Shawna Atteberry

Writer, Teacher, Baker

My interview with the NotMom Blog

My profile at the Blog has been posted. You can read about my thoughts on being a NotMom, my chosen family, and why women without children weren’t that big of a deal for Jesus or the early church here. Please leave comments and show the other NotMoms some love.

I’m very thankful for my many chosen families, and all of the love and new roles they’ve brought into my life. In today’s world where we often don’t live near our birth families, and move so much more than we used to, I think it’s very important to have a chosen family close to you. I also think it’s important for theological reasons: Jesus said that anyone who obeyed God was his mother, brother, and sister (Matthew 12:50; Mark 3:35), so for me, my church is my family.

Jesus broadened the definition of family to include those who obeyed God. In fact, he ignored his biological family for his chosen family, which is why the American church’s idolatrous view of the biological family makes me angry. For Jesus, the chosen family that obeyed God was the most important family, not the one you are born into.

Blast from the Past: The Biblical Family?

This was originally published on 10/12/2006.

Abraham had two children with two different women. Isaac and Rachel had two children. Jacob has at least 13 children, 7 of them with Leah. What does the “typical biblical family” look like? It’s hard to tell by the patriarchs. Abraham had a wife and a concubine. Isaac and Rachel were monogamous regardless of the number of children they could produce. Then there’s Jacob with two wives, two concubines, and a brood of kids. I think it’s safe to say that there is no one “typical” family model in the Bible no matter how much some conservative Evangelicals want there to be. The New Testament is even foggier with Jesus changing the rules about family. In fact he redefined family saying “Whoever does the will of my Mother who is in heaven is my sister, my brother, my mother” (Matthew 12:15, NT: Divine Feminine Version). He also didn’t go in for putting family above all else mentality that we see in conservative evangelicalism. He said no one could put their family above him and still call themselves a disciple of Christ. This redefinition of family continues through the New Testament as the Church, the body of Christ, becomes family. Paul mentions several family members “in the Lord,” but he doesn’t mention one biological family member in his writing. We only know Paul had a sister and nephew thanks to Luke. We know Priscilla and Aquila were married, but we have no idea if they had kids: Paul and Luke never say. Then there’s Paul and Jesus–neither of them even bothered to marry. It also appears that Barnabas, Lydia, and Timothy were all single as well. And yet they are part of the body of Christ, part of the family of God.

When we see family in the biblical and Middle Eastern sense of the word, it is not the nuclear family we are used to. Family was the extended family, which usually lived together, may be not in one dwelling, but all of their houses or tents were right next to each other. When a son married, the parents built a room on top of their house for the couple. The couple then moved in. The family was run by the oldest living male–the patriarch–and everyone lived together: parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and children. This was family in the Old Testament and New Testament. In Acts we also see the concept of household, which included all the relatives plus the servants and slaves. How many people were added to the body of Christ when Cornelius and his whole household repented and were baptized? His wife (or wives), children, relatives, servants and slaves? Lydia’s household also were baptized. Who all did that include? Lydia’s relatives? An aged mother or grandmother, siblings, nieces, or nephews? Then there were her servants and slaves, all of whom repented and were baptized. Lydia’s household became the first church in Europe (Acts 16). Households and families were very different than the Western nuclear family. In fact, in many parts of the world, this is what family and households look like today. Not even Christians in other countries will agree with the American Evangelical definition of “family.”

There is a reason I’m bringing all of this up. I have seen a couple of articles about larger families starting to be more common than the typical 2-3 child norm our society worships. Of course these larger families are looked down upon, especially the mothers who decided that this is what they wanted: to have a large family. On the other end of the spectrum are couples like my husband and I. We’ve chosen not to have children. Both of these decisions should be fine with the church along with those who have chosen to remain single. All of these families are represented in the Bible. My husband and I should not be classified as “selfish” because we’ve chosen not to have the culturally accepted family. Neither should women like Leslie Leland Fields, who wrote, The Case for Kids at Christianity Today, be judged on why she and her husband have six children. In the article Leslie talked about the reaction outside of the church her big family receives, but I can see raised eyebrows in the church foyer when they walk by as well. It is more acceptable in the church for a larger family because we see children as a blessing from God. But I still have heard comments about “what were they thinking” directed at couples with a lot of children.

Back to my end of the spectrum: please do not believe that because I don’t have children that means I hate them or don’t want to be around them. I love children. And every child needs at least one adult in their life who shares their life and hangs out with them because they want to and not because they have to. I love being that person. I love being Aunt Shawna. When I told this to one of my friends, Virginia, she absolutely agreed. That meant a lot to me because Virginia is a mother (she has two kids), and she is called to children’s ministry: she’s a children’s pastor. I take very seriously the part of the infant dedication or infant baptism where the pastor turns to the congregation and asks the congregation to do all they can to help the parents raise their children in Christ and in the Church. When I say, “I will,” I mean it. I will do anything I can to help parents raise their children to know the love and grace of Jesus. Whether they have two, six, or ten, no set of parents can raise children by themselves: they need the church; they need a community. This was something the extended family provided in the Bible: parents weren’t all on their own raising a family. This is also the way neighborhoods used to be: the entire street helped parents raise their kids. It wasn’t a Lone Ranger thing.

In her book Real Sex, Lauren Winner points out that both singleness and married life teach the church about God and her kingdom. Marriage teaches us about God’s love for us, the church. Marriage teaches us what faithfulness in a relationship looks like. It also teaches us about forgiveness and compromise. Just as marriage is not easy, it is not always easy to be part of the community, and it’s not always easy to be in a relationship with God. Singleness teaches the church utter dependence on God. Singles don’t have a partner always there to help. They have to depend on God for their intimacy. They teach us that there should always be an empty spot in our lives for God alone. They also remind us that in the end the only marriage is between Christ and his Church, and all of us will be siblings. Our primary relationship with each other is not as spouses, but as brothers and sisters in Christ. Before our marriage vows are our baptismal vows. Before we married, we were a sister or brother to our spouse.

Let’s take this a step further for families of all kinds. Large families teach us we don’t always get what we want in community. Siblings may have to share bedrooms and toys. They can’t hog the bathroom or the computer. They also have to conserve: their clothes will go to the next sibling. They have to learn to share. They also have to learn to compromise. They know life isn’t all about them when there are younger siblings too play with and care for.

Childless families remind us that we don’t always get what we want. Not all of us are called to be parents, just like not all are called to be parents to a large family. Childless families remind the church that family is a much larger concept than those who live under our roofs. We also remind the families with children that they don’t have to go it alone. We are here to help. We spend time with their kids because we want to. We also remind the church that marriage is not for children alone: we can use our marriages to build the kingdom of God. Childless couples have more time and resources for short-term mission trips, giving to those in need, and in helping the families at church raise their children in a godly way.

All of us together show the world what the kingdom God is like. It’s like the single person who depends on God for the intimacy she or he craves when they crawl into their bed alone every night. It’s like the married couple who does not let the sun go down on their anger and works through their argument to reconciling peace before they go to the bed. It’s like the family with two children who show us how important it is to know our limits and to do what is best for the entire family. It is like the family who has six children and teaches us that life does not revolve around us: we have to share, we don’t always have to space we want, and there are others who need us. All of this is what it looks like to be part of the church, part of the family of God.

Hilda of Whitby: Abbess and Bishop

Hild coverI am reading Nicola Griffith’s novel, Hild, which tells the story of Hilda of Whitby. It is a richly detailed historical novel that weaves a wonderfully plausible story of the life Hilda could have lived. Griffith’s prose borders on the poetic, and her descriptions of Hild’s spiritual life are sublime. I highly recommend her novel. It’s keeping me up until 1:00 and 2:00 in the morning because I have to know what happens next to Hild. Since I’ve been living and breathing Hild for the last couple of weeks, I’ve decided to re-post my own work of one of my favorite women leaders in the early church: St. Hilda of Whitby.

Hilda was one of the most powerful religious leaders in England during the 7th century. She was the abbess of a dual monastery of monks and nuns in Whitby. She held the same power of the bishops of the day, counseled kings, and five bishops came from her monestary.

Hilda was born in 614 CE to Hereric, the nephew of the king of Northumbria. She was baptized at the age of 13, and at the age of 33 she made the decision to become a nun. She was planning on joining her sister, Hereswith, who had established a convent on the fringe of Paris. She went to East Anglia where her nephew was king to prepare to sail to France, but Aidan, the apostle of Northumbria asked her to return to Northumbria. She obeyed, and he put her in charge of a small group of sisters on the north bank of the Wear river. After a year she was called to be the Abbess of Hartlepool. She stayed there for seven years until she built and organized a new monastery at Whitby on the dark cliffs overlooking the Northern Sea.

For thirty years Hilda was in charge of Whitby which was a monastery for both men and women. She ran a little city: there was a school, people to feed and clothe, travelers to provide lodging for, and discipline to be kept. She was not only in charge of monks and nuns, but also serfs who worked the land around the monastery. Kings, rulers, and bishops came to her for advice and counsel. In the midst of civil wars, Whitby spread the Christian faith. Whitby was a light shining for the gospel of love, forgiveness, and reconciliation in a time of wars and hatred. Venerable Bede tell us:

When she had for some years governed this monastery, wholly intent upon establishing a regular life, it happened that she also undertook either to build or to arrange a monastery in the place called Streaneshalch [Whitby], which work she industriously performed; for she put this monastery under the same regular discipline as she had done the former; and taught there the strict observance of justice, piety, chastity, and other virtues, and particularly of peace and charity; so that, after the example of the primitive church, no person was there rich, and none poor, all being in common to all, and none having any property. Her prudence was so great, that not only indifferent persons, but even kings and princes, as occasion offered, asked and received her advice; she obliged those who were under her direction to attend so much to reading of the Holy Scriptures, and to exercise themselves so much in works of justice, that many might be there found fit for ecclesiastical duties, and to serve at the altar (Ecclesiastical History, Book 4, Chapter XXIII).

While Hilda was the abbess of Whitby, it was one of the spiritual centers of England. She ruled a vast territory around Whitby, even providing soldiers in times of war. This was not unusual for the time. Abbesses managed their own realms and handled the finances to run them. Normally their domains were ruled by the pope bypassing the local bishop. Abbesses also “appointed local parish priests, heard confessions and cared for the material and spiritual needs of their people” (Grenz with Kjesbo, 41). There is also evidence that these women were ordained with the signs of the office of bishop: “the miter, ring, crosier, gloves, and cross”; however, later writings seem to replace “ordained” with “blessed,” obscuring the leadership role these women did play in the early church (ibid).

Hilda came to be known as “Mother” to her community. Many boys came to the monastery to be educated by her. Five of them became bishops: Bosa, Bishop of York; Hedda, Bishop of Dorchester and Winchester; Oftfor, Bishop of Worcester, and John of Gexham.

The story of Caedmon shows Hilda’s ability to bring out the best in others. Caedmon was always despondent because he could not sing after supper as was the custom of the day. One evening after leaving the festivities, he fell asleep and dreamed that Jesus came to him and told him to sing him a song about creation. The next day he told Hilda of the dream and sang the song he composed. Hilda recognized his talent and brought him into the monastery to devote himself to writing songs of Biblical stories in the Anglo-Saxon language. This is the first time since Latin became the official language of the western church that Scripture was translated into the vernacular. For the first time the Anglo-Saxons could learn and understand Scripture because it was in their own language. Caedmon’s poems are the earliest form of Anglo-Saxon poetry in existence (Baring-Gould 226).

In 664 CE HIlda hosted the first Synod of Whitby by order of the king of Northumbria, Oswy (who was her cousin). This synod was called by the king to peacefully solve the differences the Celtic tradition had with the Roman tradition, which included calculating the date of Easter. Historian Joanna McNamara notes, “Hild assumed a prestige usually reserved for bishops when she presided over the synod where the Irish and Roman churches competed for the allegiance of the Northumbrian king” (p. 127). The synod voted to align itself with the Roman branch of the Church. Although HIlda had been raised in the Celtic tradition, she obeyed and changed her monastery accordingly. This synod shaped the way Christianity would grow and develop in England, and “the fact that the synod, attended by all the leading churchmen of the isles, was held at a monastery ruled by a woman is a tribute to Hilda’s importance among her contemporaries” (Ranft, 118).

Hilda died in 680 CE after seven years of weak health. She was 66 when she died. These are Bede’s final words about her:

Thus this servant of Christ, Abbess Hilda, whom all that knew her called Mother, for her singular piety and grace, was not only an example of good life, to those that lived in her monastery, but afforded occasion of amendment and salvation to many who lived at a distance, to whom the fame was brought of her industry and virtue.

O God of peace, by whose grace the Abbess Hilda was endowed with gifts of justice, prudence, and strength to rule as a wise mother over the nuns and monks of her household, and to become a trusted and reconciling friend to leaders of the Church: Give us the grace to recognize and accept the varied gifts you bestow on men and women, that our common life may be enriched and your gracious will be done; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (From the The Saint Helena Breviary, Personal Edition)


Sabine Baring-Gould Virgin Saints and Martyrs (Hutchinson and Company, London, England: 1900).

Shawna Renee Bound, Your Daughters Shall Prophesy: A Biblical Theology of Single Women in Ministry (unpublished thesis, 2002).

Edith Deen, Great Women of the Christian Faith (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, Inc., 1959; reprint Uhrichscile, OH: Barbour and Company, Inc.).

Stanley J. Grenz with Denise Muir Kjesbo, Women in the Church: A Biblical Theology of Women in Ministry (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995).

Kate Lindemann, “Hild of Streonshalh 614-680 CE” at ( accessed on November 20, 2008).

Joanna McNamara, Sisters in Arms–Catholic Nuns Through Two Millennia (Harvard University Press, Cambridge: 1996).

Patricia Ranft, Women and Spiritual Equality in Christain Tradition (Palgrave Macmillan, Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire, England: 2000).

(No affliate links)

New post on Christian Feminism Today: Mutual Submission in This Time in This Place

I have a blog post up at Christian Feminism Today discussing the Household Codes and mutual submission in the New Testament and for today: Mutual Submission in This Time in This Place:

I think we do ourselves a disservice if we simply fall back to the New Testament Household Codes and say that’s the way it should be. That set of Household Codes won’t work in this time and place, but what Household Codes will? One where children see parents sharing power and not insisting on having their own way all the time? One where couples decide that a smaller house and fewer things is the way to go, because neither one wants to spend that much time at work and they’d rather spend more time together? A code that encourages workers to take their vacation time instead of being workaholics?

Yes, it’s much easier to just fall back to Ephesians 5 and say let’s do this! The Bible says it, so it’s good enough for me! But does that convey a contemporary Christian message of mutual submission? Or is it just a cop-out, so we don’t have to do the hard work of figuring out how to be Christians in this time and this place? I don’t have the answers, and honestly, I believe it’s a question that needs to be worked out in our faith communities.

This blog post is part of the One to Another syncroblog at Rachel Held Evans’ blog this week.

“Submit One To Another: Christ and the Household Codes,” which will focus on those frequently-cited passages of Scripture that instruct wives to submit to their husbands, slaves to obey their masters, children to obey their parents, and Christians to submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21-6:9, Colossians 3:12-4:6; 1 Peter 2:11-3:22).

God Places the Solitary in Families: Childfree doesn't mean childless

I’ve written an article in response to Time Magazines cover story on women choosing not to have children for EEWC: Christian Feminism Today. In God Places the Solitary in Families: Childfree doesn’t mean childless, I discuss my own decision not to have children as well as how my definition of family differs from our current culture’s definition. Here’s something to wet your appetite:

This week’s TIME Magazine cover story reports on women who have made the same decision I have: to not have children. There were two huge reasons I was not impressed with the article. First they only covered one reason why women are not having children: for the freedom and the additional time and money that comes with being childfree. The article made this choice seem like an arbitrary decision, one made in order to be able to take more vacations and buy more stuff. The Time writer did not consider the complex life situations that lead a woman or a man to decide not to have children.

Please let me know what you think.

Women's History Month: St Frances of Rome

Today is the feast day of one of the few married woman saints: Frances of Rome. I found it highly ironic and funny that this was today’s Epistle reading in The Book of Common Prayer:

Now about what you wrote: “It’s good for people not to touch each other.” But because of promiscuity, everyone should have their own spouse. Spouses should fulfill their duty to each other. Committed people don’t have authority over their own bodies, but their spouses do. Don’t deprive each other, except by mutual consent for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to [fasting and] prayer, and then come together again so the Satan won’t tempt you because of your lack of self-control. But I say this as a concession, not as a precept. I actually wish that all people were like me. But everyone has their own gift from Godde; one has this and another has that.

I say to the single and widowed, it’s good for them if they remain like me. But if they don’t have self-control, they should marry, because it’s better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Corinthians 7:1-9, DFV)

Aah Paul, you old curmudgeon. The thing I hate the most about his allowance to marriage is that  he doesn’t even use his own Jewish tradition to defend marriage. He says, “Well, OK, if you’re going to screw anything with two legs then get married, but you really should be a curmudgeonly celibate single like me.” (Disclaimer: I was single for 36 years and loved it–thought for awhile I might not marry–now I am married. I LOVE being married. I’ve been happy on both sides of the fence.)

Here is what Paul’s defense of marriage should have looked like:

Aquila and Priscilla

Remember why our Godde created marriage in the first place. In the beginning…

Sophia-Yahweh said, “It is not good for the human to be alone. I will make it a power equal to it.”

Sophia-Yahweh caused the human to fall into a deep sleep. As the human slept, Godde took one of its ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Sophia-Yahweh made a woman from the rib which was taken from the man, and brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh. She will be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken out of man.” Therefore a man will leave his father and his mother, and will join with his wife, and they will be one flesh (Genesis 2:18, 21-24, adapted from the World English Bible).

So you see dear sisters and brothers in Corinth, it is fine if you want to stay single, but marriage is Godde-ordained as well. Godde made marriage because it was not good for the human to be alone. Now the communion does not have to be marriage–that’s why Jesus had disciples. It is not good for us to be alone, which is why we need both marriage and community. We can’t make it though this life alone. Both marriage and celibacy have their place in the world and in the community. Some will stay single like me. Most will marry like Peter and his wife (1 Corinthians 9:5), Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:2), and Andronicus and Junia (Romans 16:7). Both celibates and couples can serve Godde and bring Godde’s kingdom into the here and now by loving each other, loving the stranger, and showing the world around us that life can be different.

That’s what Paul should’ve said to the Corinthians.

Saint Frances is the perfect example of this vision of the Christian life and marriage. She lived what Paul should have said.

Saint Frances of Rome

Saint Frances ministering in her house and church

I am used to seeing medieval women saints as nuns. Either they are single or a widow. I was delighted a few years ago when I discovered a married woman saint who lived during the 14th century. March 9 is the feast day of St. Frances of Rome who was a Benedictine oblate. She was also married. An oblate is a lay person who is connected to a Benedictine community and observes The Rule of St. Benedict in their daily life at home and work. St. Frances founded a lay congregation of women called the Oblates of Mary; they were attached to the church of Santa Maria Nova in Rome. The order she founded is now known as the Oblates of Saint Frances of Rome. In this period of Christianity there were nuns who chose God’s highest calling and wives who settled for marriage. Rarely have I read of a woman who was both a contemplative and wife. Not to mention a saint. And she didn’t settle. She obeyed Godde’s calling for her life right where she was in her marriage and home.

After her marriage, [Frances] continued an intense spiritual life of reading, prayer and visiting churches . . . she built a chapel in their palace, visited the sick, gave alms to the poor, and nursed patients in the hospital of Santo Spiritu. The tension she experienced in trying to combine intense devotions with the life of a wealthy Roman matron resulted in a breakdown. After a year of suffering, she was miraculously healed by a vision of St. Alexis.

From this crisis, Frances learned how to offer the three always interwoven threads of her life to God: first her family life, including her children, household duties, and role as wife. Second her civic life of healer, spiritual director, organizer of almsgiving and charity for the poor of Rome. Finally, her spiritual life with its liturgical and mystical experiences. Interweaving these three threads is characteristic of Benedictine spirituality: just as the Rule counsels the monk to take his brothers into account in every aspect of his life in the monastery, so Frances continuously responded to her family and her city. Like a monk who finds in the enclosure of the monastery not a prison, but a home, she created a sphere of inner freedom within the confines of this dense community.

. . . [After the death of her mother-in-law], the family unanimously chose Frances to run the household. . . She was seventeen. . . She was thus in charge of a large, wealthy Roman estate, supervising servants and overseeing kitchens, food purchases and harvests. Because of their political sympathies, the family figured prominently as a center for papal support in Rome, and she was in charge of the entertaining associated with their role in the drama of the divided papacy…

Frances longed attracted the attention of women who wanted to give their time, wealth, and energy to the sick and the poor. Now they approached her asking her to give institutional expression to their way of life. They were attracted to the Benedictine order. . . Characteristic of their freedom, the oblates could live either in community or in their homes. . . .The women who followed this path did so freely, unlike the medieval children entrusted as oblates who were unable to choose for themselves. However, like the child oblates, they brought with them monetary funds to build up the common good. (From Benedict in the World, Portraits of Monastic Oblates quoted in Benedictine Daily Prayer.)

You can find out more about from St. Frances at and Wikipedia.

Lord God, in Saint Frances you have given us a rare model of both married and religious life. Teach us to serve you with constancy so that we may be able to see and follow you in all circumstances of our daily existence. Amen.


Paul Was Not an Evil Misogynist: Podcast with Mark Mattison

photo © 2007 Francois Bester | more info (via: Wylio)Earl

A lot of people blame Paul when part of the Christian Church claims that man is the head of the women and the head of the home , and, therefore, cannot hold leadership positions in the church. They say Paul said that:

Men are the head of women & the head of the home.
Paul told women to be quiet in church.
Paul told women they couldn’t teach men.

Too bad for them Paul didn’t say all these things. Paul’s words are interpreted to say these things, but that’s not what Paul actually said.

Earlier this year I posted on why the Apostle Paul was not the evil misogynist he’s cracked up to be. I looked at the verses in 1 Corinthians 11 that are normally used to keep women subordinated to men, and out of leadership positions, and showed that the passage can be translated to empower women instead of marginalize them. My friend, Mark Mattison, posted on the same subject at The Christian Godde Project over the weekend. In this podcast on Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down, we talked about Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthian church and why a few verses cannot be taken out of either letter to be what Godde meant for all time. Here are the verses we’ll be talking about this podcast:

Now I praise you, sisters and brothers, that you remember me in all things, and hold firm the traditions, even as I delivered them to you.

<You say:> ”But I would have you know that the head of every man is Christa, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christa is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. But every woman praying or prophesying with her head unveiled dishonors her head. For it is one and the same thing as if she were shaved. For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to have his head covered, because he is the image and radiance of Godde, but the woman is the radiance of the man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man; for neither was man created for the woman, but woman for the man.”

But the woman ought to have liberty over her head because after all she will judge the angels. The point is, neither is the woman independent of the man, nor the man independent of the woman, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, so a man also comes through a woman; but all things are from Godde. Judge for yourselves. “Is it appropriate that a woman pray to Godde unveiled?” Doesn’t even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her instead of a covering. But if any man seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither do Godde’s communities (1 Corinthians 11:2-6, DFV).

Mark Mattison

Mark is an independent scholar who was the founder and is still a contributor at The Paul Page, which keeps up with all the scholarship coming out on the Apostle Paul (no small task). Mark is also one of the founding members of The Christian Godde Project and the general editor of The Divine Feminine Version New Testament. Mark and his family live on the wrong side of Lake Michigan in Michigan (key words: lake effect snow) where they get a whole lot more snow than we do on the right side of  Lake Michigan in Chicago.

Podcast: MarkMatthison1Corinthians11.wav

Find out what Paul really said about women keeping silent and not teaching men when you buy Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down. (Hint: Paul wasn’t talking about all women for all time. He was talking to very specific troublemakers in very specific congregations.)

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The third full length podcast with Sandi Amorin will be posted next Monday (10/3)!

The New Testament Church: Built by homemakers like Martha

Christ in the House of Mary and Martha by Vincenzo Campi

July 29 is the feast day of the sisters Martha and Mary. I’ve written on both sisters before here, here, here, and here. But the one thing I’ve never written on concerning the sisters is that Martha’s skills in the home were instrumental in the establishment of the church and giving the church a foothold in wider Greco-Roman society. Martha usually takes a lot of slack for her homemaking skills due to Luke 10:38-42:

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her” (NRSV).

This is an important passage for women being disciples along with men, and Jesus treating his male and female disciples equally. But I’ve done lots of writing on that subject. It’s time to look at the busy homemakers of the The New Testament, the Marthas. The New Testament lists several women who hosted churches in their home:

  • Mary, the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12-17)
  • Lydia (Acts 16:11-15)
  • Priscilla (Romans 16:3, 1 Corinthians 16:19, 2 Timothy 4:19)
  • Chloe (1 Corinthians 1:11)
  • Nympha (Colossians 4:15)
  • The Elect Lady of 2 John

In order for there to be enough room for the church to meet, the homes they met in were probably the homes of the richer members of the church. We see this with Lydia: she was a merchant, and had her own household with slaves. She was a rich businesswoman. In Luke 10 Martha is preparing a meal for Jesus and his 12 disciples. In order to accomodate this many people Martha, Mary, and Lazarus had to be rich. Martha was used to running a large house.

Guardian, Military Commander, Queen

In the Greek philosopher, Socrates’ book Oeconomicus (Economics), we see the kind of power the matrona, matron of the house had. Socrates said these were the matron’s responsibilities:

Supervision of all comings and goings in the house, protection and distribution of supplies, supervision of weaving and food production, care of sick slaves, instruction slaves in household skills, rewarding and punishing slaves, in short independent management of an entire household (7.36-43). She is to be the guardian of its laws, like a military commander, a city councilor, or a queen… (A Woman’s Place*, 146).

The matron was not only responsible for everything that went on in her home and estate, she was also to set an example by working with her servants and slaves. Matrons spun wool and flax, wove, and prepared food. In Greek and Roman literature writers and poets pictured the ideal Roman matron as one who wove cloth and clothed her family with her own hands.

According to the literature of the time (reading between the male centric lines) the matron of the household operated independently of her husband, and the husband liked it that way. The matron was the queen of her domain.

“It is surprising how much responsibility is expected of wives: total management of household resources, personnel, and production–quite a different picture from the passive image of the wife in the New Testament household codes. This literature gives us insight into how wives and hence widows were perfectly used to being independent household managers and how men expected them be just that” (p. 152).


The household was a woman’s place. So what does that mean for the early church that met in these women’s spaces where women were expected to be the leaders and managers?

This is my body…

It means the members of the churches that met during the time of the New Testament would not have thought twice about women being leaders in their services. It would also not be unusual for a woman to preside over the love feast and communion during this time:

The host of the meal would have been the ordinary leader of any toasts that took place and, in Christian groups, of the special blessing and sharing of bread and cup with ritual words toward the end of the eating portion of the meal (p. 159).

As meals fell under the domain of the woman in the house, it would not be unusual for the matron of the house to preside over the meal. There are also women like Mary, Nympha, Lydia, and Chloe who are not linked with husbands, which meant they hosted the love feasts in their homes and presided over communion. A typical Roman meal also included discussions on philosophy, along with teaching. Most of the teaching and preaching that happened in the early church probably happened around the table while everyone was eating, and the matron of the household presided over it all making sure everything ran smoothly.

“Women were expected to independently manage their households, with or without a husband. Therefore, to step into a Christian house church was to step into women’s world” (p. 163).


What does all of this have to do with Martha?

Martha started it. Martha hosted the first church in her home. She provided shelter and food for Jesus and his disciples. Jesus taught in her home. Jesus ate in her home. Martha was the first hostess of the church. The early church depended on homemakers, like Martha, to provide an organized, well-run home for them to meet in. It was the woman who made sure the meal was ready and presided over the meal and all that happened during the meal. Jesus may have discounted Martha’s worries over the meal. May be Martha did allow herself to be distracted by too many things. But the early church gives a different testimony about Martha, her duties, and her worries. Without women like Martha efficiently running large, rich households there would be no church.

*”Women Leaders of Households and Christian Assemblies” in A Woman’s Place: House Churches in Earliest Christianity by Carolyn Osiek and Margaret Y. MacDonald with Janet H. Tulloch (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006), 144-163.


Vigil Saturday: The Long Wait

“Some women were there, watching from a distance, including Mary Magdalene, Mary (the mother of James the younger and of Joseph), and Salome. They had been followers of Jesus and had cared for him while he was in Galilee. Then they and many other women had come with him to Jerusalem. . ..Joseph [of Arimathea] bought a long sheet of linen cloth, and taking Jesus’ body down from the cross, he wrapped it in the cloth and laid it in a tomb that had been carved out of the rock. Then he rolled a stone in front of the entrance. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where Jesus’ body was laid” (Mark 15:40-41, 46-47).

At sunset the Sabbath began; the first Vigil Saturday. What did they do that Sabbath? How did the mother of God, who had just watched her son die, and these other women who had followed him right up to the cross spend that Saturday? Did they go to synagogue? Did they say the prayers? Did they take part in the joy of the Exodus? Would they go to the Temple? Would they worship side-by-side with the people who had condemned and cheered her Son and their Savior to death? Would they too pray Jesus’ prayer, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do?” Or was their grief and anger too great? Did they just stay inside, holding on to each other, comforting each other as best they could? They saw where Joseph buried Jesus. They knew he did not have the time to properly anoint and wrap the body of their Beloved. They knew what they would do the first thing Sunday morning. But what did they do that long, long Saturday?

I know the Resurrection happened. I know tomorrow I will celebrate the Resurrection with my brothers and sisters in Christ. And this day is a long day for me. The waiting. Living an entire day between the last breath of death and the first breath of resurrection. It is hard. It is long. My first reminder is during morning prayers when I see there is no Gospel reading. There will be no Gospel reading tonight when I pray Compline. This is the only day of the year, we do not read the Gospel. The Gospel is in the grave, and we feel that loss, that void. Today the Church lives between life and death. And we long for, anticipate, and hope for Sunday morning. We live in anticipation and expectation of waking up Sunday morning to the creedal cry of the Church: “HE IS RISEN!” “HE IS RISEN INDEED!” I long for tomorrow when the silence of death will be broken. When I will walk into the sanctuary and see the cross draped in the victorious white of the Resurrection. We will sing ALLELUIA! Our first Alleluia since the Sunday before Ash Wednesday.  We will hear the Gospel. We will renew our baptismal vows. We will take communion. We will pass the peace. We will worship our risen Lord and Savior. But today is one of silence and waiting–vigil.

I will always wonder what the women who watched Joseph place Jesus’ body in the tomb did on that first Saturday. They didn’t have our hope. They thought Jesus was dead, and the kingdom he proclaimed was destroyed with him. What did they do on that day between death and life?

Originally posted April 7, 2007.

Company Girl Coffee: it's busy but in a good way edition

It’s been busy here, which is why I haven’t had a chance for coffee the last few weeks. My biggest news is that I’m now the Chicago Protestant Examiner for So I’m getting the hang of reporting and actually covering things that are happening now and talking to living people instead of researching things that happened over 2,000 years ago and interviewing people in my head. It’s a change. 🙂

I am feeling really good. Joining the gym has really helped. Swimming and practicing yoga just sets me right. I love how both are a melding of meditation and movement. My time with my personal trainer is good as well, but I don’t get the spiritual practice on the machines the way I do in the water and yoga poses.

My biggest thing right now is time management: figuring out when and how long to work on various writing projects: The Book, Examiner, other freelance work, and being an editor on The Christian Godde Project (really need to get back to translating Luke), not to mention all the research that goes with each. Plus all the daily life stuff: running errands, cleaning, laundry, showering, eating, sleeping, etc. etc. Not to mention The Hubby appreciates it when I talk to him on occasion. 😉

My in-laws and a nephew are coming to see us in June, so that means we have a lot of cleaning out, organizing and cleaning up to do in the next few weeks. They’ll be here during the Printer’s Row Book Fair (every bookaholic’s best dream and worst nightmare), and I will be preaching at church that Sunday. My father-in-law wants to hear me preach. I’m a little psyched about it, but I’m sure it will all be fine. The Old Testament passage for that Sunday is Jezebel. And I love Jezebel. Wondering how much fun I can have with her even in a liberal Episcopal Church. We’ll see.

This weekend is pretty quiet. Tomorrow is cleaning and writing. I also need to make a trip to the grocery store for odds and ends. Then Sunday is Pentecost. I’m looking forward to that. Ooh, that reminds me: I need to start reading Acts 2:1-21 in the Greek, since I will be doing that Sunday morning. We will have the Acts passage read in several different languages in the service: English, Spanish, German, French, and Greek, and who knows what else. Last year each person started reading a few verses full voice, then read quietly while they walked through the sanctuary, then the next person picked up and read then walked. By the end of the reading, they were people reading the passage in different languages all over the congregation. It was so powerful. I’m not sure that’s they way we’ll do it this year, but I’m sure it will still be powerful.

I hope everyone has a good weekend and a blessed Pentecost!