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On letting Junia fly

22 March 2012

One of the posts in this month’s Synchroblog is Letting Junia Fly: Releasing the Called | Wendy McCaig. It set me thinking, and here are some of the thoughts it provoked.

It is rather difficult to write, because in many ways it may look like arguing against what Wendy said in her post, marshalling counter-arguments, and trying to refute what she said. But if there is any sermonising here, it is directed at me rather than Wendy.

Who was Junia?

According to the web site of the Orthodox Church in America

Saint Junia and Saint Andronicus of the Seventy were relatives of the holy Apostle Paul. They labored much, preaching the Gospel to pagans. St Paul mentions them in his Epistle to the Romans: “Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and fellow prisoners, who are of note among the Apostles, who also were in Christ, before me” (Romans 16:7).

St Andronicus was made Bishop of Pannonia, but his preaching also took him and St Junia to other lands, far from the boundaries of his diocese. Through the efforts of Sts Andronicus and Junia the Church of Christ was strengthened, pagans were converted to the knowledge of God, many pagan temples closed, and in their place Christian churches were built. The service in honor of these saints states that they suffered martyrdom for Christ.

St Junia was an apostle. Wendy, in her blog post, says, “Junia can fly – will you show her how?”

And Wendy goes on to say

I am a grown woman. I am a former CPA who founded a rapidly growing non-profit that has managed to keep the doors open for seven year in the midst of a recession – no small accomplishment. I have demonstrated that I can hold my own in the corporate and non-profit arena. So why am I running from the institutional church?

The truth is I am afraid – afraid of being caged. When I think of the institutional church, the memories come flooding back. I have the memory of serving on a mission’s team and being told that the most important role I could play was to bake cookies for the outreach efforts even though I don’t cook and have a Masters of Divinity. It is the memory of being told that I could lead as long as no one saw me as a leader because I was a woman and that would be unbiblical. It is the memory of asking my church for $100 to help a family avoid eviction and being told there was no money because of the multi-million dollar building campaign. This basically said to me, “Your call to care for the poor is not a valid call of the church.”

None of these comments were malicious. None of the individuals meant to cage me. One by one these limitations, messages and painful situations convinced me that I could not be me in the institutional models of the church. So I left and choose to exercise my call within the non-profit sector. I know I am not alone in this. Most people don’t start non-profits but many leave the church to follow their call.

Now in some ways I have a lot of sympathy with that. I have had similar experiences.

In another post, In the Company of Junia, Wendy notes some Western Protestant attempts to change Junia’s sex and deny that there were female apostles. But Junia herself was never caged. Even in martyrdom, she flew. And she doesn’t need us to help her.

Yes, I have often felt “caged” by the instiutional church. I have often felt that my gifts and talents were not being recognised, and not used, and that others were being paid to do things that I had to do as a hobby and finance from my own resources. It would be nice to be released from the cage and allowed to fly.

And the impression I get from this is that if Junia could fly, she would find fulfilment in her ministry, she would release her potential and be everything that she could be. And wouldn’t it be cool if she, and all the rest of us, could do that.

But a nagging thought comes to me.

It was Jesus saying, “For the Son of man also came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42).

St Andronicus and St Junia flanking St Athanasius the New of Christianopolis, all commorated on May 17

Ministry means service; but it is not about being served, but serving. It is not about me. It is not about me flying, me finding personal fulfilment, me realising my potential.

St Paul asks, “Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?” (I Cor 12:29-30) clearly expecting the answer no. St Junia was an apostle, but that doesn’t necessarily follow that I am or should be. There are many different ministries in the church, but all of them are for serving God and his people, and not our own self-fulfilment.

Now I am not saying that Wendy said this, or intended to say this, but there are many who speak as if ministries in the Church are like secular jobs, dependent on qualifications, abilities and merits measurable by human standards. But in Christian ministry, the moment I think I am the right person for a particular ministry, it probably means that I am not.

It doesn’t always work like this, of course. The Church is no stranger to ambition, status seeking, and power-hungry climbers if the hierarchical ladder.  But I’m saying that it shouldn’t be like that, and we should not be thinking of ministry in those terms.

And I don’t think St Junia did.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Irulan permalink
    22 March 2012 9:35 pm

    agreed.

  2. 23 March 2012 1:39 am

    I understand Wendy and find so many echoes in my own life. I am in the later stages of life and have done a lot of coming to terms with myself, my Christian journey, and the church itself. Old age makes some things easier.

    Some gifts are welcomed by the church and some are not. Some are misunderstood and some are abused or overused – and just as easily misunderstood. I believe mine is a prophetic gift – but I have yet to find in the parishes in which I have worshipped an understanding of what the prophetic gift means.

    For me the prophetic gift does not have to be spelt with a capital P prophet such as the biblical prophets. In our time, it is living a life that does not conform to worldly standards; it is speaking out against injustice and so on. To some this may mean speaking loudly in public fora and media, and perhaps those are the capital P prophets in contemporary times. My prophetic gifts tend to work their way out in lower case and in less significant or noticed fora.

    The last paragraph can apply equally to men and to women. What Wendy points out demands to be taken seriously. God has gifted her – she is talented in her business and organisational skills and has become learned on the spiritual side of her life. If she was of a different gender it is more likely than not that these gifts would have been utilised in mission. How many men with her qualifications have been consigned thoughtlessly to baking duties? True, working humbly in such duties can be a Christian discipline as well as a Christian service … but when this is the case time and again with different people and different circumstance, then something else is happening. It is discrimination in a way that Paul did not support and may be something more deep-seated – misogyny. And when has that topic been pivotal in a sermon by a male preacher?

    What Wendy has not received from her Christian brethren is encouragement in her call and in her gifts. She does not mention any guidance in discernment or development of her gifts. No spiritual up-skilling is apparent.

    For myself, I have quite a subversive spirit. I am still in the church in spite of my many railings against it. I have had to fulfill my gifts beyond the confines of church and denomination. However, I think this may be part of my call as well. I go places in my community and wider society where few Christians are seen or heard. I say things – which are in harmony with the Gospel – which those to whom I speak have never heard Christians espouse before. I have been equipped over my life to do this and to do it wisely. The pathways of my life have often been tortuous but they seem to be clear these days.

    We who are English speaking live in a world dominated by whatever dominates the USA. Right wing Christians in the USA speaking a gospel, which I don’t read in the words of Jesus, seem to dominate Christian discourse. For many non-Christians and atheists, this is the voice of all Christians. So perhaps the church – who, in my view, is not good at reading the signs of the times – ought to consider encouraging, educating, empowering and acknowledging people like Wendy and me to take our particular and personal experiences and our particular and personal love of God and the Gospel into a wider world.

    Wendy and I might be stones … but, as Jesus pointed out on a couple of occasions, the Father will raise them up if he chooses. BTW, I have recently moved into an Anglican diocese which does not support ordination of women. Perhaps life will get interesting for me in this context. We will see. But my life has been forged, is being forged, and will be forged – so any forces which may wish to subjugate women will find it a bit difficult in my case.

    • 23 March 2012 2:17 am

      Miss Eagle,

      Thank you. I saw this post this morning and just did not have the energy to say what you so eloquently said. I hope any one who reads my post in the entirety will understand the issue is not about “me and my ministry” but about being free to follow the Holy Spirit and join God in God’s mission.

    • 23 March 2012 6:43 am

      Yes, I too have had many echoes of that in my own life, but, as I pointed out, I wasn’t responding directly to the post (otherwise I would have put my thoughts in a comment there, rather than making a separate post), but rather some thoughts s-parked off by the post.

      Since you mention prophecy, I’ll give an example from that. About 35 years ago I was involved in a youth group in an Anglican parish, and they had a visitor who asked about prophecy. The response of the kids was to describe their own feelings while prophesying, their own subjective experience. At the end of the meeting they all went into the church to pray, and, as their custom was, they sat in the chancel, on the floor between the choir stalls, with the church in darkness. And, in the charismatic style of the day, many of them were given prophecies. What struck me very strongly was that the messages were all very similar, and could be summarised as “You are not listening to me. I have sent you someone and instead of ministering to him, all you are doing is telling him about your own subjective experience.”

      At that time, when the charismatic renewal was at its height, there was much talk of spiritual gifts, and people saying “I have received the gift of prophecy”, or “I have received the gift of healing”. But in the case of the gift of healing, the one who actually receives the gift is not the “healer” but the healed. Ministry is about serving, not about being served.

      Wendy herself makes this point in her post too — that the sad thing where this kind of thing happens is not so much the frustration of the person who isn’t allowed to use their talents but rather that the church is poorer for losing the benefit. So i wasn’t replying directly to Wendy, as I tried to make clear, but rather to some thinkgs in Western culture that her post reminded me of. And where talents are used for self-aggrandisement, the result is white elephants like the Crystal Cathedral.

      As for misogyny, well, I was not previously aware of the attempts by Western Protestants to change Junia’s sex, but I think that a lot of Western biblical scholarship tells you more about the society and culture in which the scholars wrote than about the times in which the Bible was written. Of course all historians carry “the burden of the present”, but sometimes it just gets too heavy.

    • ckuniholm permalink
      27 March 2012 12:25 am

      Miss Eagle,
      There is much in your response that I resonate with. I am a woman in the US who has struggled to find encouragement or room to use my gifts, and as a result have sometimes taken them out of the church, with good fruit. As Steve notes, it’s not about having recognition or a great job description, but about serving, and there are plenty to serve outside the church. But in the end, the church is the poorer for it. In our own culture, people sometimes wonder why we so rarely see the gifts of the spirit at use in the church. I would argue that it’s because we refuse to accept them in the form God gives them. We want to decide who gets to preach, teach, prophecy. And the gifts go elsewhere.
      My grandmother was an amazing evangelist and Bible teacher. She led many people to Christ, and for years taught two Bible studies a week, composed almost entirely of people she had led to the faith. She encouraged all of them to find a church and be part of it, but never invited them to her own church, where they would have learned she was not allowed to lead a Bible study if men were present. So the men she led to Christ went on to be leaders in other churches, other ministries, but not her own. Her own church never realized what they had lost.

  3. 26 March 2012 7:38 am

    There are two references here that make me uncomfortable. The one is when people refer to “the institutional church” and the other is when they claim their own ideas or actions as prophetic.

    But I fear that the worlds are just very far apart, especially regarding ecclesiology and the understanding of the Christian life. I’ve been there and done that and now it just looks so, well, I’m sorry, but trite. But how to communicate any of this without just being written off as buying into a misogynist, patriarchal system??

    • 27 March 2012 8:41 am

      Yes, I think the cultural gulf is too wide to cross, perhaps because many people are not even aware that it exists at all. And it is growing wider all the time. The 20th century was the ecumenical century, when Christians of different backgrounds and traditions tried (sometimes) to understand one another. But in the 21st century “ecumenical” Christianity is the most sectarian of all.

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