bulletins, looked at one another, stood up, stamped their feet, and walked out. Their high heels went “clunkity, clunkity, clunk” on that hard floor. Stacy stood there bewildered, but Pastor Downing said to her, “You just go on; never mind.”

In 1987, Stacy Boorn graduated from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, California, and was ordained by the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, a breakaway group from the Missouri Synod denomination, that became part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) when it formed in 1988.

Stacy’s first opportunity to serve as solo pastor came in 1989 at Grace Lutheran Church, a small congregation in Richmond, California.  When she was teaching in the children’s program, a Laotian girl looked at a picture in the Sunday School curriculum and said, “None of these children look like me.” Stacy at first thought the little girl meant that the children surrounding Jesus in the picture were all Caucasian, but then realized that they were also all boys. “Not only was Jesus a male, but all the children around Jesus were all boy children! In the curriculum there were no children of color, very few images of girls, few role models of women of faith, and certainly no feminine images of God. I tried to introduce pictures of God other than masculine, but these kids, ages three and four, told me, ‘That’s wrong! Jesus was a boy, and God’s a boy; that’s all there is to it!’ The whole society teaches this masculine God.”

In 1998, Pastor Boorn began serving as full-time interim mission-assessor pastor of Ebenezer Lutheran in San Francisco. Her training with the ELCA denomination to be a mission developer led to this call to help church members assess their potential for mission in the future. It was not until Stacy went to Ebenezer Lutheran that she began to read feminist theology. One of the first books she read was Rosemary Radford Ruether’s Sexism and God-Talk. She remembers thinking, “Oh, my goodness, what have I missed? Why didn’t anybody in my seminary experience point this out?” Stacy began wondering how she could integrate feminist theology into the liturgy but found the church “very entrenched in traditional liturgy, making it hard to introduce a new hymn even without inclusive language.”

When she had been at Ebenezer Lutheran less than a year, Pastor Boorn, with the parents’ permission, baptized a child “in the name of God who is our Mother and our Father and in the name of Jesus, who is the child of God.” This baptism stirred controversy in the congregation. Stacy recalls that one woman “really became upset and said that I was ‘not naming the God of the ELCA.’” Stacy wondered, “Does she mean that God is the God of the ELCA and every other church has their own God?” This woman, her husband, and a few others were in a small group who controlled the congregation. They felt threatened also by Stacy’s questioning the power structure of the congregation. “The reaction to calling God ‘Mother’ was connected to the overall use of power and control in the congregation for personal needs, patriarchal structure at its worst,” Stacy says.

Reading more feminist theology led Pastor Boorn to see the connections between patriarchal structures and the language of liturgy. When Ebenezer Lutheran first began using inclusive language for deity, one member of the church asked, “This language change doesn’t really change the essence of God, right?” Stacy replied, “No, not really.” Stacy says she would answer the question differently now because she has come to see that language does influence the way we experience the Holy Other.

Later when she was serving as called pastor of Ebenezer/herchurch, Stacy referred to God as “She” in the children’s summer program and had this interchange with a seven-year-old girl:

“You can’t call God ‘She.’ God’s a ‘He.’” the little girl declared.

“How do you know that?” Stacy asked.

“Everybody knows that.”

“How do you feel about that?”

“Well, I don’t like it because I’m a girl!”

Stacy says it’s sad that this little girl “had already figured out this was the way it was supposed to be, and there was something less about her.” But Stacy believes that continuing to hear the Divine referred to as female at Ebenezer/herchurch will make a difference in the self-worth of this little girl and others because it’s clear that the pervasive male language for divinity in the culture has had the opposite effect.

Pastor Boorn comments on the impact of language for divinity: “Language helps create who we are. Words have so much meaning, especially in the Protestant tradition because we don’t have icons. But words can be even stronger than pictures. We can pretend that we don’t have a domination structure because we don’t have male icons, but our words have become icons because that’s all we have in our liturgies. Words for Protestants have become icons. Some people say that all the masculine words in worship don’t matter because they don’t believe that God is male. How can they believe that God is gender-neutral if they call God only ‘He’ and refuse to call God ‘She’? I’m convinced that you cannot possibly believe that God is neither he nor she if you cannot call God ‘She.’”

In 2002, Ebenezer Lutheran put a large banner across the front of the church with these words:

“Everybody welcome at the table. Sunday morning worship at 10:30 a.m. God loves all Her children!”

Then church members thought it was time to have a website, and Stacy suggested naming it “herchurch.org” to connect with the banner statement. Soon thereafter the church became Ebenezer/herchurch Lutheran. After the banner was up, people started calling the church to say, “God is not a She!” Pastor Boorn says she has also received emails filled with condemning words: “You’re going to hell. How dare you change the nature of God! You’re not doing God’s will; you’re leading your congregation astray.”

Pastor Boorn, however, has received more affirming than critical comments and notes. Many people who have felt alienated from the Christian tradition have experienced a “whole new sense of church and communion, coming through and beginning with images of the Divine Feminine,” Stacy says. Prior to the 2009 Faith and Feminism/ Womanist/Mujerista Conference at Ebenezer/herchurch, volunteers were sitting around the table talking about ways they could help. “I can’t believe it,” Dionne Kohler, from Native American heritage, said. “I just can’t believe I’m doing this in a Christian church. I just can’t believe I’m in a Christian church again. I swore off Christianity forever because of how they treated me and how they treated women and how they treated other minority groups. I just don’t believe it! Not only am I coming to a Christian church, but I’m helping to plan a major event of a kind that I thought would never exist here.” Among the many affirming notes she has received is one from a woman named Christine: “I was so inspired and hope-filled to discover your website. I hadn’t dreamed I’d see the embrace of feminine images of God in the Lutheran church this ‘soon.’” Another note comes from Debbie: “I somehow stumbled upon the herchurch website and felt I had come home. I was a member of an ELCA congregation, but drifted away while looking for a God in whose image I was created. Thank you for the wonderful website and for the suggested readings. I plan to read through them and to pray the Rosary.”

Men, as well as women, express the positive difference that inclusion of the Divine Feminine in the church’s liturgy has made for them. Men have told Pastor Stacy that “they need the Divine Feminine in their lives to provide more balance and stability, to allow them to look at life differently and to be in touch with their feelings.” Stacy says that these men are making “conscious choices to live in the world in a non-patriarchal way.” Steve Rausch, minister of music and classical Lutheran organist, volunteered to bake bread for Communion every Sunday morning. “Steve honors the nature of the Divine One and all people by taking on a task that has historically been assigned just to women, and to be happy doing that,” Pastor Stacy comments. “It’s something that’s important not only for the women, but for him as well. He says he’s taken this task not just because he likes to bake.”

Since the two worship books in the Lutheran tradition do not offer inclusive language for Deity, Ebenezer/herchurch prints liturgies, collecting resources from a variety of sources. “Mother-Father,” “God/dess,” and “Christ-Sophia” are among the wide variety of divine images the church uses. “Christ-Sophia is one way to refer to the Risen One,” Pastor Boorn says. “There are many different ways of looking at the Divine Feminine within the same liturgical setting. Darkness is another image for the Divine Feminine, reclaiming Darkness as being as holy as Light.” Ebenezer/herchurch includes many other Divine Feminine images, such as “Midwife,” “Shekhinah,” and “Shaddai” from the Jewish tradition. “We especially love the name ‘Shaddai,’ meaning ‘mountain,’ ‘most high,’ and ‘the breasted one,’ because the church is in the shadow of what are called the ‘twin peaks’ of San Francisco, two peaks on the northeast side of the church that from a distance look like breasts,” Stacy explains. “So we look out and say, ‘There She is, Shaddai, right over there!’ Another image that has been powerful for us is the ‘Baker Woman’ in one of Jesus’ parables (Luke 13: 20-21). We have people who have been well educated in the biblical tradition but who have never realized that the Baker Woman in the parable is an image of God. They’ve learned that the male images in the parables, like the Shepherd, are God, but not the female images. When we start using the female images, like Baker Woman, as a God-name, people say, ‘Why wasn’t I told that was in the Bible? No one ever told me that was God. Who told me I could only read the Bible certain ways?’”

Pastor Boorn expresses her strong belief that the role of the pastor is to be prophet and priest at the same time. “The prophetic word is as important as the healing word or the comforting or pastoral word,” she says. “The mission of Ebenezer/herchurch Lutheran is to be a prophetic voice within the patriarchal church. Inclusion of the Divine Feminine will change the whole structure of the church. Eventually the clergy structure will be dismantled. The inclusion of the Sacred Feminine empowers women and men to look at alternative structures, to change power structures that leave people out or belittle them or give a person power over others. Exclusively masculine language for Deity supports those structures. Egalitarian language for the Holy Other supports egalitarian communities.”

Pastor Boorn believes that “there will never be full equality or justice for woman and girls globally as long as the religions of the world continue to personify the Holy Other exclusively or unevenly as male either metaphorically or literally.” This exclusively male image supports various forms of domination. Ebenezer/herchurch website explains: “It is not the intent or goal of the Sunday liturgy in this place to seek the eradication of masculine metaphors for God from Christendom but rather to speak and seek the holy liberation that is the core of the church and the One to whom the church gives witness. Claiming and celebrating female images of God in the scripture and the continued revelation of the presence of the Divine is an attempt to balance the predominantly androcentric and hierarchical images of God that abound in our biblical tradition. The use of feminine images and language for the Divine underscores the issue of justice. There is a direct correspondence between the church’s attitudes and actions towards women and the abuse of women.”

Pastor Stacy Boorn believes that in order to bring healing and justice in the world, we must change the church to include the Divine Feminine. “I don’t see how the world is going to change until the religious institutions change because they are so much a part of who the world is. The more we can provide church in a different way, the more we can hope things change.”

 

For more of Rev. Stacy Boorn’s story, see: https://wipfandstock.com/store/Changing_Church_Stories_of_Liberating_Ministers

I also highly recommend the church website for continuing news about the transforming, liberating ministry of Pastor Stacy Boorn and Ebenezer/herchurch Lutheran: http://www.herchurch.org

Pastor Stacy Boorn is also an award-winning, artistic photographer. Visit her blog where she posts awesome pictures along with meditations: http://stacy.awegallery.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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