Bless Her Heart

Three Girls Praying -- Pam McCabe

 A women’s intuition is a powerful thing, I’m convinced that it’s a gift we’re born with. Some of us are more in tune with it than others but nevertheless all women have this innate ability of knowing when something just doesn’t quite add up.

“Who would like to give the closing prayer?” Sister Abbie would ask us. She was my first Sunday school teacher and very well liked among the kids because she had the best snacks. We were a motley crew of elementary and middle school aged students, southern, all from different socio-economical backgrounds.

Growing up I felt indifferent about church, even as a young girl I always felt that church was just that: church. It was something that you just did. No explanations, no exceptions. It was church. I loved praise and worship (the singing) and intercessory prayer but soon thereafter my attention was diverted elsewhere when the preaching began.

The room went silent. Most of the kids started looking at the floor or their shoes. Nobody wanted to lead the prayer. An anxious feeling whelmed up inside me, I wanted to do it.

“No one?” she insisted. “We need someone to lead the prayer, children.”

I raised my hand. “I’ll do it, Sister Abbie.” She smiled tightly and walked toward me.

 “I’m sorry, sweetie,” she said apologetically with the sweetest southern twang, “…girls don’t lead prayers in church.”

I felt all the air leave my body. My body went numb.

“Max, you lead the prayer,” she said pointing to the little boy sitting next to me and motioned for us to bow our heads. Was she serious? I mean, really. Even in my nine year old mind, I knew she was full of it.

While everyone bowed their heads, I didn’t. I was miffed.  What did she mean girls don’t lead prayers?

The class went through the motion of the closing prayer, I listened to Max stumble his way through. It wasn’t that good. I could have prayed better than that, I thought.

When we joined our families in the main sanctuary I couldn’t wait to tell my aunt. “…and then she said girls can’t pray in church,” I explained. My aunt’s face was expressionless. “She’s right, women’s roles in the church are finite,” she whispered touching my hand.

I looked into my aunt’s face. She was serious. She was wrong. I just knew she was. I felt it down in my bones – my nine year old bones.

That experience has stayed with me for a long time. I think it was probably one of the earliest memories that helped me see how some other people’s ideologies (and religious beliefs in this case) could potentially stifle someone else’s growth. There were other girls in the class that heard her; did they not have the same reaction? Did they question themselves? Was this the norm and I just didn’t notice that girls weren’t leading the closing prayer in Sunday school?

More recently while watching the super bowl, ten year old Ava Childs, dubbed this year’s Super Kid, said that she wanted to be the first female kicker in the NFL. Someone at the party I attended spoke out and said that ‘she can’t do that; there are no women in the NFL’. Like hell she can’t, I thought. I’ve always been of the belief that one’s gender should not be a factor to determine if you can do something or not. More importantly that we shouldn’t allow other’s limitations and perceptions of who we should be define who we are.

Now I know that everything ain’t for everybody. Some people are perfectly fine with the patriarchal structures in religious settings. That’s fine. I just knew early that it wasn’t going to work for me. I believe that God’s a little more flexible than that.

At thirteen I left that church, at the vehement protest of my family. I found another in walking distance from my grandmother’s house, after all I still had to do church. Today I attend church with my husband and children, I even listen to the lessons now. I still enjoy praise and worship and I make especially sure during intercessory prayer to affirm a special one: “…and God bless Sister Abbie.” Amen.

One thought on “Bless Her Heart

  1. Amen. And yes, thanks to Sister Abbie for her apologetic response. And how very strong of you Cynthia, at such a young age, to find your way through the pedagogy and maintain your faith.

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