I called up the Rev. Margaret Ellen Towner (pictured here) the other day and, in the process of catching up on her fascinating life, asked if she was interested in submitting her resume to my church, which is in the process of searching for a new pastor -- and I serve on the search committee.
Margaret, now in her mid-80s, laughed and said, "I'm not sure I've got that much energy left."
But she has had energy for ministry for more than half a century. Margaret was ordained to ministry in what is now the Presbyterian Church (USA) on Oct. 24, 1956, thus becoming the first female member of the clergy in our denomination.
And, trust me, Margaret, who lives in Sarasota, Fla., now, still has energy, though perhaps not enough to be the full-time lead pastor of an active 900-member congregation.
"Oh, I'm still doing it," she said of church-related work. In fact, she filled the pulpit for two straight Sundays at a Florida church in October. And she's continued to be active in Peace River Presbytery. In fact, she's on a committee that is planning a celebration of the presbytery's upcoming 20th anniversary.
"I'm not sitting by the wayside," she told me.
She's also trying to write a book about her life in ministry. But she's finding that a slow process.
"What I need," she said, "is a kick in the butt."
Well, maybe, but what Margaret Towner gave the Presbyterian church 53 years ago was a needed kick in the butt to consider the future ordination of many more women. Today, 27 percent of our pastors are female, while 45 percent of our specialized clergy (hospital chaplains and such) are female. And it's not unusual to find Presbyterian seminaries at which women students outnumber men.
Yes, there still are stained-glass ceilings through which women still must break. But things are radically different today than they were when Margaret was the only female clergy in our denomination. Which is reason enough to celebrate with her on the anniversary of her ordination.
* * *
A CHURNING RELIGIOUS PICTURE
For more proof that there are few, if any, simple answers when it comes to world religious trends, a new report issued Friday calls religious change around the world "a complex phenomenon." People with simple (and simplistic) explanations for what's going on in this field distress me. Life rarely is simple. And simple answers usually are wrong answers.