In the quiet evening hours, once my littles are sound asleep, I find myself in the early stages of sermon writing. It’s the stage where I’m listening to others’ words on the same topic, browsing theological journals that come up when I search keywords, and bouncing ideas off of my husband. The truth of the matter is this: I don’t like to write sermons. I am, at best, an unlikely preacher in our small, Mennonite church. I languished through theology courses in college earning mostly high C’s. I feel easily overwhelmed researching Scripture and have no knowledge whatsoever of Greek or Hebrew. I’m constantly sending rough drafts to my pastor friends to ensure that my words from behind the oak pulpit aren’t inadvertently heretical. Why, then, do I sign up on the quarterly preaching rotation? I do it because I have a three-year-old daughter.
In the pre-dawn hours of a shockingly beautiful late September day, I gave birth to our firstborn, a daughter. We named our nearly-seven-pound miracle Junia Grace. Her arrival changed me in every way that I expected. My body was pushed to its physical limits of sleep deprivation as I tried to satisfy my hungry nursling. I grew more emotionally tender with each passing day as I grappled with raising a human in world that could be so cruel, so lacking in compassion for its most vulnerable. Spiritually, I felt myself opening up to new possibilities as I finally understood the fierce, protective, and devoted love of a parent for their child. However, Junia’s existence also began to change me in a way that I never expected: theologically.
I was first introduced to the concept of biblical gender equality and egalitarianism in my third year of college in a gender studies course. The revelation that God did not prefer my boyfriend to me was, in no uncertain terms, life-altering. I had been raised to believe that men were the head of the home and the leaders of the church. A woman never stepped behind the pulpit unless she was a missionary, home on furlough. And, of course, she “shared;” she did not preach. I joyfully embraced this new ideology of equality. When that boyfriend and I covenanted our lives together in marriage two years later, we agreed that our future children, female and male, would know that they stood equal before God.
Living in the light of this new theology I believed that women can and should lead churches, serve as pastors, and preach the gospel every Sunday. But me, personally? I had a get-out-of-jail-free card. I wasn’t called to be a pastor or to pursue ministry, and I had little formal theological education. My gifts lay elsewhere, I assured myself. I would serve in our church equally, but not from behind a pulpit.
When we relocated to a new province eighteen months ago, we made certain to choose a denomination and a home church that affirmed women as pastors. Our church is led by male and female elders, and both sexes are encouraged to participate in all areas of church life, including preaching. It was a perfect fit for our growing family.
However, I soon noticed that only men were preaching. The opportunity to preach was open to all and encouraged by our pastor, but only men seemed to volunteer. The reasons were as varied as the women in the congregation. Some devoted countless hours to other ministries in the church and there simply wasn’t time to prepare sermons as well. For others the very real fear of public speaking felt insurmountable. And for some who were raised as I was, I suspect, the weight of past beliefs regarding women’s roles kept them from preaching.
As the Sundays passed, an uncomfortable feeling settled into my spirit. I protested inside (I wasn’t “called!” I had no education! I was disinterested in theology!); I simply wasn’t a preacher. But my blue-eyed girl, sitting next to me in the pew, had yet to see a woman preach. What good, I feared, would it do Junia to know that she was equal, but only in theory? How could she envision herself preaching if there were no women to spark her imagination? How could she be what she could not see?
When our pastor approached me a few weeks later and asked me if I would be willing to preach while he was away the following month, I heard my voice saying, “Yes.”
I said yes because I needed my daughter to believe that the Holy Spirit that rained down on the women at Pentecost would rain down on her too. I needed her to know that the outcast woman at the well was the first person whom Jesus trusted with the news that he was the Messiah. I needed her to know that Jesus chose to reveal his resurrection to the women first, charging them to go and tell their brothers. This good news is given to every woman to proclaim—educated or not, “called” or not. It is mine to proclaim, and I hope and pray that someday, Junia too, will proclaim it with joy.
So here I sit in the quiet evening hours, toiling at a task that does not come naturally, leaning heavily on the help of others, and earnestly hoping that someday my daughter and son will see true, equal representation of women and men—all the living streams flowing through the church. I will choose to say yes to that hope, wherever it may lead me.