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Scroll through the Britbox streaming service. I dare you. For therein you may come across one of the most ridiculous, offensive, delightful, uplifting, confusing religious comedies ever made. To call Dawn French, et. al, genius is an understatement I won’t be guilty of. Rather, I like to refer to the show as what helped save my Christian sanity.
My husband and I had heard of this comedic show previous to our enrollment in seminary. But it wasn’t until we began taking classes together under women theologians and historians, with women pastor classmates, that we decided to look up a show starring a comedienne as a vicar in a small village in England.
How, you may ask, did a comedy making light of icky things and probably all the Seven Deadlies help save my Christian sanity?
That’s a good question I can’t quite answer myself. But I suppose this show offered me a taste of hope, a bit like one of the most significant moments of my recent life.
I had accompanied my husband to the seminary library where he was researching such “joyful” topics as white supremacy and its insidious infiltration into Christianity. I “happened” to turn around and wander on my own, wondering what treasures filled the shelves behind me. I stumbled along, aimlessly for a few moments, and then, I saw them.
A big, beautiful row of books, lining the shelves for more than a full section, greeted my eyes. Women in Church History. Names I had never before seen called out to me. Saint Clare of Assisi, for one (a woman I went on to study intensively a few months later). Row upon row of women who served the Church and served Christ. Not as pastor’s wives, but as ministers.
I have no calling to preach and even less desire to do so, rather to serve in the arts as global personnel (missionary). But meeting these women in the annals of my seminary library shifted something in me.
I could hardly keep from weeping as I heard God speaking to my much-wounded, long-pained heart. Women have, since ancient times, been in ministry and loved and called by God into these roles.
You see, I am a woman who once belonged to the Southern Baptist Church and was deeply influenced by the misogynistic teachings therein. And though I have always (well, since I was a teen) known my calling into ministry is from God, I have been disparaged and rejected repeatedly by the church leaders.
I can recall many moments when I sought counsel only to be told I wasn’t “allowed” to do something. I sought direction and compassion, consideration and leading, as they wanted me to, yet it was never truly given. Instead, I was overlooked, told in no uncertain terms that I would never be suitable, and even at times ostracized for my calling and my “different” thinking.
Yet, I was brainwashed. The term is an unpleasant and far over-used one, but it is true. My youth coming up in these churches in the South so inundated me with venom and malice, disrespect and arrogance against women, People of color, the poor, the “different,” and most definitely those of the LGBTQIA+ community, that I joined their ranks of hatred.
“Hate the sin, love the sinner,” the long-time mantra misrepresents the quote from Saint Augustine of Hippo. The concept from his original writings is very different from what modern Christendom has twisted it to mean. And how I lapped it up at the waters poured out by the religious leaders of my childhood.
Bringing us back to the Vicar, I suppose this is one of the things that has helped to revive my spiritual life. The Vicar of Dibley, played by Dawn French, a “non-conventionally religious” person and comedienne, loves and cares for people, not distinguishing “sinner” from “good person.” That is, the Vicar offers no judgment of person (just of bad choices and taste!).
Now, the surprising thing may be this: until that moment at school, I wasn’t really sure what I believed about women as pastors, yet I had sat under a woman pastor for the previous three years. And that woman pastor was the best pastor I’ve ever had.
My whole life, like so many other creatives and distinctive folks, I have been looked down on for making choices differently than those who seek the American Dream. I have never found money/wealth, possessions, luxury, and such things appealing. Instead, I have made decisions to pursue my calling and my yearning for a place not yet my home.
And though it may seem odd to some, this trifecta of women of the church (the Vicar, my pastor, Mandy, and the women of Church history recently introduced to me) has helped to restore vigor, hope, and joy to my soul.
I no longer see myself as “different” in my calling. Instead, I understand that others won’t understand. My calling, my life, my hope, my faith are not founded on the expectations of others. Instead, as the Vicar implied in that first episode of the Vicar of Dibley, this call isn’t conventional as far as people are concerned. But it is from God.
Looking for more inspiration? Check out these pieces from the MockingOwl Roost contributors and staff.
- Emotional Widow
- It’s Jesus or Your Car
- How Never Doubting My Christian Dogma Nearly Ruined My Life and Why I’m Grateful to Have Doubts
- We Did It!
- “I Will Answer Yes”
- How Wandering Aimlessly Led to My First Big Break as a Writer
- Sister Teacups
- My Baháʼí Temple Experience
- It Was About Being Well-Loved
- The Need for Expectations
Editor-in-Chief of The MockingOwl Roost, Rita Mock-Pike is the granddaughter of aviatrix, Jerrie Mock, first woman to pilot an airplane solo around the world. Rita has found inspiration from her grandmother’s life and flight and pursued many of her own dreams in theatre, podcasting, novel writing, and cooking up delicious food from around the world. She now writes on food, travel, pets, faith, and the arts. She’s happily married to Matt, and faithfully serves the very fluffy kitten queen, Lady Stardust.