Post Author: Sarah Weisiger
Five minutes into the ice cream social at my first ministry call, an older woman walked up to me, smiled, and introduced herself. Shaking my hand, she said: “You seem like a really nice woman, and I loved your sermon. I just wanted to let you know that I won’t be coming back, because I don’t believe in woman ministers.”
It happened so fast I almost didn’t register what was going on. My first instinct (thankfully, an instinct I swallowed) was a snarky reply: “Who knew that woman ministers belonged in the same category as ghosts, Santa Claus, and the monster hiding under my daughter’s bed?” Was I somehow optional, such that people could choose to believe in me or not, even though I was standing right there in front of her, smiling and holding her hand and saying, “It’s nice to meet you, too!”
Of course, that isn’t what she meant at all. This woman stood in a long line of individuals who, maliciously or otherwise, and often with a smile on their face, have diminished and denied women’s ministry and leadership. She was right there behind the Bible study leader who teaches that women should be silent; faith traditions that have ignored women’s contributions; pastors who steered women away from service to the Board of Trustees and towards the Christian Education committee because they are “better with children;” and parents who have taught their daughters that good little girls are quiet and sweet.
What I didn’t realize until I was a living, breathing Woman Minister, was just how much my gender would impact my ministry. Knowing what I know now, I wish that I had had the opportunity to read a book like Karoline Lewis’s She: Five Keys to Unlocking the Power of Women in Ministry back when I was still piecing together my pastoral identity.
In the preface to her book, Lewis explains the genesis of the book: her seminary didn’t have anyone in place to teach a course on women in ministry and was going to drop it from the catalogue, so she offered to teach it. In her words, “I had too many friends working in churches and various church settings who were struggling with challenges in their ministry that seemed directly connected to their gender.” This book is a product of years of exploring and feeling what it means to be a woman in ministry.
Lewis tackles five areas, calling them “keys,” naming issues that women in ministry are likely to face and must therefore address: our interpretation of scripture; embracing vulnerability and our bodies; authenticity in ministry; sexism in the church; and owning our leadership. Each key offers the reader an overview of the topic being addressed: in key number one, for example, Lewis explores different traditions of biblical interpretation and makes the case for claiming without fear our own opinion on the authority of Scripture as a way into exploring our identity as teachers and preachers, and the importance of theological imagination. Each chapter is framed by deeply moving poetry and quotations from a variety of authors, as well as questions that invite reflection and discussion.
While this book is clearly intended for women who are discerning a call to ministry or at the beginning of their ministry, it can also be useful to ministers who are knee-deep in their careers and seeking out language and insight into the particular opportunities and struggles that they face as ordained women.
Lewis is intentional about naming her context, and is sensitive to the multiplicity of women’s experiences. She is quick to name, for example, that her experience as a white, cisgender pastor within a mainline tradition does not reflect the experience of other women, and that we must be attentive to our language and our assumptions about what it means to be a woman in ministry.
Ultimately, what makes this book compelling is its emphasis on truth-telling. Lewis insists that as pastors, we must tell the truth, not only to the church we serve, but to ourselves as well. We cannot hope to lead the Church faithfully until we are willing to speak truthfully about who we are, what we believe, and the call that God has given us. To learn to do that is a gift to the Church, and I am grateful to Lewis for beginning the conversation.
Sarah Weisiger is a Presbyterian minister in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. She writes at deeperinmethani.wordpress.com.
Image by: Jori Samonen
Used with permission