Yesterday, I started blogging again. Thus far, maybe three people have stopped by to take a look. While my readership may not be vast, I would like to give a shout-out to my church and pastor. Besides serving as a forum for discussion and thinking out loud, I started ‘a place at the table’ after causing a bit of a brouhaha on my pastor’s blog. Once again, someone brought up the ‘women in ministry’ discussion. If you’re a mainliner, skip this one. If you classify yourself as Evangelical or Catholic, you know what I’m talking about here. If you’re a woman and classify yourself as Evangelical or Catholic and are in ministry, pull up a chair. There’s a place for you here.
The discussion started with Pastor Eugene’s discussion of a group conversation with Rob Bell, a thoughtful and prominent Christian in town to participate in events surrounding the Dalai Lama and Seeds of Compassion. Somehow, this particular conversation got around to the topic of women in ministry, and Eugene asked the dangerous question: “What do you think?” People started commenting, and before you know it, it had gotten a bit heated and I had put myself out there and said what I was really thinking:
i liked the comment about the church being the ‘White Man’s World’. i like a lot of what Rob Bell has to say, as I like a lot of what some contemporary, intelligent, ‘emergent’ authors have to say. i just wish there came a day where instead of going to a conference where someone like Bell talks about why we should have women in ministry, or a bunch of White guys talk about racial reconciliation and poverty, that these same heavy-hitters would realize THEY ARE THE ONES feeding the power disparity, THEY ARE THE ONES who could be radically supporting women and people of color in ministry by stepping aside and handing the mic to someone else, and asking the audience to listen.
how often do evangelical men who claim to support women in ministry agree to serve as much needed mentors to women or people of color so that they can have exposure to the leadership, to what’s going on in church circles, so that they can learn? those in power are men, and if those wanting to learn are women, all too often they cannot find men willing to mentor them because they want to guard against any appearance of impropriety. as a woman, having my gender viewed as ‘dangerous’ at times is frustrating, to say the least, and honestly makes growth and mentorship opportunities in the evangelical world damn hard to come by.
for now, all too often, i feel like the picture above, especially in evangelical circles. and if i get asked one more time by a white guy ‘why are you so upset about this women in leadership discussion’ and told that i or other women are too emotional, or told that i just need to have some grace for those who believe i don’t have a genuine call from God…seriously, all of this talk is enough to make an evangelical consider going episcopalian.
Am I joining the Episcopal church? Nope. But honestly, there’s something to be said for being in a place where I can walk into a room full of pastors and people don’t ask if I work with youth or worship. Granted, I haven’t yet hit thirty, but neither of those are my calling. It’s also really, really nice to be in a place where your calling isn’t questioned every time you meet a new group of pastors. This is where the shout-out comes in. I serve as a member of the pastoral staff at Quest Church, and I’m part of the Evangelical Covenant Church. While in my protective Quest-y bubble, I have had the remarkable opportunity to feel honored and valued as a partner in ministry. Eugene has been great to work with, has supported my call to seminary and ministry, and has welcomed me as part of the Quest staff (with a pretty equal ratio of men and women). I haven’t been coddled or treated differently, the ride has been tough in many ways, but we’ve all been a team. As I finish my work at seminary, and find myself increasingly connected with other women who feel called into full time pastoral ministry, I am grateful and excited to share how my denomination treats the ‘women in ministry’ question theologically. It’s a justice issue, an issue of whether we truly affirm the priesthood of all believers and the radical call to equality and inclusiveness in Galatians 3:28. Really, instead of being about men and women, it’s about God’s calling, the Holy Spirit’s gifting in the lives of people, and about how the Cross changes everything. At times, I get so tired of fighting this battle again and again, and wind up responding to yet another discussion, part of another focus group or panel that wants to talk with, or about, women in ministry.
My tiredness does not usually stem from interactions at Quest; we are very up front about our theology and people who don’t agree tend to attend another church. My frustration stems mostly from the greater Evangelical subculture, with which I have a love-hate relationship in so many ways. Attending a seminary where women outnumber men, I don’t have to defend myself or my calling because of gender. Ever. That the calling and giftedness conferred by the Holy Spirit could be poured out on all flesh–literally–is taken as a given. That’s a big part of why I chose the school I chose. Fighting these battles out every time I enter a denominational class outside my school, when I go to any conference or gathering of Evangelicals, or when I greet pastors coming to visit our church makes me weary. As I continue working to serve God in pastoral ministry, I have to jolt myself out of the tendency to start thinking selfishly about how difficult it is to be a woman in Evangelical ministry, and instead rejoice that I have been called and gifted, and out of obedience, respond. Ultimately, it’s not about us as men or women being ministers of the Gospel, it is about the One we serve who chooses to reveal himself to and through us–men and women, broken and imperfect, but all loved by God.