A parishioner perched in my office one afternoon. She was excited and concerned. She had attended a conference and loved much of it, but she wanted to talk to me about the sermon she heard entitled “Speaking Truth to Power”. In her opinion the sermon had felt quite timely and address some social issues including how women can and should speak up to the powers that be. She was inspired. The part that concerned her was that in all her 80+ years she had never heard of this biblical character. When she asked the preacher about it, the answer was, she’s not in the lectionary (sigh). Of course, she insisted that at my next opportunity, I preach about Abigail. (I preach every six weeks or since I’m the associate pastor). I knew I would never measure up to the sermon or memory of the sermon she had just told me about, so I told her I would think about it in a way that was clear I wouldn’t be giving the same sermon. And then with a small amount of anguish she asked, “how many other women have been left out of the lectionary?” I was silent for a moment, unsure of how to answer. A few names ran through my mind of women I knew were not included but the truth was that like my parishioner I had largely attend churches that stuck to the lectionary texts and maybe there were women I didn’t know either. “I don’t know” I answered honestly as much to myself as to her. There was another heavy moment and then she lightened the mood by talking about other parts of the conference and the people she met, but I’ve been carrying the gravity of that conversation like a rock in my already heavy work bag for several months. It is there every time I reach for my laptop or notebook or pen.
When I say lectionary, I mean a set of texts that are assigned to Sundays and Festival days throughout the church year and they rotate through a three year cycle (years A,B, and C). The truth is the idea of a year F, a feminist lectionary, has been one I’ve thought about for years. There must be a better way to connect feminism and other progressive ideas to faith. It is unfortunate how often religious people are depicted as being anti-progress and anti-women’s rights. How is it possible that women can put up with worshiping within a context that does not allow them to be ordained or hold the same offices that men do? How is it possible that a God who loves everyone, loves some of us more than others or has made some of us a little lower than others, less capable of communicating with our loving creator? How do I explain that I feel as close to God wearing a clerical robe as I do a pussy hat? My faith informs all areas of my life and yet I struggle to connect my faith to feminism, and to communicate to others what it means to connect those two seemingly opposite ideals. And ideally, this would all be intersectional and include all of those whom feel excluded from faith traditions. So yeah, it is overwhelming. Which is why I thought that creating a new lectionary year might be a way that I can hold up a little corner of the kingdom of God. It would be a small gesture.
I’ve begun work on a spread sheet that allows me to categorize biblical texts. I have columns for those in the lectionary, those not, and if it’s found in year A, B, or C. Columns for those who include female characters or metaphors and those that don’t. I have columns for other texts that might be paired together to include the same number of readings a typical Sunday lectionary would. I quickly realized that for some of these texts a lectionary wouldn’t be enough. There would need to be commentaries, prayers, hymns, and all manner of recourses to make sure the texts were actually preached. This project was quickly becoming bigger than I felt capable of tackling.
I reached out to one of my CREDO team members to get some advice. Turns out, there is a group already working on year D, which will add more texts to what is already included in the other years. Specifically, having four years of the lectionary allows each gospel to be highlighted. It’s a great concept but doesn’t quite have the same goal as I do, but I added a column for it in my spread sheet anyway. I needed an extra column about as much as I need spotting between periods… it’s concerning and is probably revealing something about my health. The other resource he told me to consider is “Remembering the Women: Women’s Stories from Scripture for Sundays and Festivals” and its accompanying prayer book. I have found both helpful for my own preaching. And I’m searching out other books too. Even if year F doesn’t come together, I’m hoping to at least have a solid list of reference material to share with others looking to understand women of the bible too.
Just when I thought I was limiting my scope of research, a Sunday school teacher asked me if I knew of a resource for women of the bible that would be age appropriate for her class. I was thrilled that our church would continue to raise strong women, and immediately felt inadequately equipped to do so. This was another weighty moment where I felt the need to say, “I don’t know”. The good news is that I knew just who to ask. I posted the question in the YCW (Young Clergy Women) Facebook group. The favorite among those who responded was “Grit and Grace”, so I passed the information to the Sunday school teacher who bought the book and told me I could borrow it too.
All of this is to say, the spread sheet, the folder full of blog ideas and life in general can be overwhelming. I’m writing this blog post partially because I feel the need to justify why I haven’t written since December. And partially because I want to record for myself that I have done a lot of work and I don’t need to feel guilty over the things that have not been done. And to remember, there are communities of strong women with strong faith all around me (and you). My promise and my prayer is that when anyone asks “Abigail who?” someone will be able to share her story and her faith.
You can find Abigail in 1 Samuel 25:1-42.