As I opened up the pages of Nancy Lammers Gross’ book, Women’s Voices and the Practice of Preaching, I became intensely grateful for certain truths of my own story. I am the fourth generation of women in ministry in my family, following the footsteps of my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. I grew up in and serve in The Salvation Army which has always affirmed the rights of women to preach the gospel since its inception in 1865. Seneca Falls, NY has been the home of my father’s family, the VanCleefs, since 1682 and is the home of the 1848 Women’s Right Convention. I feel a strong connection to the cause and rights of women. When I was eleven, I proudly sported a t-shirt that said, “Seneca Falls, Birthplace of Women’s Rights.” But, most of all, I have a very wise mother who decided when I was four not to silence my curious mind and outspoken mouth. Instead, alongside a father who let me know that there was no limit to what I could do, she helped to shape them. And so when I sensed God’s call to vocational ministry and to preach the gospel, it never occurred to me that I would do anything but assume my place in front of God’s people proclaiming the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I am mindful that my story is atypical.
There are many things which squelch the voices of women in the church. Gross identifies forces that affect not only the metaphorical voice of women at large, “the entitlement to speak, the right to articulate one’s viewpoint, one’s perspective on a biblical text or experience in the world” (xix), but also forces that impact women’s physical voices as they work to fulfill God’s calling to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is essential, she posits, for women to connect with both their metaphorical voice and their physical voice to fully embody the truths of the gospel they would preach. Many women experience a disconnect. Gross identifies why and provides guidance for a woman to reconnect with her physical voice and engage her whole self and “full body instrument” to more effectively and truthfully proclaim the eternal truths of the gospel.
Gross effectively uses the story of Miriam to establish a Biblical point of reference to encourage women preachers to use their full body instrument to its greatest capacity for the proclamation of the gospel. Though she is more often seen as an ancillary part of the story of the deliverance of God’s people from bondage in Egypt, Gross points out the pivotal role that Miriam played in the life and ministry of her younger brother Moses. Miriam was integral in the preservation of Moses’s life as she watched vigilantly over the precious boy hidden in the reeds, ensuring his physical safety and making a way for his own mother to be his nurse as he became the ward of Pharaoh’s house. The participation of her whole person, voice and body, is seen as she leads God’s people in praise for deliverance. Then again, Miriam played a principal role when she was cast outside the camp with leprous skin having defied Moses’ place before God. The Miriam illustration sets the tone for the remainder of Gross’s work and provides a point of reference not only for the central role women can and should play in the life of God’s people, but also for the challenges and hurdles that must often be overcome as women step into the role of preacher.
To help readers more fully understand the complexities many women face in connecting to their own voice, Gross chronicles the stories of women with whom she worked. Each story demonstrates the ways women become disconnected from their bodies and physical voice and how these traumas raise barriers to fully connecting with the truth they proclaim. The women describe how they survived physical and emotional abuse, being diminished and silenced, but then reclaimed their voice in order to proclaim the gospel.
Gross concludes, “I learned through my life journey that Truth resides in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that when it comes to speaking the good news of Jesus Christ, there is a need for the gospel to reside fully in our bodies. Truth and the body go together” (84). Proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God requires the whole of who we are. Gross utilizes the final chapters of the book to walk the reader through exercises to use the full body instrument that God has given each one.
Women’s Voices and the Practice of Preaching is a book I will gladly and readily share with women in ministry that I have opportunity to encourage and mentor as well as men in ministry to help them understand obstacles women face. It speaks to issues that are unique to women in ministry and challenges women to claim their voice and their place in proclaiming the gospel.