• Gary T. Burke

Only boys go up there

One Sunday morning before our congregation completed its Bible study of what women may do in the assembly, my preschool grandson turned to me with this incredulous look on his face and observed, “Only boys go up there.” This was the first time he had noticed the striking fact that only males led a worship activity up front. It begged the question of why. I explained that we were in transition and that it might change soon. That satisfied him, and we moved on.

We all get used to our way of conducting worship services in our congregations. When we visit another church and experience a different way of doing something than what we are used to, it can seem as strange to us as the fact that “only boys go up there” was to my grandson.

I admit that when we changed our practice and women started doing some things that only men had formerly done in the assembly, it just didn’t feel right. Although we had studied the issue extensively and intellectually agreed the change was biblical, making the change was initially uncomfortable for many of us. We knew in our minds and in our hearts that it was right, but it took our feelings a while to catch up.

Later I moved to a different congregation. It is led by devoted, caring shepherds and filled with dedicated, hard-working members. However, it practices the traditional limitations on women in the assemblies. Having just worshiped for several years with a church where women were more involved in the Sunday assemblies, the practice of my new congregation just did not feel right.

I can remember the jolt I felt the first Sunday I saw eight men march down the center aisle and sit on the front row before they served communion to the church a few minutes later. It was like being hit in the face with a cold washcloth. My experience had been different, and the way of doing communion that had become tradition in my new Christian family was shocking. I’m getting more used to the fact that “only boys go up there” (sometimes I’m one of the “boys”), but based on my study of the Scriptures, it still does not feel right.

Epilogue. Recently one of the elders announced that for a couple of months we were going to try something different. Instead, those passing out the trays would sit with their families until time for the Lord’s Supper. Then they would go up individually. Because the elders know that any change in worship practice would be uncomfortable to some, they wisely asked for feedback from the congregation before making the change permanent. Although my reason for favoring the change was different from theirs, when I heard the announcement I said a silent prayer of thanks to God. (May 20, 2019)

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