Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Working Women: [God's] Work

I was watching a new episode of The Office last Thursday, and was surprised to see that it was set (of all places) in a church! And the pastor of the church was (of all people) a woman!

And here's my confession...as soon as I saw this [fictitious] character, I immediately started making all sorts of assumptions about her, her theology, her church, and her appropriateness as a pastor.

Which, of course, is odd, given that I too am a female pastor. But there it is. And this is the story of how it came about, for me.

I didn't grow up thinking women could be pastors (and that view entrenched itself terribly well, hence my spontaneous judgment of women pastors even today). In my childhood church, the pastor was a man, and the elders and deacons who gave the communion and offering meditations were also all men. My Sunday school teachers were women, and women would lead the singing portion of worship from time to time. But those in "positions of authority" were not women. I don't remember thinking anything was particularly odd about that, nor do I remember thinking that the exclusion would apply to me. On those unique Sunday mornings when my parents allowed us all to have "church at home", I jumped at the chance to preach or give a meditation before communion. Call it my first ministry experience. My parents didn't stop me, didn't discourage me, didn't indicate during "church at home" that it should be my brother doing the preaching instead of me. Perhaps they, or those at my church, would have nipped that preaching inclination in the bud had we stayed there through my adolescence. But they never got the chance.

Just before my 13th birthday we moved. And, providentially, ended up in a Church of the Nazarene, a strange and beautiful little Protestant church that has, since its inception over 100 years ago, ordained women as pastors. Not that it has always done so wholeheartedly, not that there haven't been barren periods where women were doctrinally welcome but practically unwelcome to the pulpit. But still, the church in which I spent some rich, formative years as a teenager was a church that ordained women.

Even then, I didn't think I was going to be a pastor. I preached and spoke at our youth services and on mission trips, and had the good blessing of a wonderful female youth pastor. But I didn't have the sense that I would be in ministry as a lifelong vocation. And then, when I was fifteen, I had a remarkable divine encounter wherein I knew I was called to serve God in missions. Missions, mind you, not pastoral ministry (which I naively thought had nothing to do with each other).

I followed that call down the prescribed path of education and experience, doing a B.A. in religious studies at a Nazarene university and serving in various church and student ministries. I was encouraged by professors and fellow students to consider further education and, emphatically, to continue working towards full-time ministry. Missions remained my goal, but the idea that maybe I could be a pastor started to creep in. One very dear professor and friend, after hearing me relate some unexpected, blessed times of visiting families in hospital, asked whether I might not be called to pastoral ministry. "Maybe," I said out loud and pondered in my heart.

After university, Matt and I married and, a few months later, packed all of our worldly possessions into a U-haul. We drove halfway across the country to then-frozen Kansas City to begin a Master of Divinity, the standard degree for missionaries and pastors. People would ask me what I planned to be, and as I still planned to be a missionary I would tell them that--often to their great relief! Most Christians are perfectly comfortable with women teaching others about Jesus in cross-cultural settings. And most Christians are positively uncomfortable with women teaching others about Jesus here in North America. This paradoxical theology occurs for many reasons...reasons I don't have time to go into now, but of which I am certainly aware.

It was in Kansas City that I was first allowed to formally preach. I had spoken and preached as a teenager and college student, but rarely in the context of Sunday morning services and only then to share about my own missions experiences (with the one exception of preaching a few times at church overseas...again with the strange paradox). But in Kansas City, three men and one woman made it possible for me to preach. And here, let me be explicit in my thanks to these men and women: Ralph Johnson, Bill Gue, Keith Wright, and Alice-Piggee Wallack. These four individuals took seriously the need for me to explore my gifts and calling. Pastor Ralph invited me to preach at his church--my first proper preaching attempt, which was a big gamble on his part! Dr. Wright, hearing it had gone well, encouraged Pastor Bill to let me have a go. Pastor Bill invited me to preach on James, and that experience solidified in my heart, mind, and soul that God had called and gifted me to preach. Shortly thereafter Pastor Alice invited me to preach at her church in inner-city Kansas City, giving me more preaching experience and, as importantly, providing me with a living model of a female pastor. All four pushed me down the road I may have cautiously considered, but may never have started down on my own. They affirmed in me a call to preach, the defining call of a pastor in the Church of the Nazarene. To them I owe a debt I can never repay.

I completed my Master of Divinity at Regent College, and served as an associate pastor here in Vancouver. Along the way I had other mentors and encouragers: Wes Campbell, the District Superintendent, Grant Zweigle,my senior pastor at First Church, Dr. Barbara Mutch, a pastor and professor at Carey Theological College. They treated me as one called to pastor, and gave me the opportunities to live out that call: I preached, taught, exhorted, prayed, administered the sacraments, visited the sick and dying; all the remarkable, precious tasks of pastoral ministry. After five years (some part-time, some-full-time) I was ordained: set apart by God and His church for life-time service.

So here I am. Well, here I will be--I still have two months left of maternity leave before I return to a paid pastoral position.

Which brings me, as a final thought on the subject to the deeply intermingled roles and realities that are part and parcel of being a female pastor.

I have preached with morning sickness. I have preached with a pregnancy-induced migraine (and oh, that was a fun sermon! I stumbled and stuttered over more than one sentence, let me tell you). I have given pastoral care, led meetings, and prepared worship the same week I miscarried a baby. I have had staff meetings while breastfeeding. I have (very FOOLISHLY) attended a theology class two weeks after giving birth. I have visited a parishioner's newborn baby in the hospital two weeks after I was due to give birth to my own lost baby. My female-embodied difficulties have been a consistent part of my female-embodied ministry.

And because of that, I have been told by concerned parishioners that I was taking on too much. I have had people apologize for taking me away from my children. I have had fellow believers take over Bible studies because I was still bleeding from a miscarriage (sorry for the details, but it is a necessary part of the Grace Tale I am relating). My female-embodied ministry has highlighted my female-embodied difficulties, and my congregation has nurtured me even as I thought I was supposed to be nurturing them. I don't take that for granted. I know some pastors who have been emotionally neglected or run over by their congregations. That has not, thankfully, been my experience. A great part of that is having a compassionate, caring congregation. But I wonder sometimes if it has also been because I, as a childbearing woman, have so obviously needed compassion. The image of Moses's arms being held up by others is often used to explain why we as pastors need to share responsibilities with lay leaders, how we can't lead the church alone. I have often thought that the natural weaknesses of female biology has made the need for pastor support more obvious to the brothers and sisters for whom I am pastor. And that being the case, it highlights the gender-inclusive truth that ALL pastors need back-up, need support, need compassionate care from their congregations.

I can think of no better way to conclude then to say, as Paul once did, that God's grace--administered in many ways but certainly through His church--has been sufficient for me. His strength has been perfected in my weakness. Not just my general human weakness either, but very plainly in my female-specific weakness. And that being the case, I will, as Paul did, boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.


  1. I has been so great reading your blog, and therefore, getting to know you better! I love you sister!! May God continue to pour out His grace and strength to you and your family as you minister to HIS family.

  2. I've enjoyed all of your posts Kadee, and especially this one. I saw the Office that you're referring to, and hate to admit that a few prejudice leapt into my brain as well--and I also felt guilty!
    Thanks for writing this. I plan on sharing it with a few teens that I know who are beginning to explore ministry-if it's alright with you!
    Grace and peace,

  3. Thanks so much, ladies. Your ongoing feedback and encouragement really helps me to keep writing and reflecting.

    And Syndi, feel free to share it with any teens you think it might help. I hope it does!

    Love you both,