As I reflect on my call to ministry, I am so grateful to those women who have gone before me, who courageously and faithfully fulfilled their own vocation by seeking after Christ. In doing so, they touched my life and helped me understand that I, too, could join the growing movement of women who are called to serve.
First, there was Roberta Hestenes. It was the spring of 1984, and I, along with about fifteen other college graduates from our church, decided to attend our all-church conference at Mt. Hermon Conference Center in Felton, CA. Until this point, I had never heard a woman preach or address a congregation. My curiosity was piqued. I listened with rapt attention to Roberta as she delivered four compelling, articulate, and convicting messages over the course of a weekend.
At the end of the final session, I leaned over to my pastor, Mark, and said, “So, women can be preachers, Mark?” “Yes, Nancy, women can be preachers.” “So I could be a preacher,” I said with incredulity to Mark.
Thankfully, he didn’t roll his eyes, but said kindly, “Yes, that is a possibility.” In that realization, a new window opened for me that otherwise would have remained shut.
Then, there was Judie. It was the summer of 1990 when I first visited Christ Church in Minneapolis, MN. As I read the worship bulletin, I noticed there were several women serving on staff. While I had heard Roberta preach at a conference, I had never attended a church with female clergy. I was curious. It was my friendship with one of these women, Judie that helped me realize this possibility for myself.
During the course of our friendship, she was the one who not taught me how to make it through a Minneapolis winter. More deeply and personally, she taught me how to understand the yearning in my heart to serve the church. She watched as I began to take on more leadership responsibilities at church. She engaged in thoughtful conversations about my yearning to serve the church. She helped to foster a love for theological discussions. Suddenly, seminary didn’t seem so crazy. As I began to consider seminary, she affirmed this desire by reminding me that it would equip me for further service in the church. She was right. Getting to know Judie, watching her lead worship and engaging in deep theological conversations was a catalyst to pursuing this work. She opened another window through her friendship and informal mentoring that allowed me to envision a life of ministry.
Now, I am the first female clergy person serving at my church. I am deeply aware of how God might use me to open a window for other women by encouraging them to consider their calling. Through the sheer act of standing up in a worship service to speak or through developing a friendship with them, listening to their heart and hearing how the Spirit might be leading and calling them, I can empower other women too. Some women need a sounding board, a shoulder to cry on. Some need just a push to move forward with assurance that, while it may feel strange, if it’s God’s call, great joy will be found in persevering through the uncomfortable middle ground of discernment, training (seminary), and ordination process.
So, to Roberta, Judie, and other clergy women who have gone before me, I say “thank you.” You paved the way for me, whether you knew it or not, through your faithfulness in following Christ’ call to serve. And now, I hope to pay this forward to help other women who may need to see and know a woman minister to help them discover their own vocation and call.