It’s going to be a great weekend in Hamilton, as our local churches gather for our 10th Annual True City Conference. Some of you will have noticed that I talk about this conference – a lot. I encourage people to go – a lot. Some of you may wonder why this is such a big deal to me. For this week’s post, I thought I would share with you why I love True City. I hope it will make you excited about what God is doing here, in Hamilton.
First of all, I should explain what True City is. True City is a group of churches who have gathered together (in our case, in Hamilton) to work together for the good of the city. It’s churches who say they believe that we are better together. It’s a gathering of very different churches who realize we are working towards the same things: the sharing of God’s story, the hope of the Gospel, and the blessing of the city we call home. It’s awesome.
I don’t remember exactly how we ended up as a part of this movement. I know that Dallas and I were approached by Dave Witt, the True City staff person, and we started attending a gathering for pastors that met once a month to talk about ways we could get better at doing missions in our churches. And I remember I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go. The reason for this was a simple one: I’m a woman. In ministry. And I wasn’t entirely sure that I would enjoy the experience of hanging out with a bunch of (mostly) men who were (mostly) from churches who taught that pastoral leadership was a role for men only.
I believe I had good reason to be skeptical. Being a woman in ministry can be hard. In his book “Playing God” Andy Crouch tells a story of being at an airport in India. When he gets in a line to check in for a flight, he is quickly ushered to the front, past all the people in the line who had already been waiting for some time. He is embarrassed to realize that this was only because he was white. He then wonders how many times in his life of white privilege he had been brought to the front of the line when he “didn’t even know there was a line.” It’s sort of the opposite of that for a lot of women in ministry. We have been waiting in line so long, while we watch our brothers go to the front of a line they don’t even realize exists. And so sometimes, we just don’t even want to get in line anymore. We don’t want to have the arguments. We don’t want to have to justify ourselves. We don’t want people to assume that we don’t take the Bible seriously.
I once did a funeral for a gentleman who was a beloved member of our church. It was a great honour for me. After the funeral, however, a man came up to me to ask me how I could justify what I had done. Didn’t I read the Bible? Didn’t I know my “proper” role? “Get out of the line.”
In Seminary, we were assigned a book to read in a Pastoral Care class. In the first chapter the author explained that he would intentionally use the pronoun “he” throughout the book as he believed that women should not be serving in the role about which he was writing. The Professor had no idea why the women in the class found that bothersome. He gave a speech in the next class saying that “if” the women were going to look for jobs in a church, they should be aware that people felt this way. “Get out of the line.”
During the season when Dallas and I were just starting out, I got a call from a man whose church was looking for a pastor. His daughter had heard me preach at another church, and enjoyed it, and wondered if my husband was interested in a job, since they “weren’t really comfortable hiring a woman.” (Um….no thanks?). Seriously, sometimes, you just want to “Get out of the line.”
Is it really any wonder that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to those pastor gatherings? It was easier and safer and oh-so-much-more-pleasant to stick in my denomination and at my church than risk those kind of painful conversations with men from “those” churches: the ones who definitely wouldn’t accept me or take me seriously and certainly would just try to butt me to the back of the line.
I did decide to go. But I came to True City a SWM – a Skeptical Woman in Ministry. Skeptical that it would be okay. Skeptical that I would come away unscathed. I came with my back up REAL high.
And…it was good. For those of you who haven’t already picked up on it, I soon realized that I was doing the same thing that I resented so many for doing to me: making assumptions. I assumed that the pastors from these complementarian (the view that men and women have different roles in the church, to over-simplify) churches would look down on me, or overshadow me, or try to put me in my place. They didn’t. Instead, I have genuinely felt nothing but support and encouragement from my True City brothers.
Seven years later I consider some of these men to be not just co-workers, but dear friends. We do ministry together. We encourage each other’s churches. We host a conference together. And it’s good.
Do we all think the same? Absolutely not. Does it drive me crazy sometimes? Yes. Can we work together? We absolutely can. And I think we have all taught each other a lot about the different people God is using to do his work. For example, I think I was the first person to breast-feed at a True City leadership gathering. And True City was the place that took the “S” out of my SWM status. Because you know what? They didn’t push me out of the line – they invited me to the table.
So why do I think you should go to the True City Conference? It’s not just about the women in ministry thing. That is just my story. But my story is part of a bigger picture – a picture of God working within, and because of, our differences. Sometimes us Christians blow the whole “unity” thing. Too often the Church looks like a bad 1980s high school movie, with every clique in their safe little corners, making sure the “like” stick with the “like.” To run with that analogy, I would suggest that True City is like “The Breakfast Club” – where we get in a room and realize we’re more alike than different. And this weekend, we will sing together and we will pray together and we will learn together and we will be very different than each other. And at the end of it, we will see the good in each other. We will see the Image of God in each other. And we will come away and share that with our city.
That is what God is doing in Hamilton. It is worth seeing.
Want more information? You can sign up for the True City conference at www.truecity.ca, or show up on Friday night at Philpott Memorial Church. Conference starts at 7 p.m.
Here is a favourite TC picture of mine with a bunch of us sitting around a table at the recent day with Andy Crouch. Dallas was sharing great wisdom with us. As you can see, Jeff, in particular, was eager to take it all in.