I’ve been ruminating on this post for a while now, and I’m still not sure I’m quite ready to express all that my heart is feeling. But soon other things will be upon us, as happens in normal church life, and I realize that before long the radical thing that just happened in my little church will be so normal to all of us that I may forget how profound it is. So I write it now, and trust that God will reveal my heart’s intentions better than I ever could.
First of all, some back story. I am a woman in ministry. I have been a minister for over 12 years and ordained for 8. I don’t actually write about this a lot, although perhaps I should. I have come to such a place of peace with my calling and my role, and work in environments within my church, denomination, and my city (including churches that don’t ordain women) that have been so supportive of me that I sometimes forget that it’s not as easy for every woman with the same calling as my own.
But it wasn’t always easy, which is ironic because I grew up in a church tradition that has always had women pastors. It was so normal to me that I didn’t realize it was an issue for some traditions. It was as a young adult, as I socialized, worshipped and served in inter-denominational settings that I began to be challenged. That was hard for me. Had I misunderstood what God was leading me towards all this time? I spent a lot of time in prayer and Scripture seeking God’s heart in this matter and my current role should probably tell you where I landed. It was not without trepidation, however, that I sought a ministry position when I was finished my schooling. By then I had been warned: “Just be prepared! It’s really hard to find a job as a woman.” I had joined a different denomination that officially ordained women, but I discovered that despite having ordained women since the 1940s, that only 5% of their pastors were actually women. I had recently received a phone call from a gentlemen telling me (and I quote): “I recently heard you preach at a church and thought you were wonderful. We were wondering if your husband is looking for a job.” He went on to explain that his church “would not be comfortable with a woman.” True story.
So there I was. 27. Fresh out of school. And female. And actually pretty freaked out – when I got the call from Mount Hamilton Baptist Church.
Mount Hamilton Baptist Church does not seek to be a radical church. For 93 years, however, (82 at the time), they have sought to be a faithful church. I was offered a job as the Lead Pastor – and my husband would be the Associate Pastor.
I wish I could tell you how much people loved (or hated) that story!
The ones who loved it were the men and women who were praying for God’s Church to be a place where all men and women could fully use their gifts, in all forms of leadership. The hiring of a 27 year old female lead pastor, with her husband using his unique gifts in an associate role was an exciting testament for how things could be. Even more fun? This was the second woman in a row that the church had hired as their lead pastor.
Funny enough, Mount Hamilton didn’t really seem to know how radical they were. My brother-in-law teaches at a seminary in Seattle and he would tell me how often he would tell people about this church in Canada that hired two female lead pastors in a row, especially to encourage the women in his classes. When I would tell people at MHBC this, they would look confused. “I don’t see what the big deal is,” they’d say. “We just hired who we thought was best.” Then they would shrug and say that if others thought it was cool that it was nice, but that really wasn’t the point.
Which, after all, it wasn’t.
And which makes it even more significant.
If you read this blog regularly (shout out to my 17 followers!) you will know that this summer my husband stepped down from his job at MHBC to take on a job with my denomination. This meant that we had some hiring to do. Over the past few years, our church has grown. We ended up deciding to hire for TWO permanent positions: A Next Generation Pastor and an Associate Pastor of Discipleship and Mission.
We hired the Next Generation Pastor first, and it turned out to be the young woman who had been serving in this role in a contract position for the last year and half. This left our Associate role to be filled.
It was a long process, with lots of amazing applicants. In the end, however, the hiring team felt God leading them to recommend that we hire a wonderful woman named Leslie. Leslie is a recent seminary graduate, who spent 8 years back at school to pursue ministry as a second career after raising two children.
For those of you counting, this meant that we would have three out of three pastors at MHBC be women.
The way it works in our church when we hire is that a team of church members does the interview process and then they recommend a candidate to the entire membership, who then vote yes or no on the candidate. After the hiring team made a recommendation, their task was to then bring it to the church for their affirmation.
Now, I don’t want to sugarcoat things here. There were LOTS of questions about the hiring of an all female staff, and also some concerns. Nobody really saw it coming. I think most of us had an idea in our head of that third person, and maybe it looked like some version of the last person we had – a charming and gentle man of about 5”7 with reddish hair, perhaps? There were very valid questions about caring for the men in our church, about the lack of diversity in an all-white female staff, and about how and why this recommendation was made.
But here is why I love my radical-but-doesn’t-make-a-big-thing-of-it church. Nobody questioned if Leslie was qualified. Nobody questioned if she was called. Nobody questioned if God would use her. Nobody questioned her gifts. Yes, there were questions about the balance of the team, but NEVER a question about whether a woman could or should do the job because of her gender.
We wrestled through our differences, we tried really hard to listen to each other, we prayed a lot, and in our meeting a few weeks ago, we voted to hire another woman as our Associate Pastor. Actually, to be clear, there was nothing about hiring a woman in the motion. It was a motion to hire Leslie Makins – the person the team felt God was leading us to hire for who she was as a minister of Christ.
You should have heard how excited my brother-in-law was when he heard!!
And now I get that same thing again – “That is so cool!!!!” And I see the joy in the eyes of women in ministry, especially those young and starting out and a little afraid like I was: “There’s hope for me, isn’t there?” Yes, sister there is.
And not because anyone is trying to be radical, but because they are trying to be faithful.
I love you Mount Hamilton Baptist Church, more than I can say. I love you for not trying to make a point. I love you for asking good questions. I love you women for asking how the men would feel with an all female staff, without holding any grudges for the many years nobody asked that question of you when pastoral staffs were all male. I love you men for assuring us over and over that the calls and gifts of our women were never in doubt. I love you all because I know that while many of you are still processing the changes and a hire that you did not expect, that you are choosing to trust God and have open hearts.
I know that in a few weeks the novelty of our new staff will wear off, just like it did ten years ago when a young married couple started and it seemed so unusual at first. And like I said, I know that this hire is not about making a point about women in the church.
But I wanted to tell this story, just in case any of you women who feel led to pastoral ministry might be reading this and wondering where your call might find a home. Do not despair. There are more “radical” little churches out there than you realize. You may not have heard of them because they are more busy just doing their thing than they are promoting themselves as trail-blazers – which is, of course, what makes it even more beautiful.
Here is a picture of our first staff meeting this week, including our three pastors and our new administrator, Andy. As you can see, we are very happy to be serving at our radical little church.
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So thrilled for Mount Hamilton, Leanne. Leslie is a great addition to the team. I just started this week at Walmer Road Baptist in the centre of Toronto. My arrival makes our pastoral team also a team of three woman pastors. Things are definitely looking up for women looking for churches within which to live out their calling.
Congratulations Elaine! I was excited for you and Walmer when I heard you would be joining them. Very exciting that we have a “church twin” with our pastoral team make up!
Leanne, though I am not a partner, I was there for the meeting where Leslie was confirmed as pastor. I was so thrilled that MHBC is the church I thought it was. The fact that those who know all about me welcome me is more proof of that. A congregation that is about people, and community, that knows when to risk to take the best chance – that is a community to be proud of. I am happy to be a part of this growing community – and there are reasons it grows, most of which is related to the fine community that MHBC is.
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Leanne, I love this so much. Congrats to your radical, faithful church. Thank you. Dwight is correct, that is so cool.
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