September 1, 2000
Let's start off with the worst-case scenario. If, 500 years from now, the ordination of women has come and gone, and it is viewed by some scholar as a historical curiosity worth his further investigation, he will find in The Close a revealing hint or two as to why it failed. The book is a key piece of evidence about the minds of so many young women entering the ordained ministry at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Were it not for the fact that I know plenty of women who contradict the stereotype that this book unwittingly reinforces, I would consign the whole project to despair and transfer into a profession that earns more money.
The heartbreak of Chloe Breyer's book is that she should know better. There is so much about her to admire. Raised in a mixed-religion household, surrounded by skeptical friends and a supportive if somewhat uncomprehending husband, Breyer resisted all the forces that tried to pull her away from her faith in order to answer a call (genuine, it seems to me) to the ministry.
Throughout her first year at the Episcopal General Theological Seminary in New York, Breyer yearned to plunge back into her previous life of social activism and service, yet stuck it out in the tiny community of prayer that to all appearances wasn't terribly effective in the areas that mattered to her most. She struggled through Koine Greek, invested herself in biblical exegesis, fell in love with liturgy, and spent a summer doing CPE at Bellevue Hospital (the account of which is far and away the most interesting part of the book). In many ways her experience is utterly typical of seminarians all over America, that in-between lot which is neither lay nor clergy but to whom the entire church looks for its future.
Even more ...