For the past 24 hours I have been attending a clergy conference. It’s a wonderful opportunity afforded to the clergy of our diocese by our Bishop to get away from it all in a spectacularly holy place called Christ the King Spiritual Life Center in Greenwich, NY. This is an annual event, which I have attended many times during my ministry in the Diocese of Albany. It is really a gift to the clergy as the Bishop not only makes it affordable, even free if you really can’t afford it, he provides a quality speaker and his own gentle presence and spirituality. We have been fortunate to have people from all over the world come and share their spiritual wisdom and God’s message of love and hope for his ministers. This year, Bishop Santosh Marray, Assisting Bishop of the Diocese of East Carolina has been our retreat leader and what a gift!
He started out talking about “stretch marks,” which had everyone, including our Bishop, wondering at the wisdom of bringing this guy in to talk to us. But he quickly put our minds and hearts at ease when he explained that most of what we go through in life causes our spiritual stretch marks, the sign that God is stretching us to learn and grow in some kind of new way or direction. He told us how God had stretched him by sending him to a diocese which had spent the money that had been set aside to build a new church for his congregation. He described how God had stretched him by teaching him to wait while he dealt with the difficult people in his ministry.
This morning he began his message by talking about what we call God. He talked about how the people of the 1st Century didn’t really call God “the Father” because they had grown up with the image of Abraham as the Father of God’s chosen people. For him, the word that Jesus used to talk about his Father in heaven was what worked for him – “Abba.” That’s an Aramaic word that is pretty much untranslatable but is best rendered as “Daddy.” It’s a very familiar form of address that has become a meditative and prayerful word in a lot of contemporary Christian music.
In the middle of all of this, he spoke about the culture he came from and what people called priests. He said that it was interesting to him to find our part of the church in a huge dispute over the use of “Father” as a title. Of course, in the past 20 years, the dispute has been ratcheted up a notch by the ordination of us women, many of whom decided that if the men would be called “Father,” then they should be called “Mother.” If you’ve read my book, you know that I have consistently resisted that moniker as, in my mind, that makes it a gender issue and when God made me a priest, the Bishop didn’t ask God to make me a “woman priest.” I was made a priest by God, just as every other ordinand has been throughout the history of the church.
Well, Bishop Santosh had seen my license plate and he started to talk about it and how I had certainly dealt with the issue for myself since I proudly displayed the name “Lady Father” on my car. He said, “I haven’t read the book but I can tell that this Father thing is not an issue for you – you’ve worked that out haven’t you?” I nodded, dumbfounded that he had so easily and freely advertised my book for me. Suddenly everyone was aware that I had written a book that was for sale. I couldn’t have afforded to pay for an advertisement that good!
When the session was over, I got a book from my car, inscribed and signed it, and when I encountered the Bishop on the way to lunch, I presented it to him as a thank you gift for lifting my book up for everyone in the room to see. I even marked the pages where I tell the story of how I got the name “Lady Father.” I hope he likes the book; I know that I am honored that he might just read it. If you haven’t, I’d be honored if you would read it too.
Susan Bowman, the “LadyFather” has written a book on her experiences in the ordained ministry. Aptly named “Lady Father,” it is slated for re-release in the near future. Subscribe now to receive a publication announcement and check out Susan’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ladyfather.