My friends, this week there have been times that I have felt more discouraged and defeated about the state of the world than I have in a long time. A few weeks ago, if you had told me the process of appointing a supreme court justice in another country would affect me so deeply, I wouldn’t have believed it. But then, how could I anticipate a week where we would have to listen to abuse and assault survivors feel a need to defend their own integrity? How could we be prepared for a week when victims would be turned into villains? And, oh Lord, how could I be ready to hear that the majority of evangelical Christians in the United States would say that they believed that a man should be appointed to the supreme court EVEN IF he had committed an assault?
There have been so many times I have prayed: “Come Lord Jesus, and take me with you.”
(And, also, “Could you leave a lot of these other guys behind? Because they scare me.”)
Interestingly enough, the news and social media weren’t the only places I heard stories of sisters sharing that being a woman can be just plain exhausting this week. Two days before the hearings, I sat and listened to stories of other women who have had some uphill battles, when we gathered as a group of women pastors in my denomination for our first ever female clergy conference, hosted at my church.
A Dream for a Women Pastor’s Conference
It was something I’ve dreamed of for a while, ever since a season when I kept hearing the same story from a lot of my sisters who work as pastors: “Sometimes it’s lonely. Sometimes it’s tiring. Sometimes I need other people who get it.”
To be clear, these were not stories of abuse. We work in a supportive denomination, and many of us feel this support even from our brothers who hold different views on our roles in the church. These aren’t victim stories – but they are stories of women saying: “I don’t feel like there are places where my experiences are heard.”
So on Tuesday we got together. There were over 50 of us! I have worked in this denomination for 13 years and even I didn’t realize how many women pastors there are (and we weren’t all there!). But even though I didn’t know a lot of these women, I did know a lot of the stories – even without having heard them. I knew them because we all have versions of the same story.
We heard the stories of not being sure God could call us to be pastors as women. We heard the stories of being afraid of what people would say about us, being challenged in our calls by our loved ones, and worrying we wouldn’t find a job. We heard the stories of trying to negotiate taking maternity leaves and the sadness of going into ordination councils knowing there would be people who would oppose us before they’d even heard what we had to say.
But we also heard the story of Lydia, one of my favourite women in the Bible.
A Pastor Named Lydia
Some of us may have heard about her before – she is famous in the Bible for being the first person to become a follower of Jesus in Europe. She is also listed as a “dealer in purple cloth.” This means that she was a successful business person, likely quite wealthy (since purple cloth was a luxury), and, I like to think, probably had a good sense of style. What is most significant about Lydia is that it says that after she decided to become a Christian, that her “whole household” believed and was baptized – and that later Paul and Silas (the missionaries who were part of her conversion), met in the “church in Lydia’s home” (Full story in Acts 16).
Many have long understood this to mean that Lydia was the leader of this church – since churches met in homes at the time, the church leader and the host of the home were usually one and the same. I think it’s a logical conclusion that Lydia was a pastor, in the modern sense of the term. This was the inspiration behind our conference’s title: “Lydia’s Daughters.” Lydia set the stage for the calling and ministry of women like me and I believe women pastors continue her legacy.
But, as Dr. Cynthia Westfall shared with us in her plenary address about Lydia, even I had not noticed the shaft that Lydia often gets in some Christian circles. In the very chapter that she is mentioned, there is another, more famous story, when Paul and Silas are in jail and they start singing – there is an earthquake as a result, in which no one is hurt but they are freed from their chains. Famously, the man who was guarding them, quite moved by this experience, asks: “What must I do to be saved?” Paul answers: “Believe in Jesus!” and it says that the jailer and his household are saved.
I love this story. It is one of my favourites in the whole Bible. But I had never thought about it before: If you have spent any time being taught about the Bible, it is quite likely that this story of the jailer’s conversion is well known to you. We are often told about this man who asks how to be saved and how that leads to the conversion of his whole houshold….but what I hadn’t noticed (Me! Who had named a whole conference after Lydia!) – was that THE EXACT SAME THING HAPPENS TO LYDIA!
She seeks salvation.
She follows Jesus.
She leads her household to faith.
And yet in evangelical circles we hardly ever talk about her – we talk about the man in the story, whose name we don’t even know. We talk about the jailer, even though at the end of the story, it is Lydia’s house to which Paul returns for hospitality and care – not the home of the jailer. We talk about how the man was the impetus for his whole house finding Christ, when the same thing happened to a woman mere verses earlier.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t celebrate this man’s amazing story – it’s a good one. But how have we so long overlooked the woman’s?
The fact that we have done that, quite frankly, is why we had a female clergy conference this week.
That fact that we have done that with countless women before and after Lydia is why so many women all around the world are angry this week.
We are tired of people not noticing, listening to, or believing our stories.
I don’t know any woman pastor who wants to downplay or take away the work of their brothers in ministry (in fact, when we were asked by the head of Baptist Women what ways they could further support us, our longest discussion was about if they could do anything to support our husbands. Bless). What I know is that we don’t want to always feel invisible. We don’t want our stories to feel less important. We want to be heard and seen, the way we know Jesus sees and hears us.
Sadly, this doesn’t always happen when we gather with other pastors, because we may be the only woman in the room. It doesn’t always happen because our stories have not been heard for a long time – and sometimes even when we share them, it gets flipped to be about how the MEN are affected by it all. And friends, we are just over it. So sometimes – we need to talk to other women who do what we do.
That’s why this women’s pastors’ conference was a gift and I thank our Baptist Women and our denomination for making it happen. This week was a good week to be a woman pastor in the CBOQ – which meant a lot during a week when it sure wasn’t easy to be a woman.
A Bigger Dream…
Maybe, men and women, if this week has been discouraging for you, and you’re looking for a way to respond: look for the Lydias in your life. Are there women’s stories you have not heard? Are there women that need to get some air time in your life, in your church, in your pulpit? What would it look like to share these voices in a place where the response will be: “We are GLAD you shared. We WANT to hear you” ? That’s my dream for the church.
My dream goes far beyond a day of gathering women pastors to hang out and get to know each other. My dream is that the CHURCH can be the place where ALL women can say: “THIS is where my story is heard.”
THIS is where I am not afraid to speak.
THIS is where people will believe me, and help me heal.
THIS is where converted jailers AND converted business women can each lead as Jesus has called them.
THIS – the church – is a safe place for Lydia’s daughters, and all the daughters of God.
I’m hoping a women’s pastors conference can be one thing that helps make this dream a reality – but it shouldn’t be the only thing.
Let’s do this.