I pull another basket of steaming dishes out of the dishwasher in our church basement. My partner in kitchen clean-up grabs a clean dish towel to dab the pools of water from the upturned soup bowls.
They ask, “So, what’s your undergrad in?”
The conversations that happen in church kitchens are my absolute favorites. I have been washing dishes in church basements since I was eleven. Kitchen ministry fills my heart.
But not this time, not this conversation.
I know the look I’ll get. I know they won’t mean harm, but I can feel the shame creep from my heart to my face. I am staff here. They pay me a chunk from their operating budget to direct the ministry to and with their children and teens.
Surely I have a degree. Preferably a master’s degree. Likely even a professional license of some kind, too.
“Actually, I don’t. I didn’t finish my undergrad.” I turn to load the next round of soup bowls. And while I want to say, “I was close to a degree in child psych; if I move back to that state I’ll finish up...” But I just spray the bowls with the restaurant-style sprayer. Bits of barley and carrots fly everywhere. The conversation stops.
My eyes don’t linger to see the raised eyebrows, the quick flash of judgment.
It’s not that I didn’t want to finish school. I just came from a working-class family where college visits and choosing the right school were a foreign world.
My high school teachers didn’t see anything special in me. My brain functions more like a modern dance number done in the woods, upside down, than a neat and tidy ballet performance of Swan Lake. So I tumbled out of high school and headed where my friends went—to a big, public research institution that was all about third position with absolutely no woods.
It’s not surprising I left early, feeling stupid.
I worked in what could have been the Ms. magazine top ten low-wage jobs for women until my Unitarian Universalist congregation needed a religious educator and I applied.
We were wildly successful, doubling the number of registered children and then doubling again. We won an award for growth and innovation and finally had to buy a church building to house our booming congregation.
I served on district and continental boards for my professional association, and my blog was often featured in the denominational magazine. But I never applied to be formally credentialed. How could I? I would have had to face the credentialing committee without any letters after my name.
My faith says all are welcome. My faith says we are all whole and holy and good. I myself have said this to dozens of children and teens. And yet, we have miles to go to make this so.