The visit of the Italian tourists on Sunday evening (see 2018:3 post) became the source of conversation in class on Monday morning. As a way to practice English conversation I asked my students to talk about what they had seen, what they had heard, and what they had noticed.
It's always interesting to listen to their responses and hear the things that stand out for them. For my students, mostly in their 20s, from a country where 41% of the population is under the age of 20 and 61% of the population is under the age of 30, the age of the tourists was noteworthy. Most in the Italian group appeared to be in their late fifties, sixties, or older.
Some of the students commented on the words of the Italian bishop from Viterbo who preached and presided at the Mass. In his homily he had spoken a strong ecumenical word, "we are not Orthodox or Catholic, Coptic, or Latin, tonight we are one in Christ."
As the conversation was coming to a close, one of my student asked, "And what about you, Pastor Amy, what did you notice?"
What I noticed as I sat in the dining room following the service on Sunday evening was that the head table was filled with very important people, as would be expected. There were priests - Italian and Egyptian, bishops - Orthodox and Catholic, important people in the church - the Patriarch of the Coptic Catholic Church and the Vatican Ambassador to Egypt; and they were all men.
"How sad," I thought to myself as I observed these sons of Christ's church. They are all able to communicate with each other through the Italian language that they share, but because they are all men, they also communicate through the shared language of male privilege in a church that still honors men above women. The dominant voices they hear, the stories that shape their experiences and realities are primarily the voices of other men like them, except when they choose to invite a woman (and often it is only a single woman) to their table.
I was not disappointed that I was not at that table. I was disappointed that these leaders in Christ's church still live in a world and lead a church where theirs are the dominant voices and experiences that shape the decisions that are made and the ways the story of Jesus is told.
It's easy to read this and think that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), where I am called, is beyond this. I am called to an ELCA congregation where I serve as co-pastor with another woman, Pastor Abigail Zang Hoffman. Since 2013, the ELCA has been led by a presiding bishop who is a woman, Elizabeth Eaton. This past synod assembly season across our church, six new bishops were elected who are all women. I rejoice in all of these things.
The scene of the head table made me sad because it was such a vivid example of the world that many of us live in today, myself included. It is too common for me to sit with and talk to people who look like me, who talk like me, who share the same kinds of life experiences as me, who affirm the same political views as me, who talk about Jesus in the same way that I do. As I looked at that table of men on Sunday evening and willingly, even eagerly, judged them, I can't help but turn my disappointment toward myself and ask: "who sits at the tables where I sit?"
Like an Italian bishop who preaches and I'm certain sincerely believes, "we are all one in Christ," all our words are like dust until we dare to live as though those words are true. We encounter the presence of Christ when we share bread and conversation with those in our communities who we know and love, that is something that many of us have come to expect of life in Christian community. What is surprising, world-expanding, and a great blessing is when we encounter the presence of Christ in people whose lives and experiences are vastly different from our own.
Perhaps we can start to ask one another, "who is sitting at your table?" And maybe, we can even help one another to sit at new tables together. I'm confident the Spirit of Christ will help us.