I am grateful to Rachel Held Evans for taking up the topic of egalitarianism this week and instigating (inciting?) a synchroblog on various aspects of gender equality within a Christian context. I encourage you to go to Rachel’s blog and check out #mutuality2012 on twitter. Good stuff.
As you might imagine, some of the stories shared are heartbreaking. There is a lot of Kingdom work to be done before the church mirrors the reality of Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
The good news, however, is that there are places of safety and equality and grace within the church. That it is possible for a girl to grow up and become a pastor without once thinking she can’t or shouldn’t use her gifts for the church.
I know that it is possible, because that is my story. I grew up in American Baptist churches in Kansas. I went to a United Methodist college in Virginia. I have degrees from two American Baptist seminaries (in Pennsylvania and Kansas), and I now serve as a Mennonite pastor in Kansas. (Yes indeed, Kansas!)
I always believed that pastoral ministry was a career option–even during my phase of wanting to be anything BUT a pastor. (A phase I think all pastor’s kids go through, God help us.)
I was encouraged every step of the way on my spiritual journey and my academic pursuits. I was allowed to take every class I wanted to take in seminary–even the preaching classes.
I have never had a church refuse to consider me for a position or allow me in the pulpit because of my gender. They don’t even complain when they have to bring out the little step for me to stand on so I can see over the pulpit.
If people have said that I, as a woman, have no business leading a congregation, they have said it behind my back. (Or possibly I’ve just blocked it out of my memory.)
My entire congregation lives in a happy bubble where women in ministry is a non-issue. Seriously. I once asked our worship committee if a friend of mine from preaching class could guest preach at our church. My friend needed to preach to a congregation for our class, and her church wouldn’t let her preach. It took forever for me to get them to understand that her home church would not let her in the pulpit because she is a woman. I kept telling them, but they just had these quizzical looks on their faces. These lovely people that I pastor.
Just last month I attended the Festival of Homiletics. Nearly every time there was a break, there was a line at the women’s bathroom. As I waited in line I thought, “We’re at a preaching conference. And there is a line at the women’s bathroom. Praise God!”
I don’t write a lot about women in ministry, because that is not a battle I have to fight. I often take my acceptance as a pastor for granted. But I do realize that my ability to simply serve God and the church without having to stop and justify myself every five minutes is a great gift. A gift provided through the work of the Holy Spirit and the hard, stubborn work of many men and women who have gone before me–and are continuing on!
As we all know, when you are given a gift, the proper response is to write a thank you note.
So “thank you” to those men and women who continue to articulate the biblical call for equal status for and full recognition of the gifts of women within the Christian church and family. I know there is still a great deal of work to be done in this area, and I’m grateful to those who do it.
“Thank you” to the women and men whose theological work, spiritual work, relational work, and personal sacrifices have created safe and nurturing spaces within the Christian church for women to fully serve God.
“Thank you” to all women who followed the call to ministry despite discouragement and outright hostility from those within the church and seminary. My early mentor, our American Baptist regional minister, Barbara Eldred. My first Mennonite Conference Minister, Dorothy Nickle Friesen. My mom, pastor extraordinaire. My friend Susan, who was the only female student at a southern episcopalian seminary (a while back). The incredible scholar, Molly Marshall, now the first female president of a Baptist seminary. Thank you to all of the women who were told they couldn’t and shouldn’t and did it anyway.
“Thank you” to all of the men who emptied themselves of male privilege to stand beside their female colleagues. To Mike Graves and David May who were forced out of their teaching positions at a Southern Baptist seminary for teaching that women could be pastors. To Linford King, a Mennonite bishop who ordained women even though his conference said he couldn’t. To my husband who thought it would be fun to take the “pastors’ wives” classes at a nearby conservative seminary. (You know, “Ministering Wife” and “Leading Bible Studies.”) To all of the male pastors who treat their female colleagues as equals and all of the male parishoners who treat their female pastors as pastors.
And you–if you have ever supported a woman in ministry, thank you.
Here’s hoping ever more girls will have “pastor” on their list of things they want to be when they grow up–next to doctor and baker and paleontologist and ballerina.
Here’s hoping that ever more worship committees–and search committees–will be stunned into confusion at the thought of anyone having a problem with a woman in the pulpit.
And here’s hoping (maybe this is a bit of a selfish hope) that the pulpit manufacturers will start building those things a little bit shorter.