I gathered four female pastors March 18 for a roundtable discussion about their work. The women are more than pastors; they are pioneers.
The four 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.
How were you called into the pastorate?
Hoverson: I made the change 19 years ago. I was in the marketplace. I was working at a law firm in Washington, D.C. I remember the day.
We all do. Those are very profound moments.
I was sitting at a computer and really sensed the Lord say, “I want you to give yourself to my church.”
And I was like, “Whoa, what’s that look like, other than that I’m going to be poor now?”
Within a year, I had left the marketplace and was serving on staff at a church.
I’m part of the Foursquare Church, and Aimee Semple McPherson started the Foursquare movement. Women weren’t lead pastors, but women serving full time in the ministry was fairly commonplace. I was used to women speaking in the pulpit.
Brittain: My call to the ministry came at the age of 16 at a Junior Civitan camp.
There was an opportunity to think about your future, and I just remember kneeling on that concrete floor and committing my life to full-time Christian service.
My father is a pastor, but I did not know any women pastors. So I thought I would be a missionary. I went to college, studied Christian education and served as a Christian educator for a couple years. I married a man (Cecil) who was going to seminary, and I became a preacher’s wife.
Then I went to seminary, and I was still struggling with God about ordination because I still did not know any women pastors.
I kept thinking, “I’ll be a Christian educator. That should do. I’ll be a preacher’s wife. That should do.” Then I thought, “That’s obviously not doing it, so I’ll do a Masters in Theology and teach Bible.”
The three little churches Cecil was serving in basically called me into ministry. They began to refer to us as their pastors. They would ask me to preach. I would preach and teach Sunday school with one baby in a front pack and one in a backpack.
Ten years after that first commitment, I just finally gave in and went back to seminary to finish an MDiv (Master of Divinity). And then I went into ordained ministry as the lead pastor and took my first appointment in England at the age of 28.
Simmons: I grew up in rural South Carolina, and I was very active at church, and I heard the stories of Jesus at church and in my home.
In a setting where racism defines everything, the church preached a different message, not consciously, but just told the story of Jesus, saying, “All are my people”. The church liberated me from my surrounding culture from day one, and I always wanted to be a part of that.
Women were not ordained in our denomination (Southern Presbyterian Church) at the time. So when I was wanting to be a minister that meant being a director of Christian education.
By the time I was in college, women were being ordained in small numbers, but I had never heard a woman preach until I was in seminary.
Dye: I was born in Kentucky, and my father was a pastor. I would not have ever dreamed that God was calling me to the ministry. Gender roles determined everything in my family and my evangelical side of the Methodist Church.
I married a preacher and moved to Mississippi and began what, for my mother, was a vocation, being a preacher’s wife.
I was a volunteer at youth camp, and women came to me there with hard stories, begging me not to tell their confidences of abuse and heartache. I kept saying, “Go to your (male) pastors.”
And over and over again I kept hearing, “I can’t share with them. They would not understand.”
I’m not sure that was the case, knowing the men, one of them being my husband, but there was this real pushback that at the intimate places of life, where life really hurt, they needed a woman to confide in.
I thought about getting a counseling degree, but these women were coming for spiritual guidance. I almost went to law school, but that still was not answering the heartache of these women at my doorstep. So I started going for theological training, but not toward an MDiv.
I had no role models. I had never seen a woman in the pulpit. I had long struggled with those Biblical passages: “wives should be submissive to their husbands,” “women should keep silent in church” and “I suffer not a woman to teach.”
Then I met some women who had written a book called “All Were Meant to Be.” It walked through those passages, given their context. It was just like opening a door.
Once I got that part done, I said, “But God, if you call women into the ministry, how come I’ve never seen one?”
Then I was sent to a United Methodists’ Women’s Convocation, and on the last morning there were 100 black-robed women serving communion. And I said, “Yes.” That image of those women was like God saying, “Now, do you have any other questions?”
Next week, hear about the hurdles and blessings experienced by these four Lake Norman pastors.