-Pastor Melissa Fain-
Over the years I've explained what it means to be a woman minister. As I've aged into the role, I've come to understand it with a growing clarity. I want to share how those realizations have shaped me into what I am today.
"You are not called to be a minister. "
This usually involves some proof texting meant to shut the conversation down. Never does anyone express negativity about my call with the hope of saving me from myself.
The very first time I vocalized that I was called to be a leader in the Church, it was on a bus going to a high school football game. I expressed that I felt called to simply work in the church. There was one person on the bus that flat out said, "You are not called to be a minister." Then over the course of the next few weeks we spent our bus ride lobbing Bible verses at one another like they were grenades. They were all duds. Both our our proof texts were worthless because we didn't have the understanding of the scripters we were lobbing.
I would spend the next 8 years lobbing these meaningless grenades at Christians and Atheists alike. I was the very model of a very apologetic theologian. (Apologetics is the branch of Christianity meant to remove obstacles to the faith. Think, "A Case For Christ," or most things written by C.S. Lewis. I got really good at playing in this field. In some cases, especially when I was talking to the atheists, because they were having fun with the argument, I enjoyed it. There is something satisfying with discussing scripture and coming away with something new. Especially atheists forced me to see my faith critically. Little did I know, my volley into Apologetics was actually my introduction to systemic theology- where I tend to now spend my theological time. (Systemic theology is the where you focus on how beliefs connect. How do understandings of one scripture carry over into another scripture. How does the Bible relate to itself and (usually) the world?)
This new focus did not stop the detractors. If anything, it led to people doubling down. I used to have someone who followed me around online with the phrase, "Reverend Melissa, if you really are a minister." That's all this person would write, every time I posted a comment. It didn't matter what I was asking or answering. This person made my gender the subject in every post they found. It helped me know where to fight. Nothing was going to come from engaging this person. More would come in how I engaged those discussions.
If You Poke a Bear Long Enough...
I try my very hardest to take the high road.
It is way easier to take the high road when you are hardly pushed, prodded or egged on to blow up. Then, when you do veer off the high road, it's super easy to get back on with a mountain of grace.
This is not the road of being a female minister. As I entered the ministerial field, I was the test subject to justify all female ministers. I've been stared at like I have three heads. I've been ignored. I've been told I'm too qualified. I've become a living proof text. One wrong move and every good move is suddenly negated, and when every day I'm being tested it turns simple tasks into difficult ones.
It's knowing you want to pair up with your female colleagues, but doing so would label the venture a "Woman's Ministry" unless you throw a male in there somewhere. Then knowing if a collection of men were to do the same thing it wouldn't be called a "Men's Ministry."
It's knowing your very existence questions some people's faith, and how they've done church since they were a child. It's also knowing that sort of ground shaking image creates a cognitive dissonance that can only attack you, and the backfire will follow it up by strengthening their previously held beliefs.
It's knowing that this discussion is impossible to have. Honestly verbalizing issues are seen as being weak or whiny. It's another proof why women should just get out. "You can't take it, just leave!" As if a call is something one can just turn off and leave. It's like Job's wife telling Job to curse God and die, but instead of the wife, it's so many people. Either they feel the cognitive dissonance and wanting the female minister to do the work to settle it, or they want to protect me from the world and don't want to see me hurt. I've heard my versions of "Curse God and die." From ones I love and love me, and from one that don't love me.
Like a bear, all the female ministers out there can only take the poking so long before we growl. One growl is enough to keep us caged and away from the world. "See, she's dangerous." It's exhausting.
It is not female ministers making the church all about peace.
I read a very offensive article recently that I'm not going to share here. The writer believed the church had become too weak and "effeminate" because of the rise in female ministers.
While I believe the core of what she was saying was crudely true, this desire to just get along and not fight is the backfire from female ministers, not female ministers themselves.
Female ministers must be fighters. We, by the very nature of the world around us, must be fierce.
It's when we stand up and say what needs to be said that the reaction suddenly turns into a false nurturing. "Can't we all just get along?" "We need to just love." "Just take back what you said, and we'll pretend to forget any of this happened." It's the Church's inability to acceptably process why women are entering the ministry in record numbers that has turned the congregation all peace, love, unicorns and rainbows.
It's like going into a room full of targets...
I'm going to conclude on this note.
Specifically online, being a woman minister is like every day going into a room with a bunch of targets. Each of those targets would successfully share how female ministers are called by God. That's if all the targets are completely hit. Only, no one woman can hit all those targets in a brief interaction online.
A woman can focus on one target, but in doing so someone will mention the targets that haven't been hit.
A woman can generally hit all the targets, but in doing so someone will mention how none of the reasons are completely explained.
If that's not frustrating enough, the next time you find yourself in this room, the targets are reset. You can tag previous conversations, but in another whammy, that's when you get the dreaded TL:DR (Too long: Didn't Read.)
There is no winning, and it is by design. I've tried. I've created articles to tag in posts. I've taken men who have made the same arguments, and tagged them. It's only the sliding scale of differing levels of losing.
The next time you see a female minister (maybe even this female minister) take a moment and ask yourself "why".
Why is she doing this?
It's not for power. If it were for power there are corporate jobs that give power without questions. Female minister is one of the most humbling jobs out there.
It's not for prestige. Once again there are hills easier to climb. There are fields easier to enter and gain glory.
It's not for the money. Speaking to my own story, I haven't had a living wage from being a minister in 9 years. I've been paid through pulpit supply, but never through Fig Tree.
Maybe, just maybe, she's in it for the sake of others.