Those who have chosen to uphold the historic practices and beliefs of a traditional faith path may have the easiest time of it. By becoming a cloistered nun, for example, one is following the teachings of the church fathers in taking the appropriate road for women who are serious about God. Mother Ammachi is a Hindu who transcends boundaries of language and culture by bringing a unique ministry of embrace as a path to the divine. Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, a widow, carries the title of the wife of a rabbi, and while she teaches traditional Torah to hundreds each week, she offers a warm, charismatic style that has won her more devotees than most rabbis. With the blessing of Father Peter McCall, Maryanne Lacey entered the mainstream Catholic Church as a faith healer who practices the laying on of hands. As with many women I met, Reverend Katherine Campbell and Deacon Bettye Reynolds do God’s work in obscurity. They represent the Episcopal Church by serving a congregation of single-parent children in a south Sacramento housing project where most male priests are unwilling to officiate. Sister Jose Hobday, a native American nun, brings her ministry to truck stops and prisons in the poorest diocese in the United States, Gallup, New Mexico. Known for her work with the dying, Joan Halifax Roshi, an Anglo-Buddhist priest, offers traditional Buddhist practice at Upaya, a Buddhist center in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
That these women work within the constraints of tradition doesn’t mean that they are interchangeable with men. Bringing their experience as women to traditional male institutions, they offer a new voice to spiritual leadership, regardless of its orthodoxy.