You Never Know

51TA8WvdmSL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Maybe you saw the results of a new study about people’s attitudes toward women’s ordination, described in the book She Preached the Word: Women’s Ordination in Modern America, by Benjamin R. Knoll and Cammie Jo Bolin.  Their conclusion, keeping it short and sweet: “It’s good for girls to see clergywomen at work” (article by Jana Riess on the Religion News Service website).

Knoll and Bolin state: “One of our most striking findings is that women who had female congregational leaders in their youth enjoyed higher levels of self-esteem as adults.”

This is satisfying news for those of us female clergy: simply being visible in our leadership roles has a beneficial effect on young women. Praise God.

The research reminded me of a story of my own:

In the summer of 2015, I was looking for a co-leader for a Doctor of Ministry cohort here at UDTS. The topic was something to do with families and faith, so I started a list of names of authors, professors, and pastors who had some church leadership experience and who would bring different gifts beyond my biblical studies knowledge.

Reading through The Christian Century I saw an ad for one of their columnists, the Rev. Carol Howard Merritt. The words “being church together,” “older and younger,” and “a particular generation” jumped out at me.

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Ad torn out from The Christian Century in 2015

I did an internet search on Carol . . . an ordained PCUSA pastor, very appropriate for our seminary. . . . pastor at four distinct churches . . . . writer of two books about church communities. Sounded like a great possible team-teacher!

So I sent an email via her website: https://www.carolhowardmerritt.org/

Carol picks up her side of this story in a 2015 blogpost:

If you know me or have heard me speak, you’ve probably heard this story. I have told it hundreds of times. I grew up Southern Baptist and attended Moody Bible Institute. I felt a call to go into ministry, but I was frustrated because the only ministries that seemed open to me were teaching the women’s Bible study or playing the organ. I don’t know how to play the organ, and though I love teaching women’s Bible studies, my call felt broader. 

In my irritation, I would frequently talk with Sue Duffy. Sue was an elder at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago. She was quadriplegic, so I often helped her with small things, like filling out tax forms or running to the drug store. Sue would laugh at the fundamentalist shenanigans, and she would always say, “Carol, it doesn’t have to be that way.”

Eventually, Sue encouraged me to go to a church with a woman pastor. I attended LaSalle Street Church, where I listened to a woman preach, and thought, There are no bolts of lightening piercing the sanctuary. The church is still standing. And, She’s a wonderful preacher! I can still recall a number of her sermons, decades later. As she preached, I slowly began to imagine that I could do the same thing. I realized that Sue was right. It didn’t have to be that way. There were other ways of being Christian, and so I began to grow into a broader understanding of being a Christian and my call as a pastor.

Fast forward, twenty-five years later.

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Carol published her third book in 2017

I’m in my backyard on a beautiful summer day, writing this very story for my next book. My email notification pings and so I check it. It’s an email from a professor at Dubuque Theological Seminary, asking if I would like to teach a Doctor of Ministry course with her. She had been reading my column in the Christian Century, and thought that we would make a good team. Since the D.Min. is a practical degree, she wanted to teach the course with someone who has been a pastor more recently. Then she wrote that she hadn’t been a pastor for 20 years, since she served LaSalle Street Church in Chicago.

It was the very same Pastor Huizenga, who is now Dr. Annette Huizenga, an Assistant Professor of New Testament. 

This is one of those incredible coincidences in life. One that can give you goose-bumps, or boost your faith in the purposeful movement of God’s Spirit.

What makes it even more amazing to me is that I have absolutely no memory of even meeting Carol when I was a pastor at LaSalle Street Church. There were always a few Moody Bible Institute students who landed at our worship services each year. Maybe some of them were late for the service at Moody Bible Church, and our sanctuary was a few blocks closer. Or, since we had a reputation for being a bit edgy and “liberal,” some students came out of curiosity or rebelliousness. Our congregation was large enough that folks could come and go anonymously for months at a time, and I suspect that Carol was one of that crowd.

You never know. You’re never fully aware of who is observing you, as a pastor or as a Christian. That hard-to-reach, slouching teenager. A ragged wanderer seeking truth and mercy. Someone wounded by their experiences of church, but still yearning to answer the call of God in their life.