I am still basking in the glow of an event in which I recently participated: “In the Company of Women,” a conference about women and men sharing in leadership in the Church. The idea behind this gathering must have struck a chord, because while the organizers were hoping for 50 people to attend, they ended up with 230. I should also add that this event happened in Toronto on the Friday before the May long weekend and it was scheduled to end at 5:00. I know that some of you who have not tried to negotiate traffic out of Toronto on a Friday or who have not experienced the citywide exodus that takes place on the Friday of the most beloved long weekend of the Canadian year may not get why this is significant, but those of you who have will get my point here: people really wanted to go to this thing. The mere fact that people cared enough to attend this event was all I needed to encourage my sometimes-pessimistic spirit. Honestly, I could have went, sat down, looked around and left again, and my heart would have been full. But guess what? There were also awesome presenters, with messages that have been tumbling around in my head and my heart ever since. I would like to share about one of them. It is about birthday cakes.
The presenter was named Linda Ambrose. Let me say here that I am confident that if Linda and I could have spent more time together that we would now definitely be best friends. (Isn’t that how we always feel with speakers that we love?…but, like, seriously, I think we could be. Let’s be friends Linda!! Come stay at my house and let’s talk about all of the things!). Linda is a professor at the University of Sudbury and has written extensively about the history of women in Canadian churches. At the conference, she shared several stories of women leaders who helped found churches throughout Canada. One of my favourites was about a woman named Agnes McAlister. Agnes served as a co-pastor with her husband planting churches out west throughout the first half of the last century. Through Agnes’ diaries, Ambrose was able to piece together much of her ministry, and she made one point about her life that really spoke to me. She talked about how Agnes was often very busy. Her husband struggled with mental illness so she regularly had to look after the church on her own as she cared for him, and her large family. Even in his healthy days, she had a busy schedule to maintain. In her diaries, however, she spoke of how the church helped her. She gave one poignant example: women who made her children birthday cakes. Ambrose discussed how this act of doing this for her family showed that members of the church legitimized Agnes’ call, and I could not agree more. As I have thought about those women making Agnes’ children birthday cakes, however, I have thought as well of how true it has been for me and my husband that it has indeed taken many people using their gifts to enable us to use ours.
I am a pastor, a woman, a mother, and a pastor’s wife. With each of those roles comes things that I need to do. As a pastor, I work many evenings. I sometimes have emergencies that I need to get to quickly. I work funny hours, and always on weekends. All of these things are part of my call and my gifting. However, as a wife and mother, I also have other callings. I want to mother well and be married well. Unfortunately, we live in a culture where there are a lot of things that seem to go along with mothering well these days. These things include well manicured lunches, pinterest-worthy birthday parties, and (I’ve heard some mothers manage this) children who wear clothes that match. Nine years into mothering I have never been able to do it all, and I have felt guilty. Confession: I don’t even have a pinterest account! I have simply never balanced making the perfect birthday cake with being out at a board meeting the night before the birthday party.
But you know what?
I have had help. I have had so much help from the people of God. There are too many examples to list here. I think of a time when my husband was away and I got a call to the hospital and how in less than five minutes one of our church-adopted-grandpas was at our door to watch the children. I think of our board who was willing to meet later in the evening and meet at our house when we were pastoring together so that we would be able to put our kids to bed. I think of how they never even blinked when we would excuse ourselves to go read a bedtime story. I think of being very ill while pregnant and the woman from our church who offered to clean our house every two weeks. (She would clean while I would lay in my bed working on my laptop). I think of people who have stepped in to care for sick children for us, and the woman who took our children for a special day out when I was off caring for my dying sister, so my husband could finish his sermon one Saturday. And, yes, I think of birthday cakes. Because you know what? People have done that for me too. (My favourite was the fire truck on my son’s third birthday).
Agnes reminded me, decades after her death, that in the kingdom of God, we all function best when we all use our gifts. Yes, this means men and women leading as they are called to do so. I PROMISE you that it is always better for me to preach than bake a cake…and I am so thankful that there are those that can bake the cake that I shouldn’t. (When they need it, I will do the hospital visit, or marriage counselling or Bible study as aligns far better with my own gifts).
To reiterate what my husband and I shared when we spoke at the conference about our years of shared ministry: the kingdom of God comes most alive when we let people serve based on their giftedness instead of on their gender. More than working a “little better,” in fact, serving in giftedness is essential for kingdom flourishing. This definitely means allowing women with the gift of preaching the chance to preach. It also means remembering that to let the preacher preach, sometimes she needs someone else to bake the cake.
So, thank you:
Makers and bakers and sick-children-takers,
Prophets and pray-ers and worship team players,
Tellers and teachers and conference-creators…
Thanks for the ways you use your gifts, so I can use mine.
(Also, I really like cake).