I’ve had this towel for a long time. Such a long time that when my son Ian teased me about being 55, I could hardly imagine being that old. Hah!
ISAIAH 55:12 NEW REVISED STANDARD VERSION
12 For you shall go out in joy,
and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
One of the things I had to leave behind in the great Pod Purge was the towel shown above. I’d had it since the mid 90’s; it was fraying on the edges and had really seen better days. I didn’t want to toss it, but I knew I should, so I took a picture of it as a memento. Then I decided I should tell you the story behind the towel.
My first church appointment was in tiny Stillwater, NJ, in 1994. Stillwater is in the northwestern corner of the state, and is a lovely little farm community. The kids and I had a wonderful time there, at Harmony Hill United Methodist Church.
One of the notable features of church life was the weekly meeting of the quilters’ group. Most of the ladies were church members, but friends and neighbors were also welcome to sew and socialize every Monday. That’s how I met Margaret, the lady behind the towel.
Margaret was a member of a Lutheran church in the next town; in fact, she had helped build that church, brick by brick, as one of the founding families. She asked to meet with me privately one afternoon, and tearfully explained that her church and her pastor refused to allow her to hold office in the church because in a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, no woman is allowed to be in a position of authority over a man. Why, you may ask? Say it with me now – because the Bible says that women are to keep silent in church.
Now, my DUMC friends have just heard me preach, with my woman’s voice, on the ways that scripture is misused to silence women. If you perchance missed my Swan Song sermon, you can find it in a post by that name elsewhere on this blog. But back to Margaret.
Through tears, she told me of her long and faithful history with her church. At 72 years old, she was now being denied a place in the ministry of her church, with the approval and support of her beloved pastor. She told me her story because she knew I would understand, and because she couldn’t go to her own pastor in her time of sorrow.
I don’t know if Margaret is still alive, since this all took place about 25 years ago. As I was leaving Stillwater to continue my journey, she brought me this towel as a gift. When I unfolded it, there was my name, lovingly applied in her handwork. She said that she put the Isaiah scripture on the towel as a sneaky little way of reminding me to pray for her whenever I used it. She chose that scripture, she said, because it reminded her of me.
It still makes me sad to think of Margaret, and all the people who have been hurt over the years by the misuse of scripture. Do me a favor, will you? If you ever hear someone begin a sentence with, “But the Bible says…” be very very careful about believing the rest of that statement.