A Woman’s Place is in the … Pulpit?

Editor’s Note: This post was inspired by the recent Upper Room Books blog article, “A Woman’s Place is in the … Pulpit?” and the just-released book, There’s a Woman in the Pulpit: Christian Clergywomen Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments, and the Healing Power of Humor 

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“We are recovering sexists,” he said.

I’d never a man offer such an admission from a Baptist pulpit.

For many, this was likely a surprising source of feminism: a Muslim clergyman invited to speak at Pullen Baptist Church on the need for prophetic voices within our faith communities.

Last Sunday, Imam Abdullah Antepli called out squirming progressive Baptists for both our advancement on the front of injustices and our need for radical action to eliminate sexism, racism, and religious prejudices.

“In the lifetimes of many of you,” Antepli offered, “there was a time when our Vice President could not have eaten in a restaurant with our President.”

Despite 20th and 21st century accomplishments, Antepli reminded us of that prophetic voices must continue to speak out against the inequalities of wages, civil rights, homophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and our apathy toward our “bleeding” earth. He urged us:

My mother and my brother with me at my ordination to the Gospel Ministry in November 2002 at First Baptist Church, Reidsville, NC. I was 21-years-old and a senior at Salem College.
My mother and my brother with me at my ordination to the Gospel Ministry in November 2002 at First Baptist Church, Reidsville, NC. I was 21-years-old and a senior at Salem College.

In my case, we’ve come a long way since American mainline denominations shouted a resounding, “NO!” to ordaining women. Clergywomen have made great strides –but too many still struggle to find churches who will call them to their pulpits. Often, these well-education, ordained women are relegated to the trenches of children’s ministry, in what some Christians would consider, a proper “place” for female ministers.

My own ordination story begins with two men: Dr. David G. Moore and the Rev. John Q. Daugherty. As I’ve shared in a recent Upper Room Books blog article, and in Saffron Cross, these men were the prophetic voices of my Southern Baptist community who weren’t afraid to say that women are equal in their spiritual gifts for ordained ministry.

Dr. Moore and Rev. Daugherty were not sexists; they were idealists. They’d hoped that my ordination would pave the way for more women like me–both in my hometown parish and beyond.

It’s been a tough ride, but as Antepli preached, all journeys that begin with a counter-cultural voice are. There is no straight line to establishing equal pay for women or eliminating our nation of deep-seated prejudices. It’s a circuitous path; a one step forward, two steps back kind of road. Progress is made, little by little.

Even though my ministry has not yet called me full-time to the local parish and pulpit, my ordination has served me well. Dr. Moore and Rev. Daugherty offered me the outward sign of an invisible grace: gifts to be Jesus’ hand and feet, and I have used them in hospital rooms, at gravesides, on college and university campuses, and for celebrations of love that could not otherwise have been declared in the walls of a church.

What’s next for clergywomen? Perhaps one day, we’ll outnumber our male counterparts.

Gender aside, one thing is certain: the church needs brave prophetic voices to combat hate and injustice. Otherwise, as Antepli warned us, we become a business.

Read the full story about my ordination and the snapshot of clergywomen in the U.S. at the Upper Room Books blog. Learn more about clergywomen’s experiences by listening to the Rev. Martha Spong’s interview with The Christian Century. 

Resources for Women in Ministry:

RevGalBlogPals

Resource Center for Women & Ministry in the South 

Clergywomen Bloggers to Follow:

The Blog of Rev. Elizabeth Hagan

The Blog of Rev. Amy Rio-Anderson, Salem College Chaplain

The Blog of Rev. MaryAnn McKibben Dana

The Blog of Vanna Fox

Are you a woman in ministry? Share your story in the comments below!


2 thoughts on “A Woman’s Place is in the … Pulpit?”

  • Yes, I am a clergy woman. It is interesting that I belong to a denomination which prides itself on always ordaining women. However, rarely calls a woman to be senior pastor. In my present situation, the senior pastor does not have a college degree and I have a doctorate. He is the pastor and I am the associate. I will say that the pastor is a good man. He is working on his college degree and has finished an alternative certificate program in order to be ordained. What is fascinating to me is that it is the women who generally will vote against a woman in the pulpit.

    • Revgramma:

      Thanks so much for reading and sharing your story.

      Your circumstance speaks to the challenge many clergywomen face: though they are ordained, educated, and experienced, they (often) are not called to what the church deems positions of “authority” (e.g., senior pastor). It’s also true that women are sometimes guilty of not supporting other women’s calls to ministry–which is disheartening but true.

      As Iman Antepli shared last Sunday, it will take “prophetic voices” from our communities to make a different. These “prophets” must call women to their pulpits and to their senior positions if we are to ever see sustained changes in our American Church.

      Has there been any movement in your church/denomination/community to promote you (and other women) to a senior pastor position, should you feel called? If not, what do you think it would take (prophetic voice, systemic change, or otherwise) to make it happen?

      You are in my prayers; blessings on your ministry and I pray that where God calls, God will provide.

      Peace,
      Dana

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