God’s Call– JoAnn Deasy

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JoAnn Deasy
Director of institutional initiatives and student research at the Association of Theological Schools, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Ordained: 2000

My Journey

When I was in high school, I had a locker next to Mark Krieger, who later became a Covenant pastor. One day he invited me to the local Covenant youth group, which was having a bit of a revival with tons of kids coming to their weekly Wednesday night meetings. The very first night there was a multimedia presentation (think six stacked slide projectors). The moment I heard that God loved me and had a wonderful plan for my life, I knew it was true and I wanted to give my life and my work to God.

From that moment I felt called to ministry.

Being a fairly new Christian and unsure of the shape of my call, I went to college and earned a degree in engineering. I served in leadership in my college youth group and spent summers volunteering with the youth group at home. I even spent the summer before my senior year on a mission trip to Japan. I had been advised by many people to go into ministry, perhaps even to use my engineering degree to serve overseas, where it would be easier for me to serve as a woman. But that summer ministry experience clarified for me that I was not called to serve overseas.

I felt a need to test my call before pursuing seminary, so I worked as a camp counselor for two summers and as a youth intern for two years. The internship affirmed my call to ministry, so I headed to seminary.

I attended a seminary that allowed women to enroll as students, but did not affirm women pastors. Again, I was a leader in the community, president of the student association, but not affirmed as a leader who might one day serve as a senior pastor.

I spent my final year at North Park Theological Seminary and it was transformative. It was the first community I was a part of that fully affirmed my call. They recognized my leadership skills, spiritual depth, and wisdom. It was the first place I didn’t have to prove myself.

Challenges

It took me almost a year to find a position after seminary. I became the director of Christian education at a church that did not support the ordination of women, but I did not understand the depth of their resistance. The search committee understood that I was on the path, but when it came time for me to pursue ordination in my second year, the pastor almost stopped the process. In the end, he honored their commitment to me and I was allowed to preach my ordination sermon at the church—but it was during a children’s ministry service and it wasn’t called a sermon. Even so, several families withdrew their children from participating in the service because I was delivering the main message.

I left that position after just a few years in order to serve as a dean at North Park Seminary. I was there for seven years and able to balance my gifts as a pastor, administrator, and professor. Some of my most rewarding times in ministry involved helping women find their own calls to ministry. This was especially apparent as I was co-teaching a course called Women, the Bible, and the Church with Klyne Snodgrass. I encountered women on a journey similar to my own, who were doubting their call and struggling to find their voice. It has been an amazing privilege to watch them grow and blossom into amazing pastors.

However, I have often found people diminishing my pastoral work. At the seminary, I would counsel students in ways similar to male faculty, but I was often called a friend while the male faculty were described as mentors.

Every fall I had to establish my authority and boundaries with new students at the seminary. At some time during new student orientation, a male student would put his arm around my waist. It was generally a harmless gesture, meant to establish a connection with me, but I always had to make clear that I was their dean. This became especially important when I had to discipline students or enforce deadlines with them. Students thought that since I was their “friend,” I wouldn’t fulfill my role as dean.

I left North Park with the intention of becoming a professor, but I was finishing my PhD just as the economic downturn hit in 2008. I spent the next several years looking for work. I was an adjunct professor, a church bookkeeper, and led a children’s ministry until a ministry job opened up. It was a part-time (ten hours a week) interim pastorate at a church in crisis. Many people thought the church was about to close, and perhaps that is what people hoped would happen—that I would come in and close the church. Instead, I fell in love with the church. It was the first community that affirmed my ministry, that worshiped in the same contemporary style I grew up with, that embraced social justice ministries, and modeled shared pastoral leadership. It was not without its struggles, but despite the many issues, it was a place of healing for me. Perhaps most healing were the young men and women who came through the church, embracing me as a pastor and mentor.

The church did struggle financially and I struggled with the emotional drain of pastoral work. In 2012, I adopted a little boy. The church was so open and excited about welcoming my son into the community, but it could not financially support a pastor who needed full-time child care. Eventually I began looking for other positions, and in 2014 my current position at the Association of Theological Schools opened.

There are many more little challenges I could mention. The issues around wardrobe: too short, not feminine enough, stylish but not too expensive. Communication issues: men talking over you in meetings, claiming your ideas as their own, not valuing your wisdom or authority, not realizing their own resistance to women leaders. The expectation of doing all that a male pastor does and, sometimes, all that the pastor’s wife would do as well.

Perhaps the most painful times for me were at the church where I served as minister of Christian education. I loved the church, but on communion Sundays an all-male elder board served communion. Male staff administered the sacrament, including the youth pastor who had just graduated from college and the administrative pastor who had not gone to seminary. I had graduated with an MDiv and was on track toward ordination, but I was not allowed to serve during communion in any way. On Good Friday, when Christ died on the cross, the curtain was torn in the temple allowing all to have access to God. I began to feel as if the curtain had been put back in place.

Joys

Many of the rewards I have experienced are the same ones other pastors would identify. The privilege of being in the most intimate spaces in people’s lives. Seeing the work of healing and redemption. The amazing moment in Sunday worship when you realize that the Holy Spirit has somehow brought all the pieces together. That sense that God has spoken through you in ways you had never intended as you preach or lead worship.

It all feels worth it when someone stops me to say, “Thank you for being my pastor. Because of you I found the courage to follow my call.”

When I grew up I wanted to be:

A mom—and an oceanographer. Jacques Cousteau was my hero. Too bad I don’t really like swimming!

If I had to be in a talent show, I would perform:

Please don’t make me perform in a talent show!

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