call

The Glass Ceiling Ain't Broke Yet

By Rev. Mindi

A few weeks ago, we watched the graphic of the glass ceiling break as Hillary Clinton became the first female presidential nominee by a major political party. While presidential candidates in the past have had it mentioned that they were good parents, there was much lauding of Hillary’s motherhood, and behind-the-scenes talk about her sticking by her husband during their difficult times.

This past week, we have heard stories of Kerri Walsh Jennings being a terrific mother and how she has to balance motherhood and being an athlete. Headlines that congratulated the wife of a Chicago Bears lineman who won bronze in women’s trap shooting: her name is Corey Cogdell (the Chicago Tribune received a lot of feedback on that one). That glass ceiling is not broken, only cracked. Because women are barely getting through.

Less than one quarter of the churches in my region have a woman on the pastoral staff, and of that quarter, one third are part-time. And while more women are still entering seminary than men, more women are in search processes and more women are not considered by search committees. There are still churches, in 2016, in my denomination that refuse to look at the professional profile of a woman minister in their search processes.

So I would like to ask my male colleagues to consider the following:

--Would you enter a profession in which you were significantly less likely to be hired because of your gender?

--Would you accept a position at a church if the person before you was a woman and received more pay than you, even though you have the same level of experience (or even more?)

--Would you be comfortable in a denomination in which there were churches that would not consider you because you are male?

--Would you accept a position in which a major change in family status would require you to be gone for 6-12 weeks, but the church would not pay for your leave time?

 

Now, ask yourself these real questions that I have personally been asked by search committees in the past, and how would you feel about them being asked of you:

--“How will you balance your family time and church time?”

--“What will you do on Sunday if your child is sick?”

--“What will your spouse do if you are the pastor? Will they be involved in the church?”

--“How is your physical health?”

--“How will you be able to pastor the (opposite sex) in our church?”

--“Will you leave the church if you have a baby?”

No my friends, the glass ceiling has not been broken. It has been cracked, but we have a long way to go in breaking it.

 

*Note: this post reflects a binary way of thinking, and is definitely not encompassing of all ministers or all families, especially LGBTQ individuals and their families. I cannot imagine the list of questions my LGBTQ clergy friends have been asked that would never be asked of those of us who are cisgender and heterosexual. 

Cultivating Call

By Rev. Mindi

When I was thirteen, I felt the call to ministry. I was sitting in my grandfather’s church, listening to him preach, and I felt something in me say “This will be you someday.” And I never looked back.

When I told my pastor about my call a few months later, my pastor made sure to include me in worship leadership.  At first it was simply reading Scripture, but by the time I was fifteen I was preaching a sermon at least once or twice a year. I helped with Communion, I led liturgy and prayers.  After I was baptized, I was made a member of our Deacon Board (this happens when you are in a small church startup with about twenty members!) When I was in college, the pastor of the church I attended invited me to preach. The first time he was present; after that, he invited me as pulpit supply on occasion.

These experiences helped build me up and prepare me for ministry long before I attended seminary. And when I was serving in my first church as an associate minister, we established our first Youth Sunday in a long, long time. But I knew that Youth Sunday wasn’t going to cut it. Only once a year? Only one time for the youth to share their gifts for ministry? So I began to establish, with the help of the senior minister, a training program for youth starting in middle school to help in the worship service. And we began by reading Scripture to the congregation, and worked our way into other areas of the service. 

At my second church, where I served as Senior Pastor, I did the same—but I also invited youth to preach and not just on Youth Sunday. And when she turned sixteen, I invited her to come on pastoral visits with me (but I always received permission first from the homebound member). She also eventually was invited to serve on the church board.

In both churches, there was one youth who began to feel a call to ministry and felt uplifted, supported and encouraged in that call, just as I had felt many years ago.

What are we doing in our churches to support young people in the call to ministry? What are we doing to help laity of all ages feel supported in their call to ministry?

All too often, worship is led by the pastor, and even if laity are involved, it is simply for things such as taking the offering or serving Communion, or maybe reading Scripture. The number one complaint I hear from pastors when I ask them how laity participate in worship is that the laity are not trained to read Scripture or to lead in worship. But that is our job. If we are not involving the laity in our worship services (and of course I am speaking from a Free Church congregation with no set liturgy other than what was created by tradition within this particular congregation), we are failing to raise up the next generation of leaders.

In my current congregation, no one has come forward to me to express an interest in professional ministry—yet. But that does not mean I do not provide those opportunities, as much as possible, by inviting others to participate and serve. I also provide training, once a year, on reading Scripture out loud, what the Prayer of Invocation is and what it means to call people into worship. An 85-year-old woman in my church, who attended the training but had no interest in actually leading it, said to me “I never knew what the word Invocation really meant until now. Now I know what it is we are doing.” Sometimes, in the Free Church tradition, we have done a poor job of educating within our communities on what it is worship means, what is liturgy, and what it is we are doing.

We need to do better. Think of ways you can involve others in leadership, and ways we can educate our congregations on what worship is, but we also need to find ways of encouraging and lifting up those within our congregations who may be gifted for ministry. It is not enough to bless them and send them on their way to seminary; we must begin cultivating that call now.

Messages on the Bathroom Wall

By Rev. Mindi

I’ve not had a great week, let’s just say that. Balancing parenting a special needs child and ministry is difficult. Ministry is difficult. There are demands every which way and you can never satisfy everyone’s demand.

People call on a daily basis looking for assistance and nine times out of ten, I can’t help them. The resources aren’t there. We are a very small church, but we do what we can and we’ve narrowed our assistance to food and refer everyone else on to social services. But that, of course, does not make most people happy.  Many times people hang up on me. Sometimes they even accuse me of not being helpful, or worse, not being a Christian. They tell me no one will help them. Maybe that’s all true. Maybe I am a lousy Christian because I don’t help every person who comes to me and often I turn them away. Once in a while, I can help with either a food donation or a gift card, but that’s it.

I am the pastor of a small church, but even so, it seems like I never have the time to visit everyone who could use a visit. Because my child is young, he is home with me or at the office with me a lot, making it difficult to go out and visit like I feel I should. I always seem to be a step or two behind on paperwork, on worship planning, on visioning with the church.

My energy is often low, especially on days when my son has been up since 2 a.m. There are days where I simply cannot focus on ministry. I would call them sick days, but really it’s “I’m-just-so-tired-I-need-a-break” days. They often are combined after a week of meetings and church events and therapies for my son and then a night where he doesn’t sleep.

Sometimes I wonder what the heck I’m doing with my life.

And then I remember.

*****

I was sitting on the darkwood pew, doodling on the bulletin. I put the little half-pencil with hardly any lead down, picking up the hymnal as I stood up to sing along with the congregation. This church was a little weird, in that they sang all the “Amens” at the end of hymns. I wondered if other churches sang the “Amens” and if my home church was the only one who didn’t. It seemed to make the hymn dreadfully longer than it needed to be. I looked out over the mass of silver haired heads in front of me. My mother sang perfect alto harmony as we neared the “Amen.” It echoed in my ears after we had put our hymnals back and sat down.  Then my grandfather went up to the pulpit.

I don’t remember what the Scripture reading was. I don’t really remember much of the sermon, except the part where my grandfather talked about two men who had come out as gay and loved each other. I don’t know why that is the only part of the sermon I remember, I guess it is because in 1990 it seemed a little shocking to vocalize support for GLBTQ people from the pulpit. But more importantly, what I remember is this:

“That will be you someday.”

It wasn’t a voice, it was more like a feeling—no, more like a push inside my gut and heart saying this is who you are. A minister. It’s in your blood. My grandfather, his twin brother and younger brother, their father and grandfather—all Baptist ministers. And suddenly, I knew who I was and who I was going to be. I was sure of it, certain of it, and that certainty stayed with me a long time.

Throughout high school, that certainty remained silently inside while I listened to my good Christian friends tell me how women couldn’t be ministers.

Throughout college, when at times I questioned my call, thought about going to graduate school for creative writing instead, that certainty kept me from filling out the applications for Master of Arts programs and instead requesting information for Master of Divinity degrees.

Throughout seminary, when I questioned the Bible, even Jesus sometimes, and wondered what the heck I was doing and why my dating life was suffering, that certainty melded into my identity. I began to see myself as a minister, as a church pastor, as leading a congregation. And when I became a little afraid and applied for a few non-ministry positions while in seminary as “backup,” the certainty was there in the relief I felt when those positions fell through.  Indeed, by the time I graduated I had already been called to be a Christian Education minister that later grew into a full Associate position.

*****

The certainty is still there—when I doubt it all after a hard board meeting, when I have had little sleep trying to balance parenthood and ministry, when I am pulled in every direction—my heart and my gut say, “This is you.”

God says, “This is you.”

Because a long time ago, even before I sat in that pew at my grandfather’s church, I was at my home church in Alaska which rented space from an Episcopal church. One of those funny Episcopalians—I have no idea if it was a layperson or the rector—had printed a little card and had taped it to the bottom of the restroom mirrors.

That card read, “You are looking at a minister.”

So whenever I go to the bathroom, I look at myself. I look at a minister. I look at the one called by God.

My gut and my heart say, “This is you.”

Women Responding to the Call of God

 When Jennifer Harris Dault put out a call for Baptist women’s call stories, I was excited for the opportunity to share the story of God’s call on my life (from my perspective, of course).  I quickly wrote out my story, edited it a bit, and sent it to her.  Many months later, The Modern Magnificat: Women Responding to the Call of God was released.  I purchased the book for my mother for Christmas and waited for my copy to arrive in the mail, excited to see my name as a chapter in this collection.

However, when I sat down to read this canon of twenty-three stories of Baptist women called into ministry, I forgot about the details of my own story.  As I read, chapter by chapter, story by story, woman by woman, I heard my story in the voices of these women.  Women who had faithfully responded to that inkling, that nudge, that Divine Word, that altar call, that prayer to follow Jesus by going into ministry, and all of whom at one point or another faced incredible challenges to following that call.  More often than not, it was a male voice telling them, “No.”  Not the voice of God, not the Bible, but the voice of pastors, teachers, even husbands and fathers, saying “No” simply because she was a woman. 

Even though my call story is included in this collection, it isn’t complete by itself. As I read their stories, I recalled other moments when men said “No” simply because they were a man and I was a woman. I also now remember times when other women told me I needed to learn my place.  I remember friends and family who believed they were being loving by telling me I had no place in ministry whose words were crushing. 

But I also remember so much more now.  As I read these testimonies, I feel pride in remembering all the encouraging voices on the way—pastors, parents and grandparents, teachers, friends—all who saw the gifts of God in me and pulled me along the way.  I recall my own personal experiences with God when I heard, or felt, very clearly that God was indeed calling me to be a minister.

While this book is written by Baptist women and their experience, I believe there are many women in other traditions who have experienced similar discrimination, and I hope, similar places of encouragement along the way in their faith journey.  Baptists, of course, bear our own unique name and burdens, stereotypes and generalizations, and there are many former Baptist women serving in other traditions now, but I believe this book can be a work of encouragement for all women pursuing the call to ministry. 

As I read this book with my story in it, as a fifth-generation ordained American Baptist minister (and the first woman, with my mother following after me), I wonder about my grandmother and the other minister’s wives in my family and their daughters.  I wonder if they ever wondered if God was calling them into pastoral ministry but set it aside, believing that they were fulfilling that calling by being a pastor’s wife. I wonder how many women have been denied even the possibility of dreaming about being a minister. 

In more conservative and evangelical circles there is a continuing debate about Biblical equality and women in pastoral leadership roles.  In the progressive/liberal churches, we often assume that debate has been settled.  Yet I know my colleagues in other traditions, and I in my American Baptist tradition know our name has been rejected from church search committees because we are women. We know that churches still refuse to consider a woman, even if the batch of profiles they receive from their regional office are full of women’s names, even when we know that over 60% of seminary students today are women and that number continues to grow. 

The Modern Magnificat brings a challenge to the church universal: women will follow the call by God, despite the attempts of denominational bodies or local churches, despite the naysayers in the pulpit and on the parish committee.  Will the church be the one to change and accept that God calls all people, or will the church continue to hold on to false interpretations of Scripture used to justify power-holding and power-over others?  For there is no other purpose of denying women into ministry: besides the numerous Biblical examples from Deborah to Phoebe, besides the traditions of women partnering with men in ministry throughout church history, the need to hold power and authority over others is what perpetuates the denial of women into ministry—or indeed, any group considered a minority in power. 

While there are other great books out there on women in ministry, written from academic theological perspectives, read this book of women whose own stories, who own narratives share their experiences of denial and perseverance, of challenge and most importantly, hope. 

(You can read the introduction of Jennifer Harris Dault’s book here).

Accepting submissions of sermons.

“Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” St. Francis of Assisi

I love this quote. It is one of the mantras I use to remind myself that I speak of Christ when I should just be Christ-like to others.  When writing a sermon I try to balance my words with the call to action from the Word.

We are looking for sermons to feature on [D]mergent on Sundays.  We are seeking sermons that call us to action and demand that we “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”  These do not have to be new sermons or even sermons that have been preached before.

We want sermons that move us as a people towards answering the call of Jesus the Christ.  If you want to submit a sermon please follow these guidelines:

Text:

  • Please keep it between 1200-1500 words
  • Submit as “doc” format or as the body of the email.

Audio:

  • Please keep it between 12-15 minutes.
  • Please submit as Mp3 or WAV file.

With All Submissions Please include:

  • Where the sermon was preached. If it has never been preached of was written for the [D]mergent community please indicate.
  • The name of the preacher.
  • Sermon Text
  • Sermon Title

Please email all submissions to dmergent@gmail.com.  We reserve the right to not publish sermons that are offensive, comprised of hate language or do not embrace the essence of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).