The Red Pulpit

In the moments before worship as I prepared to preach, I grabbed my sermon and a pad. I’m not talking about a pad of paper. With my black professional binder carrying my sermon manuscript in one hand, and a pink plastic wrapped pad in the other, I mentally prepared myself to preach. As soon as I shoved the pad in the left pocket of my black robe, I worried its pink corners might stick out.

What if while walking down the sanctuary aisle, someone saw my feminine hygiene product sticking out my minister’s robe? Even if it didn’t stick out, would someone look close enough to decipher its large, heavy flow horizontal shape, pressing through the pocket lining?

What if the pad fell out, and plopped down right in the middle of the red carpet of the chancel as I stood up to preach?

Quickly I took the pad from my robe pocket and shoved it down inside my robe, aiming for the pocket of my slacks. More hidden. Less visible. Maybe now I could pass for a woman who was not bleeding terribly.

I was bleeding so hard that I needed all the pads. Boxes of them. When a box used to last me several months, now I needed a new box every three to four days. Yet, each time my period came harder and longer, I fell into this practice of silence and covering up.

Was this my woman’s cross to bear? My curse for wanting to be wise? My punishment for knowing too much?

After a year of this hoping it would just go away on its own, I saw a doctor who helped me discover the cause was a common medical condition known as fibroids. This medical condition caused my periods to be extra heavy, and my faith tradition caused me to keep quiet about it. Especially in the church.

For women clergy, the most common bodily function somehow is not suppose to impact us. As women clergy, we are expected to rise above any challenges caused by our bodily realities, lest they prove as evidence in the case against ordaining women. After all, Jesus didn’t have a period.

Yet, Jesus experienced his share of bleeding. At this point in my life and ministry, where I was losing too much blood, I wondered if I might die. Like the hemorrhaging woman who touches the hem of Jesus’ cloak, I wondered if I could be saved. I wondered how the church makes places for women preachers who have bleeding problems.

Then I remembered that the woman in the Bible whose bleeding caused her to go broke and to suffer a great deal, told Jesus “the whole truth” (Mark 5:33). The healing didn’t end with the woman’s bleeding stopped. The healing continued through her courageous act of truth telling and through the act of Jesus’ holy listening.

As I faced an unknown medical future, considering the possibility of a surgery that might require medical leave, I feared telling anyone in the church. What was I afraid of? Didn’t they already know that I was a woman? Wasn’t this a common medical condition that women faced?

I feared the church would view my too much bleeding as being too much of a woman. Coming out of my hiding of this illness, letting the pads show in my robe pockets terrified me.

I feared rejection, judgement, and disapproval. Admitting to hemorrhaging in the pulpit felt scandalous. How dare she!

If Jesus makes the cross red, then the pulpit can be red, too. If the cross can carry our suffering, then the pulpit can handle the weight and the gift of our bleeding bodies.

Women’s bleeding is natural and normal. And when it is not, it is nothing to be ashamed about. The red pulpit is a place where women can preach the word of God without shame and without fear. We can stand on holy ground and preach the holy word with pads in our pants and in our pockets.

When I shared with an online group of women clergy that I feared telling my church leaders about my medical problem, many others shared their own stories. So many of us, it turns out, suffer through meetings and worship services while hemorrhaging, worrying that we may pass out. Some of us have passed out in the pulpit from blood loss.

There’s shame and stigma attached to our bleeding so that when we need to take care of our bodies, whatever that looks like, we often feel powerless to do so. We feel our bleeding realities are shameful and disgraceful. We are fearful of bleeding on the church. So we try hard to stop the bleeding or at least to cover it up. But this triage is often done in isolation and in silence.

Thankfully, the online support from women gave me the courage to tell a few trusted church leaders. Once I overcame the initial awkwardness and embarrassment on my part, after telling them I felt relieved from the burden of secrecy. I felt supported knowing that if I needed to take time for extra medical appointments and procedures, my job would not be in jeopardy. This type of support from an employer is a privilege that many women do not have and it is a way that the church can support its pastors.

What would it look like for the church to be a place where women’s bleeding was celebrated as a demonstration of power and strength?

What would it look like for the church to be a safe place where preachers who are hemorrhaging could be supported and surrounded with care?

What would it look like for the red pulpit to be a place of truth-telling about women’s lives? Could it lead to unknown healing?

What would it look like for a preacher to hold her sermon in one hand and a pad in the other and to not be afraid?

4 thoughts on “The Red Pulpit

  1. How often my fear has caused the suffering – not the church. I realize that is not always the case – and that I have been incredibly blessed by the gracious people among whom I have served. The issue I faced was< I realized – not trusting them. Not trusting them to be the compassionate, caring, supportive people they turned out to be. Not trusting them to share my illness with me, to be the body suffering together. We both learned – they and I – and we are the richer for it.

  2. When I started seminary, one of my first thoughts was the 25% of Sundays that I would be on display, in public, desperately hoping that my white alb would stay white. So far, so good – but last summer, I thought that my luck had finally run out at the worst possible time. After sitting on a tree stump for an hour, waiting for an outdoor wedding to start, someone came up to me after the service and said, “Pastor … your robe is all red in the back …”. I rushed to the car to discover – to my great relief – that flakes from the recently painted barn had rubbed off on the white fabric due to resting my back against it.

  3. Agreed! Thank you for your courage! Why do we have to be so discreet when everyone knows how this works? You and I have a lot in common – Trinity University, fibroids, Mental Health, i heard about you from my friend Betsy from elementary school and now I work as a Psychologist. Best wishes for a… fruitful (fruitless) fast.

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