It’s hard to believe, but almost ten years ago, I began a journey towards becoming a pastor. At that time, I had only met a handful of women pastors, and NONE of them were in my denomination. I learned from them, laughed with them, cried with them… And they challenged ME to consider becoming a pastor too.
I was a little surprised. Pastors are wise. They have mumbo-jumbo-big-words Bible knowledge. They prepare all those sermons with Greek and Hebrew and quote commentaries. They handle public speaking, difficult questions, and emotional life events. They didn’t get vomit-inducing stage fright. (Guess who did?)
I called myself “a worker bee.” Though I avoided ministry areas like teaching children’s Sunday School, I had served on worship teams, sang in choirs, planned large events, organized service projects, created devotional guides, and organized small group Bible studies. I was busy serving God and I loved it. There were no women pastors in my church. There were “directors” and “leaders” who were female. But no “pastor” titles for what I thought were clear, God-given reasons.
And then the Holy Spirit got a hold of me. And She nagged. Reminded. Shoved possibilities under my nose. Made me laugh, cry, and worry that I was “doing it for myself.” Alienated me from friends and their families because I was “going outside of God’s will” for my life.
Still I pressed on. I cared for my family and household, kept writing and serving. And kept blogging. I finally did an internet search for “women in ministry” and “women pastors.” And I stumbled onto a blog ring in its infancy, RevGalBlogPals. There was humor, heartbreak, support and a huge welcome. I started as a “blog pal,” and slowly but surely made my way a few years later to “Revgal.”
In the early stages of my blogging, I was moderately anonymous, as were most of the Revgals. Slowly, as my pastoral identity took shape, so did my public identity as a blogger. I began to meet people who said, “Oh! I read your blog!” (And yes, I did wonder why… but I did as my parents taught me and said, “oh, thank you!”)
Last week our RevGal book, There’s a Woman in the Pulpit, was released. After a busy Sunday, I stopped for a pedicure (a self-care practice I learned from my RevGal compatriots) and started reading. Faces that I had “met” on Facebook came alive with their stories, reflections, prayers and humor. I felt again a surge of thankfulness for their authenticity and vulnerability.
The book is a collection of vignettes around the common themes of ministry: calling, sacraments, death and dying, church administration, families, and life in the “real world.” More than once a lump rose in my throat and I brushed away tears. I chuckled and commiserated. These are my sisters-of-a-different-mother. I am so grateful that their words are published for you to read, too.
We are so very different. We serve in small churches, large ones, in church administration, in hospitals and hospices. We are robed and non-robed, liturgical and free worship, lectionary preachers and topical preachers. We are a collective voice that reaches far beyond what we know. We inspire one another. We challenge each other. We bring a prophetic voice to the conversations around race, politics, class and gender identity.
As our public identity grows, so does our clout. The book reminded me again that our visibility in the world, beyond the church, in the marketplace, homes and hospitals, means that “pastor” and “preacher” are no longer a male-only words. We are role models, and perhaps we are just beginning to realize how that makes a difference for our children.
Last weekend, I officiated at a funeral for one of my hospice patients. The small gathering, just a few dozen, shared stories and came together around a sweet, sad memorial service. There were several children present, and their noise really didn’t bother me. I reassured each parent that not only was it OK that they were there, but that their presence reminded us of the legacy we leave. We demonstrated to them how we support one another in times of celebration and times of grief.
At the end of the service, one of the girls ran up to me and gave me a hug. She beamed at me and said, “When I grow up, I’m going to be a preacher, too!” With her mother’s permission, we did a quick selfie, and I felt the warmth of God’s approval flowing gently around my shoulders.
This future preacher reminded me that it is our presence, as women, as pastors, as role models, that contributes to the sea change towards women in leadership. As I grow in wisdom and understanding, may I never forget… I stand on the shoulders of women who blazed the trail ahead of me. And I help define the path for future women in ministry to serve, God willing.
Disclaimer: I have written one of the essays in this book and received a free copy as my compensation from being a contributor. Otherwise, I receive no financial reimbursement for my efforts.
There’s a Woman in the Pulpit: Christian Clergywomen Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments and the Healing Power of Humor. Edited by Rev. Martha Spong. Foreword by Rev. Carol Howard Merritt. ISBN 978-1-59473-588-2 Available on-line from Skylight Paths or via the RevGalBlogPals page.