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Published Date: September 6, 2001

Published Date: September 6, 2001

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Woman Overboard

The ship was making her way back home from the various and exotic ports of call as the chaplain reclined comfortably on the sunny deck, absorbing the warmth from the gulf breezes that gently blew across the bow. It was a wonderful time of reflection as the chaplain recalled the blessings of the week.

The worship service on the previous Sunday was composed of men and women from all walks of life and varying denominations. With the presence of the Holy Spirit, the large ballroom was wondrously transformed into “The Church,” where believers had come together to worship and give God praise for his blessings.

Three Bible studies had taken place in a room at the top of the ship encircled by windows, allowing the majesty of the ocean and its maker to permeate the room. This room of grandeur also became the background for couples choosing to renew their wedding vows. There was not a dry eye in the house as the love of these devoted couples joined with the unconditional love of God’s.

Though there were many wonderful moments, this trip also held its own set of challenges as one of the elderly bandleaders became ill. The band and the chaplain developed a special bond as the servant of God reassured them with words of peace that could only come from the Comforter himself.

“This has been a time of ministry I shall never forget,” the chaplain recalled with a soft sigh. “God is so good to allow me to serve as his minister this week on the high seas.”

Brimming with joy over the blessings received, the minister did not notice the storm clouds forming on the horizon. After all, the ship was almost home and the chaplain had completed the assignment appointed by God. The chaplain did not know that those storm clouds would continue to grow dark and build to unfathomable heights, developing into a full-blown squall! Little did the chaplain know that this very call to ministry would lead to the feelings of being a — woman overboard!

Yes, the chaplain that week aboard the ship was a woman. Although the cruise line had never had a female minister, it was excited to know that a woman fit the qualifications and was willing to serve in the official capacity of chaplain for that week’s excursion. Some of those who had trained her for the ministry did not share the same feelings of excitement.

Later that week I, the female chaplain, was in the seminary offices, inquiring about my classes for the following term. One of the professors, whom I had known and loved for years, called me aside for a talk. During that brief (yet poignant) meeting, I realized that not only were she and others at the seminary not excited, they strongly suggested that I not do it again. I was shocked! Perhaps I was more confused, hurt or disillusioned, or all of the above. The storm clouds had gathered, and the gale force winds were soon to follow.

After the talk with my professor friend, I honestly thought all would be well, and we would return to our ministry endeavors. After all, Christians have often disagreed on interpretive matters, yet remained dear to one another knowing they don’t differ in purpose. Up to this point I had been asked to participate in numerous areas in both Southern Baptist and seminary life. Heartbreakingly, from my return until today, I have been excluded from these areas of ministry. I had been swept overboard and left to drift alone in the turbulent waters.

The questions during this time became numerous: Where did I stand as a woman minister and why was it wrong for me to take this chaplain position? Was there a place for me at the seminary now? Should I remain a Southern Baptist? Did God really want to use me as a woman in ministry, and what did the Scriptures really say about women in leadership positions? The questions ran over and over in my mind as I tried to sort out my feelings and my call.

I realized I had been on the Southern Baptist trail, simply following their lead without earnestly seeking God’s leading or examining issues for myself. Now God had me alone and searching. The challenge was before me as I searched for God’s answers to these tough questions.

The next several drifting months were long, hard and lonely for my husband and myself. Sadness, rejection, loneliness and confusion consumed my thoughts. We spent more time in prayer, corporately and individually. We sought counsel from pastors and professors, godly men and women who had devoted their lives to the accurate study of the Word. We opened our hearts and our souls to them as we earnestly searched for God’s will in our lives and especially in our callings as ministers.

God has been able to take my abandonment and turn it into a victory for him. Through many sleepless nights and countless tears, I have come to terms with my position as a minister of the Gospel. I am confident that God has in the past and does today use women in ministry. He has opened my eyes to see the many ways women have made an impact on the world for his purpose and glory.

This time of drifting has allowed me to share some of my findings through my writing. I have also heard the cry of other women who are facing the same disillusionment I faced. During this time I have been reassured by my husband and by my heavenly Father that I have never been truly alone or adrift.

If I had not been faced with these challenges, I would have never set out to find out for myself if I had indeed done anything wrong. The seminary I attend is filled with some brilliant men and women of God who are equipping students with the skills necessary to read, study, understand and apply the Word of God. I simply took those teachings and applied them in my own life. I can honestly thank my professor friend for remaining firm in her stand, and unknowingly to her, challenging me to seek my own understanding of the Scriptures. I admire her sincere call to ministry, though it is different than mine.

This time of soul searching has renewed my vision, a vision that leads me to lost souls seeking to know Christ. I do not claim to have all the answers. I do claim Christ does, however, and my call is to do no more or no less than to follow him by faith. Though I serve God as a female minister, I serve as his child seeking to share the good news to all — male and female. My call is to be faithful in the sharing of the Gospel, and it is God’s job to provide the audience.

Yes, I have landed safely on shore. Though I look around and appreciate that ministry is filled with rewards, I also realize that it can be a lonely difficult journey. But, fortunately for me, mine are not the only footprints in the sand.