DAVIDSON – Last week, I introduced four female pastors from the Lake Norman area and how they received their spiritual callings. This week, I asked them about the difficulties and blessings involved with their work.
Participating in the discussion were Jan Brittain, senior pastor of Williamson’s Chapel United Methodist in Mooresville; Mary John Dye, senior pastor of Mt. Zion United Methodist in Cornelius; Michelle Hoverson, associate pastor at Grace Covenant Foursquare in Cornelius; and Lib McGreggor Simmons, senior pastor of Davidson College Presbyterian in Davidson.
What were some of the difficulties of being a female pastor?
Dye: Those early years were very, very hard. It took 10 years to get through the Board of Ministry in Mississippi. I qualified under four different disciplines, which in our denomination, you’re not supposed to have to do, but every time, something came up, and there was another requirement.
Simmons: In 1984, there was a committee that called me to a solo pastorate at a particular church. The committee had been elected by the church to search for a pastor, and it was assumed that this would be approved. But the (congregational) vote was negative. And I’m the only person I know that has ever had that happen.
It put to me the whole question of whether there was a ministry out there for me. And that was when I started getting applications to go to law school.
Hoverson: I remember the first time I spoke that a man got up and left the sanctuary as I began to speak. Because I had worked in the corporate world – at a law firm, at the White House, at an advertising agency – I was used to making presentations and speaking in front of groups all over the world. So in my ignorance, I just figured the fellow had to go to the men’s room. I mean, I didn’t give it any thought.
And then when I finished and I found out that he’d walked out of the church because he wasn’t going to have any woman telling him what to do, I was floored. It took me weeks to get my equilibrium.
Brittain: For me, I had already felt called to being a mother, and I honestly couldn’t figure out how that would work, and that was part of my resistance. God had to help me past that.
And then my family had a tremendous resistance. My dad was a pastor, and my brother and I are very close. We had a family meltdown where it just came out that neither one of them were supportive of (my ordination).
Now, my father ended up with a woman associate, and my brother, he thinks I’m somewhere between Billy Graham and Mother Theresa.
Dye: I can write a book about the churches of other denominations who preached against me and told my young people they were going to hell because I was their pastor.
Brittain: I had such horrible things threatened at me at my first church appointment (in America) that the district superintendent had to ask the staff parish committee that I never be left alone at the church because I had other churches’ pastors getting up in the pulpit and preaching against me.
What were some of the blessings of being a female pastor?
Dye: You just had to have that real sense of calling, which turns out to be a blessing down the road.
Simmons: That whole thing of salvation by satisfying other people’s expectations – I was pretty good at that, more than I would have liked to admit. (Rejection because of gender) just showed me that you can do (ministry) darn well, and you still might not be accepted. That’s a pretty good lesson to get at the age of 30, that you’re saved by grace, and that’s enough.
Brittain: I don’t know of any other profession that it would be as good to be a mother in as ministry because my “clients” cared that I was a good mother.
Mother lawyers out there, their clients aren’t interested in how their children are doing. Same for doctors and accountants.
But if my children are sick, my congregation members want me to be taking good care of my children. If my children are doing something at school, my congregation members expect me to be there supporting my children.
There’s a very positive sense about the family nature of a church. I was taking care of other people’s kids. I would be the one who ran over and picked up the kid (at school) or sat in intensive care with a premature baby when the parents couldn’t get there.
That was when they appreciated a female pastor because you could step in and be part of their families in ways that they’d never had a male pastor do.
Hoverson: The lenses through which we (as women) see Jesus’ interactions are a little different than how a man might see it.
I might not identify as much with the fisherman qualities of Christ, but I might identify more with the “bring the little children unto me.” I love that tender nature that Jesus had towards kids. I just think a church reaps so much when there is diversity on the staff and diversity amongst the pastorship.
There’s just some issues related to marriage that a woman is not going to share with a male pastor. I get it. I think a church with diversity is providing a real blessing of perspective to the body of Christ.