Oh my heavens, chickens!! Here’s one I get every rare now and then,
Charlotte writes, “What does the middle-aged, female pastor wear into the fundraising dunk tank?”
And I go,
“SHE DOESN’T GO IN!”
And she goes,
Well, I debated avoiding the dunk. On consideration, I really think I should. I am new to the part of the country, new to the community, new to the church. Every year they have a community festival, including the aforementioned dunk tank. The pastor (always previously male) went in. That doesn’t mean I must because he did, but I think I will earn a consider amount of good will by being a really good sport. They see me as a little formal and this could help. And it is, as they say, for a good cause.
I am obviously not wearing a swim suit (or at least not only a swim suit!), and want to be opaque and not too clingy coming up.
I thought my predicament might have come up before!
Thank you for your blog. When I first heard about it, I was skeptical, but was an instant convert on reading it. I’ve repeated your clever tagline (with credit) to many female pastors and urged some of your advice on others. Because of you, I finally started tinted myy vanishing eyebrows.
Thanks for your good work and for answering. I thought I might have missed you on the way to London.
And I responded,
“It has come up before, here! I would probably do something funny like wear a halo and taunt people as they throw about how they might risk hell if they succeed in getting you in the water. Or dress for baptism in all white and a robe. Something funny that takes control of the situation…”
But I have thought about it more, and I have confronted my discomfort about the dunk tank and discovered why it upsets me so deeply. Let me being by saying simply that there are a lot of appropriate ways to be a good sport that do not require you to appear before your parishioners soaking wet in clinging clothes. This video is just bizarre, but shows how at least one church-goer views the occasion.
Now. Here’s what I think is going on. I think that the “fun” of the dunk tank is equal parts about seeing a person in authority given a good soaking (literally) or it is about testing their willingness to be humiliated in public. I do not think women religious leaders should consent to this practice. It is not fun. It is passive aggressive at best and hostile at worst. Women have spent enough centuries being made public spectacle of for daring to express themselves or gaining more power than men are comfortable with. Anyone who has made a study of medieval or Puritan public shaming practices has good cause to be mighty uncomfortable with the dunking tank, which to me is just a “kinder, gentler” version of the dunking chair.
While I think that male clergy can pretty easily endure this silly ordeal with their dignity intact, there is a much deeper level of traumatic ancestral memory and complicated gender politics at work in the Church for any woman minister to consent to it.
Tell them that you’ll be happy to sit in the dunking booth as long as they’ll all commit to attending a Sunday morning service devoted to the reconciling of the Church to its treatment of women the next day. Tell them that the sermon is going to be about the witch crazes that were sponsored not only by the Catholic Inquisition but the authorities of the Protestant Church in the Reformation Era. If you’re in the Massachusetts area you might add to it the dunking punishment used against Quakers in the Puritan era, and remind your folks about the public execution of Quaker Mary Dyer, as well as the banishment (and later scalping death) of Anne Hutchinson, both women who were reviled for daring to claim religious authority.
This is not as innocuous as it seems. We are people who understand the power of symbols. We must take care not to participate in symbolic acts that cause our ancestresses to weep and to wonder, “Are they yet still dunking a woman for speaking her mind, or for daring to claim the authority of the Holy Spirit?”