A Word of Grace for Women Preachers

One of the strange things about this blog is that it has a fairly varied audience. Some of you are members of my church, trying to make sense of these ramblings. Others are friends I’ve met through the internet and at conferences associate with this thing that we call Emergent. The former group is a bunch of United Methodists who are trying to help a specific community be faithful to a new calling. The latter is a wild and diverse group of mostly youngish folks who are trying to help the church be faithful to a new world.

This post is directed mainly toward the second group, in particular a group of amazing women who are trying to be faithful to a calling in climates that are often inhospitable. As I read your stories and hear your tears my heart goes out to you. I mourn that you have to experience the rejection that you often face. I’m sad that women’s competency is judged according to a different standard than that of my male counterparts. I pray that your spirit and your faith aren’t completely sapped by the sinful responses of people who should know better.

That is why I want to offer a word of grace and a word of hope. I do this by remembering two amazing women who have been faithful servants to God, and important spiritual leaders for me.

The first is a Bishop in the United Methodist Church. I first met Judith Craig when I was assigned to work with her on a presentation she was making to the General Conference of the United Methodist Church. The “Episcopal Address” was an honor (and if you were to ask her, a burden) bestowed by a vote of the entire Council of Bishops (composed of active and retired Bishops in the UMC). Bishop Craig worked hard on this speech, and quickly recognized that we were living in a media age (this was 1996 mind you) and brought me in to determine how we could integrate visual elements into what she was doing. Judy was deeply respected in the church, and I was a bit intimidated when called because she had a reputation of being “strong-willed” (some of you will know that descriptor). The woman I experienced was a joyful, irreverent, and didn’t take herself too seriously. She immediately drew me in not only to the visuals, but in thinking through how we could push the envelope in language of inclusivity. For someone who was planning on attending seminary at that time, it was a heady experience to know that the words we were writing together would be considered by the entire Council of Bishops and presented on their behalf. Judy took me under her wing not as a Bishop (which, given some of the abuse she had taken along the way, would have been her right), but as a colleague. She modeled a form of servant leadership that would stay with me to this day. And I am proud to have served under her leadership and teaching.

The second woman, which may be much closer to where you are sitting is my wife Kay. Kay was first ordained to pastoral ministry in 1987. She was serving in her first appointment in a low income community of Nashville (“The Nation”) when we rekindled our friendship from High School, eventually dating and getting married. I was still functioning as a media guy and event planner. I have been with Kay through four churches, and she has been with me through seminary, CPE, and 2 churches. It’s been an interesting time to say the least.

Here is the word of grace. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that there were a few places that were unsure about having a woman as their pastor. But Kay did what we all should do — she loved the people, and in loving the people, they quickly loved her right back. God has been faithful with us, and especially with Kay’s ministry. There have been folks that weren’t sure if they could have a woman as their pastoral leader. But then, 6 months later, they would come back and say that they were wrong.

Sure there were times when the District Superintendent would hold a picnic and then call all the boys (meaning the pastors) to come with him for a quick minister’s meeting while all the ladies (meaning the spouses) should gather for a United Methodist Women’s meeting. But when I would go head toward the ladies group, and Kay (and other colleagues) would head toward the pastor’s group, he would sputter and apologize, recognizing what he had done.

Yes there have been questions along the way. But it has gotten better. The days of women questioning another woman’s call (for it was usually women who were most concerned about having a female pastor) are pretty much behind us. We’ve seen female colleagues break the glass ceiling. The issue of gender in our appointments is less of a concern than before. It takes practice. It takes intentionality. But it gets better.

Don’t give up. Don’t let anyone deny that you have a call to ministry. The barriers will be broken. God will bless you in your ministry. There is no person or institution that can stop the power of the Holy Spirit in you to share the love of Christ with the world.

You are amazing, you are blessed, you are called by God, you are bearers of the Word, you offer an window into the holy that no man can ever offer.

And I am happy and blessed to call you all colleagues, mentors, and friends, and I raise a cup of $50 a bottle Cabernet in your honor.

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