I sat on the chancel yesterday in the first chair. As we sang “How Great Thou Art” I remembered an old episode of Designing Women that begins with a vote on women in ministry, moves through a brilliant conversation about it, and ends with a heartbroken Charlene leaving a church that cannot support it and Julia singing “How Great Thou Art.” I nearly lost it as I dove right back to 1988 and endless debates on women in ministry. I’ve written about this before. I didn’t even want to be a full-time minister the way I understood the position, but, like Charlene in the episode, I wanted to be able to if that was what I chose. And, in college and shortly after, when there were opportunities for the boys to “preach,” I would have liked to have had a turn.
There’s also the part where I was thinking of the late Dixie Carter, whom my mom (Hi Mom!) and I got to see in an intimate theater on Broadway as Maria Callas in Master Class with Maria Callas. Amazing.
So this morning, resting and recovering from an intense week (I went to Work. Every. Day!). I found the episode on YouTube* and watched it. It holds up. And Dixie Carter is amazing. I went from there to the episode where Mary Jo dates Julia and Charlene’s minister (after Charlene changes churches, this guy voted for women as ministers). And then the episode where they “design” a funeral for their young friend who is dying of AIDS.
I remember those episodes. Granted, those were the days when I would record TV shows and re-watch them, so I probably watched them a few times, but they gave me a glimpse of a different world than our provincial Southern Baptist Church was capable of (my parents, for the record, always pushed the edges, and questioned the status quo. Even as I do that now in a different time and place, on the “other side” if there is one, wondering about “traditions” and why we do things certain ways and so on, I know whence I learned it.)
*It’s not on Netflix streaming or Amazon Prime streaming. Search for Designing Women “How Great Thou Art” on YouTube. The better recording is the one in two parts. The way the debate happens with the minister throwing Bible verses back and forth with batty Bernice (Alice Ghostly), who is suddenly completely with it and coherent and eloquent, is genius. It’s not the expected and easily dismissible-because-she-always-rants Julia who is making the argument. Charlene makes the plea from the heart, but it is the completely unexpected Bernice who bests the Man in the debate.