Chaplain, Covenant Village of Northbrook, Illinois
For me, God unfolded his plans slowly, almost stealthily. I was a happy journalist, an editor at a large newspaper. Then I started teaching a yearlong Bible study at my church that changed my life. I fell in love with God’s word and wanted more. At my five-year North Park College reunion, I asked a classmate working in seminary admissions to send me a catalog “just so I could read it.” I didn’t plan to actually attend seminary, I told her. That’s what I thought.
Because I was living in a party house with people I worked with at the newspaper, I asked her to send the catalog “in a plain brown wrapper.” She did. And I inhaled it. As I read the descriptions, I longed for every class like a thirsty person longs for water. And so I folded up a life I really loved and went. When I got to seminary, I approached it from the edges. I thought I might teach. I thought I might work for a Christian publishing house. Preach? Not interested.
And then I was invited to work at Covenant Harbor Bible Camp in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. I agreed to go, to scratch an old itch of wanting to work at camp. Just for the summer. That’s what I thought. And then two things happened: God brought David Hinz into my committedly single life, and a full-time spot as director of ministry at camp opened up. So I stayed at camp. And I started to preach. And to live as a pastor in ministry. Full-time there yielded to part-time for ten years of parenting little ones.
When God began to beckon me toward full-time ministry again, I was ready. That’s what I thought. But door after door slammed. The waiting got long and became part of my story. Eventually, God sent me to a rural church in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where it was my honor to serve a historic Covenant church. “It’ll turn around. God will grow the ministry back to a healthy size.” That’s what I thought. But it didn’t happen. After much discernment, that chapter closed for me, though the church soldiers on.
God’s call continues to unfold as I now serve as chaplain at Covenant Village of Northbrook, Illinois, where preaching and writing and team ministry join pastoral visits to form the daily ministry. I am increasingly aware that regardless of what we think, God’s call continues in persistent, surprising ways.
Serving a Rural Church
I was the first woman to serve as solo pastor at Mission Covenant Church in Ishpeming, Michigan. I found out after I got there that one family had argued against calling a woman, voted against me, and left before I came. The church was OK with that. One retired male member of the pastoral search team even called it a “non-issue.” Rural America may be seen as behind the times, but my experience was that in that setting, people become quite practical. They do what works. And I and the other women clergy serving in the area “worked” for them. So they moved quietly into a new era without much fanfare.
Being “the First”
To speak of women in ministry in the Covenant Church is to engage in a complex story. The women ten to twenty years ahead of me pioneered the way, and took the brunt of the resistance. My group admiringly called them “the door kickers” for opening a way for those who followed. But maybe they were more like icebreakers. They did the backbreaking work, but freeze-over still happens and tributaries still need to be opened up.
I feel absolutely blessed to have started into ministry at Covenant Harbor Bible Camp, where I was expected to include women in the preaching lineup every summer, including myself. While working at camp, I was invited by my male colleagues to preach at various churches. I can’t tell you how many times in both camp and church settings that people said to me, “You are the first woman I ever heard preach.” What an honor to be a vehicle of new experiences. The work continues. But there’s nothing like exposure to break the ice.
A Challenging Encounter
Fifteen years ago, I was in ministry part-time, and I was part of an ecumenical young mothers’ group. I invited a ministry colleague to speak to the group about evangelism. When she was finished one of my friends made a determined beeline toward me. I knew she was part of a very conservative (i.e., anti-women-in-ministry) denomination. She was grasping for words. I thought she was mad. What came out was: “I think I got more out of the last forty-five minutes than I have out of the past ten years of attending my church. What do I do with that?”
I wanted to tell her that she had been taught bad theology all her life, and I wanted to brain-dump everything I had learned about the issue. Thank goodness God didn’t allow that. I was praying, “God, you’d better be lining up some words, because I’m about to open my mouth and I have no idea what to say.”
What came out was a thought I’d never had before. “You know, my women clergy friends and I didn’t go into ministry to tear down your church. We went into ministry because we heard God calling us. We are just trying to be faithful to that call.” I then closed my mouth and started praying.
Then a devout Catholic friend joined the conversation, listened for a bit, and said to my other friend, “You know I’m Catholic, and we don’t have women pastors.” (Oh, boy, thanks a lot, God!) She continued, “I’m OK with my church, but it doesn’t sound like you’re OK with where your church is on this issue. Maybe you need to look for a different church.” Boom.
Those women and I eventually brought together an amazing group of women to study the Bible on this issue, using the Covenant’s Called & Gifted materials. In the end, my friend decided to stay in her church, working for change from the inside. And, if anyone can do it, it will be this gifted, inquisitive woman of faith! That encounter reminds me that we need to trust that God’s going to do what God’s going to do. We are called to be faithful.
When I grew up I wanted to be:
A Broadway star—but I was shy. My dad wanted me to be a pharmacist, so I could help people while making a good living—but I didn’t like science. So I became a journalist—but God had other plans. Now I’m a pastor who likes to sing and write, and I still don’t like science.