This morning, I gave the mission moment at our church. The sermon was on one of the shared values of our church. This value states that, "We believe in the freedom of the local church under the authority of Jesus Christ to shape its own life and mission, call its own leadership, and ordain whom it perceives as gifted for ministry, male or female." I gave the story of my call to ministry. I have reposted that testimony here--changing names of entities and people to protect the innocent and to help maintain a little bit of privacy.
During the service, as our pastor firmly asserted that women can be called to ministry (sermon title was "Of Course You Can"), a couple got up and stomped out of our sanctuary. The church is located in the same town as a prominent, conservative, baptist seminary. No doubt that there will be some issue with our church because of what was said today.
Throughout my life, I have been strongly aware of and in tune with spiritual things. From the time I was a baby until I went away to college, I went to a rural, baptist church at least three times a week. My mother made sure that I went to church and participated fully in the activities there. So when I tell people of how I became a Christian, I have to admit that it was a gradual occurrence. There was not a specific moment where I know I accepted Christ, but rather it was a growing realization that led me to commit my life to Christ. I did this at a baptist camp when I was eight years old.
Having been active in Mission Friends, GAs, and Acteens (all baptist mission education programs), I have always been aware of the need for evangelizing lost peoples. By age 12, I had come to the awareness that I would like to be involved in some type of vocational ministry to win the lost to Christ. Like my conversion, it was a gradual calling to ministry. As I went through my high school years, I thought I would become a missionary. The summer before I was a senior in high school, I attended the Youth Theology Institute sponsored by Candler School of Theology. While there, one of the areas of ministry we focused on was ministry within our communities, and I realized that God could use me as a missionary in any community in which I was placed. I no longer focused on becoming a missionary; instead, I started to think of becoming a minister.
Even before I was accepted to college for my undergraduate degree, I knew that I would attend the School of Divinity at G___. The divinity school was just getting started, and my dad had heard this about the school. He knew that I felt called to ministry, and he mentioned it to me. I had a sense that I would attend divinity school at G___ from that day. After receiving my BA in religion, I applied to the divinity school and was accepted. I received my Masters of Divinity in May 2002.
While at G___, there were certain classes that were required by every divinity student, and one of those classes was on preaching and worship. Each person in the class had to prepare a sermon and deliver it. I really struggled with this task. Writing the sermon was not that difficult using the preaching professor's method that we followed, but the actual delivery of it was what seemed difficult to me. I knew that I was not a public speaker, and it caused me a great deal of stress in the days leading up to my delivery day. However, once I got up to deliver my sermon, I felt such a presence of the Holy Spirit that I became calm. There is something about realizing that a sermon is God-directed. To feel the Holy Spirit work through me in the sermon helped me to realize the next step in my call to ministry.
When I enrolled in divinity school, I did not have a specific area of ministry in mind. I chose to take a variety of courses while in divinity school to see what area I liked best, and I felt that area would be my focus. After taking the preaching course, I reflected on the experience of writing a sermon. Given all the struggles that I had with delivering the sermon, I came to realize that writing—and, yes!—delivering the sermon had been an enjoyable experience. We teach our children to do something they enjoy for their vocation, and suddenly I realized what I enjoyed doing. Through my personal reflection of this class, I began to suspect that I was called to preach.
Since I knew of the struggles of baptist women preachers, I prayed for over a year about this call to preach. Throughout that time, I really listened for God. It seems like every sermon I heard affirmed this call (and some of those preachers I heard would not support a woman preacher). After about a year, I began telling a few close friends that I felt called to preach.
I truly believe that I can be a minister wherever I am. As a child of God, I am called to minister everyday. I have committed myself to that goal, whether paid or not.
Today, it is easy to get discouraged. I have a stack of rejection letters if anyone is interested in seeing them. Women who are called to preach in all Protestant denominations still struggle. (If you don’t believe me, check out the next blog entry where I posted an article about this topic from yesterday’s New York Times.) When dh and I moved to this area two years ago, I began looking for a church congregation by emailing pastors. In my email, I was most interested in knowing if the congregation supported women who find themselves called to ministry, even called to preach. And here I am. I have found encouragement in this church called H____ Baptist Church, and for that I am grateful.
I am proud to be a member of a church that will not send my son mixed messages about gender and the call to ministry. I am proud to be part of a church that encourages every member to be a minister to those around them. I am proud to be part of a community of faith where I am allowed to use my gifts. There is no limit to what God can do.
When I was asked to preach at a church six weeks ago, I sat my ds down a few days before Sunday and told him that Daddy would take him to Sunday School and church because I would be attending a different church. He looked at me for a moment and asked why (a very common question for ds nowadays). I told him it was because I was going to preach at another church. Then, after a pause, I said, “I am a preacher.” When I say that to adults, I have to explain myself a lot—especially if they know I am Baptist or they are Baptist themselves. So I forgot that I was dealing with a 3 year old in this case. DS looked at me for a moment. No look of shock on his face. No questions of how could it be that I am a preacher. He didn’t try to argue that I couldn’t be a preacher because I was just a mom. There was just one statement: I want to be a preacher, too.