I love TV shows and movies that depict an older woman blazing a trail, and then mentoring a younger woman who it seems is destined to follow a similar path. As my generation faces retirement and senior adulthood, passing the proverbial baton becomes all important. This ritual is an age-old Process. With it seems to come, at least for me, an intense awareness not only of what I accomplished, but also of what I have left undone.
Let me explain. I remember as clearly as if it was yesterday, a worship service at summer camp in Newport, Tennessee. I was only nine, a mere child, yet I knew God was calling out to me and that I belonged somehow to God.
That “call” never faded, as many childhood experiences tend to do. Rather, it grew in my awareness and understanding, never diminishing, ever present as I grew towards womanhood. Looking back now, it seems like it took a terribly long time to fully form inside of me. I knew no women “in ministry.” The closest woman to a professional ministry role was the director of the camp I attended every summer as a child. She became my “boss” as I entered college and spent the summers working as a Counselor at that same camp.
With this older woman’s mentoring, by the time I graduated from college, I at least understood that God had gifted me for something special. “Surely it must be overseas,” I mused, for it seemed God only called women for service on far distant shores! I spent two years doing music ministry overseas, and returned to the States and seminary, planning to earn a Master’s degree to qualify for an overseas assignment. At the same time, I was only vaguely aware of a growing chasm between God”s claim on my life, and a society that was somehow blind to that claim! It was the late 1970’s, and the storm was about to break!
The awakening came when my new husband and I began interviewing for a joint ministry position in a local church. In one interview, I was completely ignored, as if I was not even in the room! For another, the interviewer called my husband for an earlier appointment. And left town with no effort to even meet me. In yet another, I was accused of being “too forward” because I addressed some of the men in the church directly, even being so bold as to offer my hand in greeting!
And so it went. For YEARS!!
Given the perspective of a society which is itself being awakened to the presence and gifts of not only women but anyone who is “different,” I am now much more aware of the lead weights that bound me for most of my career. I was always torn between this sense of call and the reality of being female in a male-dominant field. God created me to be Minister. Pastor. To preach the Gospel of God’s promised Presence! To use music to lead God’s people into God’s Presence! It’s been more than 60 years since that nine year old first understood God’s claim on her life…a claim that has never gone away! Never diminished or faded. I didn’t choose this! God chose me!
Now, in what will be the final chapter, I am faced with the reality of the things I left unsaid or undone through the years, things for which I will have to answer to God. I am especially haunted by thoughts and ideas I knew were from God, but was too reticent to speak them, afraid of repercussions from those in the pew. I am very aware that God never let me off the hook. Ministry opportunities surrounded me daily, no matter what “job” I had to do. But how much did I miss by trying desperately to stay under the radar?!
I watch today’s generation of gifted female pastors, and stand in awe of their boldness, of their gifts for helping their congregations experience God’s presence, of their willingness to declare God’s claim on their lives, I am grateful to have lived long enough to experience the gifts of some of these young women. I have every confidence that God, who began this work in them, will prevail above the clamor of the crowd.
And so, I offer this charge to my Sister Ministers: Be bold with God’s claim! If it’s real, it will never diminish. Rather, it will deepen and strengthen as you age. Be outspoken against injustice, whether it is aimed at you or another of God’s children. Be always alert for the opportunities for ministry that will inevitably surround you daily. Learn to breathe a prayer in the midst, knowing that it is God who ministers as you become a channel of God’s love. Jesus, with infinite wisdom, summed it up like this, “Love God, and Love others as you love yourselves.”
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