A few years ago I finally visited our neighborhood church. Having driven past it almost daily for over a decade, and then looking for a worship community closer to home, I decided to scout it out and see if it could be a fit for our family.
My vivid first impression was of the two pastors, Pastor Stephanie and Pastor Ed, standing up front to greet the congregation and deliver announcements. I was immediately struck by the remarkable chemistry they demonstrated in the way they played off each other, practically alternating sentences. Their way of interacting set a welcoming tone and suggested an environment of close community and leadership through partnership. I had never witnessed this sort of real-time collaboration between pastors and it provided a strong clue that I had discovered our family’s new church home.
Over the past three years I have gotten to know both Pastor Ed and Pastor Stephanie and developed a deep respect and fondness for both of them. Now, after eight years of serving our church, Pastor Stephanie is departing to start a new adventure at another church in a nearby community. She has had a profound impact on our family, and her departure inspires me to honor her and her ministry as an example of what CBE is striving to enable throughout the entire church worldwide.
Pastor Stephanie comes from a family of pastors steeped in a conservative, social justice-oriented stream within a mainline denomination. She grew up as a pastor’s kid, the much-youngest of four siblings, two brothers and one sister. She describes her extended family culture as “worshipful,” with faith, family and church all blending together to provide an ecosystem that fostered her spiritual growth. From an early age she embraced faith and involvement in the church, and received a great deal of affirmation from both her family and the congregation. She attended and then worked at a large evangelical Bible camp, and by her sophomore year of college knew that she wanted to attend seminary and become a pastor.
Only once did she encounter negative, albeit well-meaning, feedback about her sense of calling. It came from friends—fellow camp counselors from another denomination with strict views regarding women in ministry. Stephanie recalls being initially taken aback by her friends’ position, and then simply and lovingly responding that she had a different understanding of the Scripture passages they were citing.
In seminary, Stephanie was mentored by a professor who helped her find her first call near Seattle. There she thrived as an associate pastor at a church with two encouraging and supportive male co-pastors. Eight years ago, she returned to MN to serve at the church I now attend. In 2009, she married Paul, a full-time youth pastor in another congregation, and this past February gave birth to twins. Managing two ministry careers and now two young children is certainly is certainly a challenge, but, blessed with a great support structure, and demonstrating tremendous grace and mutual respect, they make it work and are thriving as a family.
Upon her return to MN, Stephanie found an inspiring role model in Ann Svennungsen, the former pastor of the church she attended during college who then went on to be a university president and then the first female bishop in the state of MN. Of Svennungsen, Stephanie remarks, “She’s got humility and grace and just does it.”
Pastor Stephanie freely acknowledges that there’s a distinctive “good ol’ boy” culture in her denomination, and she has friends who have encountered severe challenges as women in ministry and who have in some cases given up. On the other hand, she herself has encountered encouragement and genuine partnership from the male pastors with whom she’s served, and for this she is grateful.
Now Stephanie is transitioning into a co-pastor role with a man who has served the same church for 25 years. It’s a potentially intimidating scenario, but I’m filled with confidence and hope that it will be a platform for her to further develop and grow as a leader. Like her role model, she’s got humility and grace and she just does it. For her, gender has not been a significant barrier. As a result, I and so many others have been blessed by her confident, intelligent and gracious way of teaching and leading, and by her modeling of a Spirit-filled, Christ-centered life.
Pastor Stephanie has been free and empowered to live out her calling as a pastor. If only every woman called to be a leader in the church could say the same.