Growing up, I gave little, if not zero thought to being ordained. Being raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the most influence a woman could have was of a Relief Society President, and I can’t say that calling ever appealed to me. I did, however, notice the imbalance of gender in leadership from a very young age.
I grew up in Provo, Utah and remember in high school, being excited that we had a woman seminary teacher on staff. I got into her class the first semester of my senior year, and we became instant friends. We had a lot of dialogue outside of class. I loved hearing about the gospel from her. When the semester was over, I marched into the principal’s office and asked to have her again. Much to my surprise, he allowed it and my friendship with her continued years after I graduated. I admired her greatly and decided I would try to follow her life path: raise a family and then after my kids were grown, go back to school to become a CES instructor. That was as close to ordination as a woman could get in the church.
About 8 years and a lot of study and prayer later, my family and I found ourselves out of the LDS Church and joining Community of Christ (RLDS). RLDS Prophet, Wallace B. Smith, received a revelation providing for the ordination of women in 1984 The ordinations began the following year. Currently, there are women serving in all of the governing bodies of the church, including the First Presidency. Community of Christ handles priesthood differently than the LDS Church. It’s not automatic and children or teenagers are not usually ordained. Ordination for offices in a congregation happen in response to a pastor sensing a call for a particular candidate, based on the personal giftedness of that person, observations, prayers, and affirming testimonies of other leaders in the congregation. The response from the candidate comes from a sense of feeling called, not out of a place of want or obligation. Not all adults are ordained, and it’s not a lateral advancement as it is in the LDS Church.
In joining Community of Christ and learning how priesthood was viewed, I had a hunch ordained ministry would be in my future. I fell deeply in love with my new found theology and the focus on peace and justice. The idea of serving in priesthood quietly stirred within me, too. I had given myself a time frame of a couple years to get settled, figure out what I felt called to, and then maybe- just maybe- my sense of call would be matched with something.
On August 29, 2015, our pastor, Robin Linkhart, and the associate pastor, Seth Bryant, came to our house for an unidentified conversation. They presented both my husband and myself priesthood calls to the office of priest. Here was the moment my spiritual entire life had been building up to. Immediately after the call was presented, my mind was filled with paralyzing feelings of inadequacies and insecurities.
I had just exited the tunnel of a very traumatic faith transition. My identity stripped from me, and I was still in reconstruction mode. I had been told my entire life that I had no place at the ordination table and those feelings hit me like a ton of bricks. I didn’t know what I had to offer. I was scared I was only being called because I had become so close to Robin and because of that the call might not be genuinely from God. It was all coming to soon. We hadn’t even been members a year. I wasn’t ready. I had only a sliver of an idea of what a priest in Community of Christ even was. How on earth could I say yes?
I did not say yes. My husband did, but I could not. I sat in quiet tears, so afraid to let my both my congregation and dear friends down. I felt so stupid because here I was, a former Mormon who believed deeply that women should be ordained and on top of that I had felt a sense of call from the time I was in high school. Yet I couldn’t give an automatic response of “yes.”
During the next few days, I contacted several Community of Christ priests and talked to them about the office, my insecurities, as well as my hopes for ministry. I also couldn’t help but think of the pioneering women and men who made it possible for me to even be grappling with this question. Ordaining women in Community of Christ did not come without a heavy cost. It was a painful process that tore apart families, congregations and communities. Hearing members talk about it still sends chills up my spine. It was one of the most brave, vulnerable, and sacred things the leaders of the church presented to the people. Here I was, 31 years later, being invited to participate.
Maybe most significantly, I thought of Sandy. Sandy was a woman from Colorado who I never got to meet. She finished Seminary at Community of Christ’s Graceland University while battling terminal cancer. This past spring I had the sacred opportunity to sit in her Colorado home and speak with her husband about his late wife’s love for our church. Sandy said yes over and over again to ministerial opportunities that came her way, even when she was at her weakest state. Why? Because letting women participate fully in Christ’s mission matters. Ordaining women is what God called us to do.
On the fifth morning after my call came, I woke up with Sandy on my heart. I imagined what advice she would have for me, and I went into a deep mode of prayer and meditation. It was a meaningful, sacred experience. Without Sandy’s help, I am not sure I could have said yes. A few days later, at a women’s retreat at the same beautiful camp ground where I had my first experience with Community of Christ, I delivered my “yes” to the woman who is my pastor and precious friend, Robin. She has shown her faith in me time and time again.
My husband and I anticipate our ordinations in the beginning of 2016. We have classes provided by the church to complete, and it’s not a process that needs to be rushed. Ultimately, he and I will be able to bless and pass Communion, the equivalent to Sacrament, together. In a few years, when our twins are eight years old, we can each lead one of them into the waters of baptism- side by side. We will be working in the congregation- side by side- making sure the needs of the people are being met. Building mission and ministry together, our daughters -as well as our son, will see a model of both parents participating in every opportunity that comes their way. Our children will never know the feelings I had as a young girl: yearning to see women serving in priesthood leadership capacities. Community of Christ actively adds to the Doctrine and Covenants, and it is likely that they will be around when scripture is written by a woman- a future President of the church.
Ordaining women has deeply enriched Community of Christ. Women participate in every governing body of the church. We are key components at every level of decision making. As a church, we wouldn’t be who we are without the fully functioning leadership of women. I am both humbled and grateful to be joining the women of the restoration who have been called to this sacred sense of trust and ministry.
Brittany is with Robin Linkhart–the pastor/president of seventy who called her and who will be ordaining her.