Who Makes the To Do List?

I got to thinking about “complementarianism” and “egalitarianism” this past week, of bicentennial celebration madness at our church.

We took on A LOT of planning and preparation, and by “we” I mean the members of the planning task force, and then the various other individuals we enlisted to do all the kinds of things that the events involved.

We have a small congregation, and within that congregation, an even smaller number of individuals who regularly do a lot of the tasks that need doing to produce certain kinds of events. If we have a meal, for instance, we know who we will likely see in the kitchen, and who will decorate the CLC, and who will bring those pretty dishes from home.

We have an aging congregation, too, so taking on A LOT of work wears us out. More than it used to.

But we had a good reason for taking on a lot of work when it came to this bicentennial. Or, more like, a set of good reasons: this is an opportunity to bring the congregation to the attention of the local community in big way, and it matters to some of the people in the congregation, who we love, and it will be a great way to gather together old and young, and to reflect on where the congregation has been and where we are going, and so on and so forth. So, we had thought it through, we had counted the cost, we knew what it would involve, we knew what we could manage and what we couldn’t, we knew some of the trade-offs we faced.

We are not going to have a holiday bazaar this year, as we have done for many years running, because we could see that there would not be energy for another full court press event just a couple of weeks after this bicentennial celebration.

And by “we,” again, I mean the members of the Session, the church board.

So this particular “we” includes some of the people who actually do this work, who take on those essential tasks to make an event happen. Who make the calls and the lists and think of the things needful and get the sign ups and cook the food and lay in the supplies and decorate the room and set up the serving tables and lay out the food and brew the coffee and serve the food and clear the tables and wash the dishes and clean up the kitchen and pack up the leftovers and stand on their feet for hours and make it happen, physically.

And many of these workers are women.

Our congregation includes men who cook and make tasty food, and men who are aesthetically-minded and who make good art, but the gender division of labor that’s in the world is in the church, so when we have meal events, the executive and assistant producers are more often than not the “church ladies.”

So, this past week, while the church ladies were contributing A LOT of work to the producing of the bicentennial celebration week, this occurred to me:

The church ladies are also on the Session and the planning task force.

The church ladies sat on the committee that decided “Let’s do this.”

The same people who got the to do list helped make that to do list.

Suppose different people had made that to do list.

Suppose we, and by “we” I mean the church ladies, belonged to a church where the church ladies do not sit on the Session or the planning task force, because “the Bible says” that sphere of authority in the church belongs to men.

Suppose we had been handed this to do list by people who had made the decision “let’s do this” first, and told us what it was going to require of us second, without having the benefit of any church lady’s first-hand experience of what that would mean practically speaking, at least not beforehand.

How different would our experience have been?

I can’t help thinking it would have been different.

Because I think most of us [human beings] would agree that one of the essential elements of what we think of as “freedom,” that makes freedom different from coercion or compulsion, is “consent” – the “Yes!” we give to something we choose, in preference to all the other stuff we are saying “So, no” to when we agree to this, whatever this is. The recognition that we really have a choice in the “OK, this.”

[Like a week of working on bicentennial celebration events, instead of a week of long leisurely evenings at home watching Netflix and getting to bed early.]

Having a place at the table, having a voice in making the decision in the first place, really makes a difference when it comes to that kind of consent.

It’s less like grudgery drudgery and more like joy to do the tasks on the to do list when you helped put them there in the first place.

Just sayin’.

I think the complementarians are wrong about “the Bible says” when it comes to having church ladies on church planning task forces and Sessions and their other-denominational counterparts.

Mainly because I think we know this, and we know it from the Bible: that God is into mobilizing that free kind of consent, more than God is into engineering the kind of resigned compliance that is the fruit of compulsion or coercion.

The kind people often get when they “pull rank,” as we sometimes say.

Which is something people can have to do when they make to do lists for other people.

And as coincidence or providence would have it, someone else was just saying something similar, in the context of thinking about Revelation 3:20, about how Jesus seeks “permission.”

Instead of “pulling rank.”

As we sometimes say, knowing what we know about rank, and about pulling it, and about how that feels.

Table scene with three children by Gauguin

2 responses to “Who Makes the To Do List?”

  1. This anecdote seems to say something about who actually makes decisions in a church:
    I was amused to overhear a louder than necessary conversation at the next table in an out-of-town restaurant. The participants, clearly local Episcopalians, complained that some “Presbyterian types” had joined their church and gotten elected to the Vestry (=Session?). Seems they were convinced that if they voted in a new policy for the congregation, the Rector (=Pastor?) was obliged to follow it, whereas the Rector’s actual response was basically, “You’ve got to be kidding!” I felt happy to be a Presbyterian right then.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. LOL – it’s true that there’s a difference between how decisions are made “officially” and how decisions are made in practice, so that they stick.

    (I suspect that in practice, “complementarians” often end up with a system where the all-male church board proposes and the church ladies’ committee disposes. Such that the church ladies’ input comes to matter, either way. Still … I’m a fan of direct and transparent deliberation and decision, over indirect and occult – the Presbyterian in me, again, probably.)


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