She leans forward, pressing her palms against the table. I see the fire in her eyes, a fierce tenderness. Or is it a tender fierceness, I know not the difference. I also see the sadness. “Something’s gotta change,” she says. “It’s just got to, Brian.”
Then she tells me this story. She was just with her daughter, Hannah, who finished up her second year of seminary. They had a conversation about call, the two of them, and whether Hannah should pursue ordination, a decision she’s been agonizing over.
Hannah tells her mother that, as she listened to the call stories of her male peers, a common theme surfaced: nearly every one of them had someone in their church (and usually multiple people) recognize their gifts and affirm their call. The external call of the community confirmed, at times sparked and evoked, the internal call. Hannah became painfully aware in that moment of how this experience was hauntingly absent from her own call story.
Even in her church that affirmed women in ministry (at least in theory), she has no memory of a single person ever pulling her aside, naming her gifts, wondering with her about vocational ministry. Hannah noticed the same thing among most of her female peers. The men had individuals affirming their gifts, encouraging them to become pastors. The women had no such thing. At best, the church went along with their call. More often it was met with confusion and resistance. In some cases, it was flat out dismissed.
“How can that be?” her mother asks me. “How can it be that my Hannah had no one tell her they see gifts for ministry in her? Where was the church, Brian?” She’s asking it out of pain for her daughter, who needs the voice of her community right now, the community that baptized her and loved her and taught her the stories of Jesus and consecrated her to the Lord. She’s asking it out of pain for all of our daughters–too many who still suffer the intense burning of this call in silence, who refrain from saying it out loud for fear that they will be told women can’t be pastors when it should be their own community saying it out loud for and with them.
As I listen to this mother, a friend whom I love and whose daughter I deeply care about, it grieves me. My mind flashes back to my own call story, and how many people saw gifts in me and spoke them and encouraged them. I think about how many times I’ve revisited those memories, drawing from the deep well of this chorus of witnesses in my past, and the way this chorus has sustained and strengthened me over the years, especially in seasons of self-doubt. And Hannah doesn’t have that. When I think about my call story, it is one of joy and discovery, the church urging me on. But for so many of my sisters, their call story is one of pain and loneliness, of finding the courage to move forward with the church looking the other way or even standing in the way.
“We have to do better,” she says. She’s not just saying it to me, she’s saying it to herself. She’s saying it to all of us.
And she’s right. We must do better. I look across the table at this woman, her face still lovely and kind, but also bearing the marks of one who has weathered too many seasons of having to stand alone, living out a call that seized her decades ago like a song rising from within, and a church who has yet to figure out how to sing that song. She wants something different for her daughter. And so do I.
So speak it, please. When you see the gifts in her, when you see the possibilities, when you are curious and wonder, just say it. Say it aloud so she can hear it. She needs your voice. She needs it now, and she will need it in the future. She needs the voice of her community to remind her who she is and Whose she is; she needs a chorus of witnesses to carry her along and finally bring her through.