The familiar anxiety crept into my stomach. It always happened when I ran into someone from my home church. I knew the conversation that was about to happen, I had engaged in it many times before:
How are you?
I’m great! How are you?
Great, what in the world are you up to?
Well, I’m actually pastoring a church.
I’m pastoring a baptist church in Lexington, SC.
Really? And it’s a baptist church?
Yeah, I’ve been there about 18 months.
Or something to that effect. Sometimes the responses are more hurtful. Sometimes the responses are more supportive. The thing is I never know how the conversation is going to go. I still get nervous about these conversations with people from my evangelical baptist background because of the initial conversations I had with friends, family, and my home church about being called to be a preacher.
I knew that the doctrinal stance of my faith tradition was that women weren’t allowed to be preachers or pastors and yet, I really thought that the people I had grown up with would not be surprised by my call to ministry. I thought I was going to be different because I had grown up in the church, I had participated in the church, surely voicing a call to ministry wouldn’t be that much of a surprise.
It was. It is to a lot of people.
It’s taken me four years before I can really unpack those initial conversations. They were hurtful and shocking because they questioned a very part of who I was as an individual, but with some distance and really good guidance from colleagues who had to have the same conversation, my hurt didn’t turn into bitterness. It turned into compassion.
I have come to realize that the hurtful comments although directed at me weren’t personal towards me, but were reactionary because standing before the people who had known me my whole life, was a theological paradox. How could someone who have been raised in a tradition that didn’t believe women were ever called to be pastors and certainly not preachers say they were called to preach? How could someone who for 25 years had never seen a woman preacher, much less a baptist woman preacher see herself in that role?
I’m not sure except for the people who came beside me and affirmed a call to preach and pastor in me on my journey of hurt and re-identification, but I know every day that what I do as a pastor and preacher every week is what I was created to do.
There is a temptation every time I step into the pulpit to let the voices that have called me “rebellious,” “ambitious,” “deceitful,” or “a trouble maker” name me. I am certain that these voices and the churches and congregation who gather on Sundays and hear whether directly or indirectly that women can’t be preachers will always leave me with a sense of nervousness as I enter the holy desk, and I’m glad of that. I am glad that I don’t take lightly stepping into the pulpit every Sunday. I am glad that the voices of the teenagers and young adult women who are to the ministry in these congregation still keep me up at night because they were me, and a part of me will always be them. This part will drive me to keep telling my story, keep answering the question, “What are you doing now?” with a deep breath and my role as pastor, so that some day there won’t be women or girls who don’t know or haven’t seen a baptist woman preacher.