I applied for Seminary mostly out of a real lack of understanding of what I wanted to do after graduating from my undergrad program. Most people apply for seminary because they have a “calling” to ministry or from the Big Man and so they apply to fulfill this out of obedience. I literally had no such calling. In fact, my entrance to seminary was a bit of a, how can we put this delicately? A train wreck. I started in an Apologetics Program and withdrew after the first weeks when we had to write a paper on the Holy Spirit and mine got chosen as the best in the class. Most people would be flattered by this, but I was mortified. I distinctly remember my paper being read aloud and my cheeks turning red hot. I quickly looked at my watch and did the math: if I left right then, I would still make it back to my house in time to watch LOST with my boyfriend and roommates.
So I booked it out of there on my first break. I didn’t even say “bye” to the professor. I literally up and left and then made it home in time for those opening credits. I wasn’t sure what I wanted out of Seminary but I knew I didn’t want it to be that easy. Instead I applied to another Seminary where I would get my Masters in Theology and my first class there did’n’t start out much better, because I waltzed into class after I spent a day at the beach.
It was a scene out of Legally Blonde and I sat down in my red beach cover up, giant earrings (old habits die hard), sunglasses perched on my head, and then my new laptop that I had covered in a neon pink case. My professor came over and introduced himself to me and asked me if I was lost. No joke. I was mortified.
But it was in that moment that I learned a valuable lesson: as a woman, what you wear, and how you present yourself matters. In a way that is different than it does for a man. Because replace me with a typical Southern Californian male who also just spent the day in the sun, and I can almost guarantee that he wouldn’t have received the same response. I had experienced some sort of same bias in church a few times, but I mostly brushed it off or blamed it on myself. Wasn’t it my fault that people weren’t taking me seriously because of the way that I dressed, how poised I was, or how I spoke to people?
But here’s the tricky thing about appearances for women in the church: if women are too pretty and put together then they are considered to be a temptress. If they are not pretty or put together enough, then they aren’t living up to their “role” as a woman. It leaves the gaps for leadership positions open wide, and at least within the Evangelical circles, there are not many examples to follow: You either become a motivational speaker, or a Children’s Director. Both are incredibly needed in fact they are invaluable to the Church . Heck, I wouldn’t have some of my biggest moments with God nor my child have an understanding of who He is without people like this. I’m grateful for their leadership and fierce love for the Church. But each requires a certain gifting and my concern is when women are forced into these roles or others and they aren’t called, gifted, or willing. Are we really willing to sacrifice the integrity of our ministries and our people by putting the wrong people in the wrong role because we can’t figure out what else to do with them? The route I have chosen, well it’s me and Robert Frost apparently.
It’s a sticky game to follow and play, but the rules are the rules I guess, and so I lined up my pawn. I spent the next years in Seminary trying to figure out not only my “calling”, but my beliefs regarding specific theological issues, how to field off the critics who insisted I was a heretic for pursing ministry, all while trying to figure out what was acceptable for my appearance…not to mention my sarcastic mouth, friendly demeanor, constant joking, and story telling.
The narrative I received both to my face and also inadvertently was that there was no place for me at the table. I simply did not belong. I was too out there in my creativity with the Bible, too flashy with my earrings and lipstick, not quiet enough, and the list goes on. It was heart wrenching to hear that I was not allowed a seat at table I swore the King himself invited me to.
This is what it feels like to be called yet not received. This is what it feels like to be loved yet not accepted. It’s a confusing thing to know deep down in your core who you are and who the God of the universe has created you to be; to be sure of your giftings and your talents, and to know you want to use them, but to have the doors shut on you before you even step foot in the sanctuary. And it adds a certain, extra bit, of awful that the people doing the shutting out and the lying and the gossiping are God’s people.
I was laughed at, yelled at, told lies about, gossiped about and was made to feel like an outsider, all from people in the Church. It felt like a slap in the face and it took so much bravery and courage to keep coming back. And sometimes I didn’t. We were burned so badly by the Church with this whole “Women in Ministry” issue that I spent two of my three years in seminary not attending a church at all.
Outside of the Church felt safer than inside. But I persisted. I had to. When the voice inside of you is so strong, when you have been gifted and affirmed, and when you know if you stopped doing this one thing you may actually die, then you march on. You get up and you go at it again.
Isn’t this what women do? Look for women in history books and where are they? When things are falling apart, they actually aren’t concerned so much with what society is thinking of them because they are too busy helping society move forward. They aren’t comparing themselves to men because they know that they are each created uniquely and beautifully and that we need both in order to keep this ship afloat. When God said he made man in His image, he wasn’t just talking to Adam. It was both Adam and Eve, male and female.
I stumbled through seminary like a freaking hamster in one of those balls you set on the ground and let the furry animals run around loose in the house: constantly frantic and running into everything, knocking over the good china and getting stuck under the bed. In a few words: it was delightful.
So imagine the fragile and impressionable state I was in when I entered my last class in seminary: Preaching. I was terrified. I still remember the dread I felt walking into that class knowing that my final exam would be to stand up in that room and give a sermon that I wrote.
I was especially nervous because I knew the audience of the class and their beliefs on women in ministry. If it wasn’t for my professor I would have fainted every time the topic came up. I had this same professor for a Spiritual Formation class and I basically would go to his office to discuss anything because he made me feel so at home and loved and accepted.
At the end of the semester, I got up there in front of everyone and preached a sermon. My voice started shaking and my throat felt dry. I reached for my water more times that I could count, but I did it. And then it was over and the class gave us feedback:
“Great sermon. Well written, and interesting. I hadn’t looked at it that way before.”
“You sound like Rob Bell.”
“You should slow down and I liked hearing your personal stories. You are really funny.”
And that was that. The gentleman that I feared would say something mean or harsh or argumentative, said nothing. Not one word. And I went on to graduate, but their silence still loomed in my head.
It was a few months later when I ran into this same gentlem and he said the following to me:
“Before our preaching class, I dind’t think that women could preach. But after I heard you, there was no doubt about the Holy Spirit at work in you so I have spent the past three months in my Word and commentaries and in prayer on the topic. And I was wrong. God used you and your gifts to wake me up, and I was wrong. Women have a place at the pulpit.”
If I hadn’t persisted, who would have? If you don’t, who will?