By Sandy Miller
I walked onto the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary at the age of 40. I am a mother of three and at the age of 40 was serving as minister of worship and music in my home congregation. It was while serving on the pastoral team in this role that God began calling me to pastoral ministry beyond worship and music.
God was doing an amazing work in me and I was both excited and scared. As I reflect on my 11 years of seminary study (I took the long track) I recognize that my call from God plummeted me into a journey marked by extreme emotions . . . excitement, fear, surprise, anger, pain, humbleness, satisfaction . . . and through it all, I learned about who I am and who God is calling me to be.
I found AMBS to be a safe place to explore my gifts and while the book work was a struggle, the affirmation and encouragement I received from professors sustained me. My gifts and call were affirmed in that place, but exploring my call with my congregation while already serving in a particular position was tricky, to say the least. (Our pastoral team of five included three ordained/licensed men with the title of pastor and two non-ordained/licensed women with the title of minister.)
I was surprised to find that people my age and just younger approached the issue of women pastors with opposition while older generations seemed more ready to engage in biblical interpretation; perhaps already tempered by life experiences.
I guess I should not have been surprised, but I was. As I think about my own father, no longer living when I entered seminary, I know that he would have been challenged to affirm my call to pastoral ministry. Yet Dad had encouraged and affirmed my older brother in his call to pastoral ministry. Two children from the same family received God’s call to pastoral ministry. One was affirmed and encouraged by father and church, the other questioned about the validity of God’s call. I ended up leaving my home congregation with deep pain and sorrow.
Healing came for me in writing about my experiences while in seminary and talking with other women studying there. Some women had similar experiences with parents and congregations while others received overwhelming affirmation and encouragement. As women, we need to tell our stories so we find the opportunity to heal, to be affirmed, and to be encouraged in our journey. This blog is doing just that. The journey of women in pastoral ministry and church leadership has not been and still is not an easy one for many. The acceptance of ordaining women called to pastoral ministry is not universal across Mennonite Church USA and I have no doubt that some woman have been denied the opportunity to follow God’s call in their life. This saddens me.
I also believe that God calls some woman to traditional roles in the church. This excites me. I affirm women who are called to more traditional roles in the church and support church ministries through prayer, Sunday school teaching, knotting comforters and quilting, preparing funeral dinners, etc. God does not call all women to be pastors or leaders in the church just as God does not call all men to be pastors or leaders. But I do think God is calling women to be in relationship with each other. To love and support one another in helpful and under-girding ways, whether it’s pastoral ministry or hospitality ministry.
It is not my place, or any one’s place, to determine which ministry is God’s higher calling. I don’t believe in identifying a higher calling, outside of the fact that God created people different and God calls us differently. It is my prayer that we can be faithful to God’s call and have the opportunity and encouragement to respond.