The other day, I was privileged to meet a pastor who’d been following the Shepastor Blog. I asked if she’d be willing to share some words of wisdom for the blog and she graciously agreed. We spent some time talking about her call to the ministry, precious nuggets of wisdom gleaned from her years of experience and words of guidance and encouragement for others coming along. During our conversation, it occurred to me that perception plays a powerful role in how we go about our lives.
Sometimes the fear of how we will be perceived or viewed by others, hinder our obedience to God. Our perceptions are greatly influenced by our world-view, i.e., cultural mores, how we were taught, our sense of right and wrong, how we experience relationships etc. If the fear of what others think dominates our decisions, it is less likely that we will step outside of created boxes – created sometimes by others, sometimes by ourselves. However, if we perceive that others “see” something in us, we value their insights and take their positive views to heart. Pastor Pat Ludwig is a wonderful example of how women can push past stereotypical perceptions and expectations of others to fulfill God’s calling upon their lives.
Over the next several blogs, I will share conversations between individual clergy women and myself regarding the issues of perceptions, fear and impact upon a woman’s decision to accept the call to ministry. Also, we’ll look at how denial plays a role in unhealthy behaviors among female clergy.
Today’s focus shall be upon perceptions - how they impact our self view and actions.
Interview with The Reverend Pat Ludwig
Pastor of First Baptist Church
Newfane, New York
“Something touched my heart because I heard a missionary and I thought I wanted to serve in that traditional role. That was in 1958 (age 13). I was not totally aware of the ‘call,’ but I was drawn to missionary work – a traditional role for women. God however had a different idea.”
Pat has served two solo pastorates including this one, not including interim work. She’s been in the ministry for 38 years.
How long have you pastored at this church?
Answer: "12 and a half years"
What are some struggles you have encountered as a clergy woman during those years?
Answer: "Acceptance, or lack thereof until they got to know me. Knowing that I was a woman was a put off for some even before they got to know me personally. That was a struggle. Irrational stereotypes. For example, when I was asked to perform a wedding ceremony, the couple didn’t want me because they didn’t think it would be legal (that was in 1973). At that time, I was serving the United Church of Christ. Clergywomen were pretty rare no matter what the denomination during that time."
When did you become a Baptist? 1997.
What are some of the issues regarding recognition, and calls revolving around clergy women? “Many of the committees that would deal with women coming into ministry are made up of conservative male pastors, who while they say ‘God calls people to ministry, God gives gifts for ministry, God wants you to go out and talk about salvation and grace…’ These are the same committees who say to women desiring to serve in the ordained ministry, ‘but not through you!’ They say on the one hand, this is happening, but on the other hand, it can’t happen with you. Sometimes those are the obstacles we face.
That’s where we need to be our own advocates."
How did you overcome some of these obstacles?
“One of the things I just kept doing was to keep saying to myself, ‘I am called by God’. I kept affirming myself. Simply being present where people would see me at clergy meetings, association meetings, area meetings, volunteering to serve on committees so that my skills and my leadership abilities and my gifts could be seen. Just get out there – ‘Strut your stuff!’ ”
Do you think it is ever appropriate for a clergy woman to “step into” arenas without invitiation? “I think we have to. When we see any injustice it is always the time to step in. When we see inequality and hatred, it is always the time to step in. Jesus allowed Mary to wash his feet in spite of the criticisms. Mary crashed the party to do the right thing. Mary was not invited, however, she saw a need and stepped in. The right thing was to honor Jesus and to prepare Him for his sacrifice. The others present were not interested in doing the right thing.”
How would you respond to persons who say that women should not push themselves forward, that if it is God’s will for them to become a pastor, or to become ordained or to obtain any particular position in ministry, God will open that door for them?
“The first thing we have to do is dispel the stereotype that this will make us look like ‘pushy broads!’ ” Remember that we are not just bragging on ourselves, it is saying, ‘God thank you for these gifts, now help me get out there and share them.’ We always have to affirm that these are gifts from God. If we don’t remember that God has called us and given these gifts then our struggles are for naught.”
What would you say to sisters who are angry about being denied ordination or other ministerial opportunities?
“When I graduated from seminary, a lot of clergywomen were very angry. They were angry because even though we’d studied and completed seminary there were few places for us to go. They expressed their anger and hostility in ways that did not represent Christ. There is a place for righteous indignation, like when Jesus chased the money changers out of the Temple. However, if our anger overshadows our witness for Christ, it is not beneficial to anyone. Always remember that we are called by God and are representing the Spirit of God. While we can express some genuine anger, it always has to be done in love, with a listening heart.”
At the beginning of our conversation, you said that when you were called, you didn’t quite realize what was happening. You shared a story about stumbling and tripping in a hallway when no one was present. That was symbolic for you. Could you say some more about that?
“While in seminary, originally studying to be a missionary (since that's what I perceived I was called to do, since I am a woman)I began to sense that God was leading me into a different direction. As I pondered and prayed about these feelings something strange happened. Once while I was walking down the hall, I stumbled when no one was around. It felt like a shove or a push. I knew that it meant something so I began to talk to others about the experience. I felt I needed more insight from friends, professors at seminary and family. I discovered that the Spirit works through those people that share their insights. In talking to these other people, I realized the ‘stumble’ was God’s continuing to push me into parish ministry. We have to remember that discerning the spirit involves other peoples insight into our lives. Sometimes we need the ‘push, the shoves, the stumbles of life’ to help us discern God’s call upon us.”
(end of interview)
How have the perceptions of others helped or hindered your acceptance or view of the call? Do you have a story or insight to share? Please write a comment or send me an email at Shepastor1@hotmail.com
Also, a few days ago, I received an email from a female lay pastor in Nairobi, Kenya. She is requesting "words of wisdom" concerning her personal struggle against bitterness, confusion and feeling misplaced because of the belief that women should not pastor based upon the oppressive misinterpretations of scripture.
Read her comments on last week's blog. Won't you share some words of support and encouragement with her today?
In faith, hope and perseverance,