Post Author: Stephanie Kendell
In 2001 I was in a car accident that briefly landed me in a wheelchair. That event physically changed my body forever. Rolling myself around but also being relatively immobile, I noticed my upper arms got larger and stronger. For lots of different socially imbedded reasons, I did not like this new look in my arms. Over the next 18 years, my body lost and gained weight in different ways – I even grew an inch taller in my 30’s – but for whatever reason, my arms have always stayed about the same size. They are what have been called by trainers, boyfriends, and myself alike a “problem area.”
Then, a couple years ago, I found something that was both freeing, covering, and good for work; a cape. My cape made me feel strong and feminine. I wore it the first time I preached to help me get over my stage fright. It became known as my “preaching cape.” I have always liked fashion, and I have also always shopped for a good deal, this cape fit the bill for both.
As I do every year, this year I spent weeks pulling together my Easter outfit. I was so excited I even found a new cape in white-perfect for Easter Sunday. So, when I got dressed for our Easter worship service this year, I looked in the mirror and, in the words of Beyoncé, I was “feeling myself.”
I took a picture outside of church and after a wonderful worship service, I posted it to one of my social media pages. I live in New York and my family lives in California, so I wanted to share my Easter outfit with them. I was proud of the way I looked because unlike Beyoncé I did not “wake up like this.” I also saw a post on the Young Clergy Women International Facebook page asking for pics of the amazing preachers in the group and their Easter outfits.
Everyone looked amazing and the group was incredibly supportive and affirming of each other’s outfits. This unfortunately gave me false hope, and I shared the picture on my wider media networks which were less supportive. Which reminded me of a very important fact; God called me to this work: a woman who loves fashion, a good bargain, and using the two to share the good news of Christ Jesus.
In the wider network I was met with the view that my outfit was an exploitation of riches from an elite New Yorker. Little did they know my bag, glasses, and shoes are from TJ-Maxx and Who What Wear made my cape and jumper. That’s right, my elite New York look was from Target. And they were on sale! However, the highest price I paid that day was that of my confidence. The same thing that helped me bring the word of the risen Christ to a church full of joyful Easter congregants, ended up being the price as well. Once the criticism snuck into my head, I had a hard time not believing it myself.
I believed when the people online suggested that I couldn’t be taken seriously as a pastor in my outfit. Many of my congregants commented on how much they loved my outfit, so why was it easier to believe strangers on the internet? The online community also alluded to a notion that my fashion put a focus on the idolatry of capitalism and not Christ. Even now I feel the need to share that most of my shoes are hand-me-downs and I rarely buy anything at full price. I started to doubt myself. Was I being too “extra?” Was I not going to be taken seriously? Would I jeopardize my future in the church? All this self doubt because I wore an outfit that made me feel confident.
I realize that the answer to those questions should be a resounding, “No.” However, I work in the one profession where sexism and patriarchy are often touted as virtues, and my mere existence in a collar is blasphemous. So, it is often easier to believe the negative. Even as women continue to crack, chip, and even shatter so many glass ceilings, women are still not the obvious choice as the senior pastor for big steeple churches (or really any church) unless the congregations is trying to “make a point” about their theology or values.
Yet, the limitations that are placed on my call are placed there not by God but by man. God is the one who called me to this work. God placed gifts in me, loves them, and nourishes them so that I can use them to grow the kin-dom. My gifts are unique to me: gifts that God and I work on together; gifts that will help me do the work God has envisioned me doing that I don’t even know yet.
But to do the work I have to believe in myself. I have to trust that when I was asked in my ordination if I was willing to do the work I was called to do, that my answer of “I will with the help of God,” was met with an equally emphatic response from God, “I will with the help of Stephanie.” Because I am not in this work alone. None of us are. And if I need to, no… get to, wear a cape of confidence while I do it, then the church will be better served. In other words, God not only showed me my cape, but expects me to use it.
So now I just have to remember when I look in the mirror and start throwing shapes and finding my angles, God is feeling my confidence too. I didn’t wake up like this, I was created like this.
The Rev. Stephanie Kendell is the Executive Minister at Park Avenue Christian Church (The Park). She received her Master of Divinity with an additional certificate in History, Theology, and Ethics from Brite Divinity School. Ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Stephanie is passionate about justice-seeking ministries that aid in the value and understanding of intersectional perspectives.
Stephanie is a native of the San Francisco Bay Area and continues to be an avid supporter of the San Francisco Giants. In 2005, she graduated with a degree in Musical Theater and Theater Arts from the University of Redlands. Before her call to ordained ministry, Stephanie was a Producer and Operations Manager for an international theatrical marketing agency based in Los Angeles.
Image by: Rev. Jeanette Zaragoza De León
Used with permission