I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you.
― Annie Dillard
Church is in my DNA. I grew up in the Nazarene Church, a small, Wesleyan, tight knit evangelical denomination. My father and grandfather are both pastors, plus a great-grandmother on my mom’s side. I attended a Nazarene University and remained a faithful member until my early twenties when we relocated to Colorado. I was the best churchgoer, still am, but a couple years ago, we had to take a break. I couldn’t make the churches in our community work. I could no longer stomach the conservative, right leaning dogma that composed many sermons. Certain friends excluded without a loving, hospitable place to rest. Anger burned. I was rage-filled, toxic, exhausting my people with the venting. I stayed too long. To preserve my own integrity, to preserve my own sanity, we left.
In the nine-month hiatus (I know, brief for some, eternal for me) my belief in the work of the Church was restored. My understanding of the true responsibilities of the Church were renewed and I cultivated a compelling desire to bring a congregation to my community, my town. I aligned myself with a new friend, Paula Williams, a leading national church planter, and we all found our footing and hope at Highlands Church, an open and affirming progressive, evangelical church in Denver.
Surrounded by a beautiful team of similar minded people, I can say with confidence, excitement, and terror, our new church will begin Sunday services this Fall, 2017. And I will also say with equivalent confidence, excitement, and terror that I am called to the ministry.
The Nazarene Church of my youth is considered one of the few egalitarian evangelical denominations, where women and men work and learn equally alongside one another. The evangelical churches I attended in Colorado, are not. While it took me awhile to make the discovery, the absence of women was not something of which I took particular note. When your dad’s the pastor you don’t know much else.
Somewhere along the way I adopted the mindset that my primary work as a woman was to support my husband. With three young children and a lack of motivation to find substantial work, I took on the role of stay-at-home-mom without much struggle or concern. These years at home have not been easy, but my work was secure, my tasks enveloped in keeping the kiddos alive and fed, warm and loved. But I also developed some deeply complementarian beliefs. I believed the success of our marriage was based upon my ability to say yes without complaint or grumble. As a good Christian woman I was tasked with being the wind beneath his wings, for being the strength and backbone, the quiet but faithful supporter of his endeavors. I had goals and achieved some lofty pursuits, for which I am proud, but all were held loosely with the understanding my primary work was the kids. The division of responsibility was convenient, keeping us from some hard and difficult decisions. And Eric, thankfully, did not see our roles in the same way I did. We navigated the best we could with what we had, and it worked for us, for the time. On the outset one would not think I was compromising my call, and I didn’t believe I was. I felt I was in the right place for the right reasons, and Eric did too. But the chapter is closing, the pages turn and I must change and follow the pull of my desires.
There’s a rub. My ministerial call is welcomed, invited, celebrated in the progressive evangelical church, but not in most evangelical churches. Women cannot lead men. If females are relegated to primary leadership of the women and children, how can a full expression of the heart of God be demonstrated? I’m not interested in changing minds or engaging debate, I just want to work. I want to lead in the ways I am geared to lead. My giftedness is not male. My giftedness lies along stereotypical, female roles. But I don’t want to just be a “helper”. The church needs women’s voices. The church needs men’s voices. People need to see women at the pulpit, leading, speaking, being. People need to see men at the pulpit, leading, speaking, being. The church needs to see women as equals, as partners in this life of living out justice and loving kindness and walking humbly with God. I need to know there is ample room at the table that holds space for my unconventional and nonlinear communication and thinking patterns, that relies not on bullet points or well-crafted arguments, but on the nagging feeling in my gut that needs to be hashed out, oftentimes with fear and trembling.
My gifts of feeding and compassion, mercy, wonder, exuberance, heartfelt grace, and connection need to be revered just as much as another’s ability to crunch numbers, start programs, organize fundraisers, and collect the masses. Our churches need both. Our churches deserve both. Until that day comes, I’m afraid the face of God we get in our places of worship, in our towns, is that of a man. I do love my men, but the ferocity of a woman’s heart? The dedication of mothers? The tenacity of a human who knows how to feel and breathe and weep and endure through suffering? Nothing compares.
Until then, our churches will be shells. These remarkable, powerful qualities of God relegated to the sidelines, served quietly, revered without authority. For some, this is enough. For me, it is not. I want the fierce, the fire, the deep, deep compelling of justice and compassion to burn from the pulpit. I want everyone to know the depth and breadth of God’s love. And until the women speak and lead and carry the weight of authority? This will not be the case.
I didn’t know what was missing, all the times, my entire life, I listened to men. I didn’t know the tender-hearted presence of God’s Love spoken through the mouth and the soul of a woman, until recently. My palate whetted, I can’t turn back. I need the fullness, the balance, the beauty. I need the total portrayal and power of the heart of God.
And my community needs this too.
Stay tuned, friends.