In this the third and final part of our series, “The Power of Perception and Denial” we turn our attention to the topic of ageism. Simply put, “ageism” is discrimination against an individual because of their age. Clergy women frequently face the double whammy of discrimination due to gender and age (and for minorities, it can be a triple whammy – gender, age and race).
Decades old research, spanning from the 90’s up to the present support this theory.
According to the Barna Group, the median age of female pastors has risen during the last ten years, from 50 years of age to the current median of 55. In contrast, the median age of male senior pastors has also risen, from 48 to 52. (Research conducted 2009)
In the book, Clergy women: An Uphill Calling, authors Barbara Brown Zikmund, Adair T. Lummis, and Patricia M. Y. Chang (Westminister John Knox Press, 1998, p. 98) state the following regarding research conducted in the chapter, “Age and the Call to Ordained Ministry…”
"Among the active clergy in our study, there is a considerable range in the ages at which they remember first thinking seriously about a career in the ordained ministry. Furthermore, God may call an individual, but if family, church and society withhold support, it is hard for people to believe that this is what God really intends them to do with their lives. In many of the denominations in our study, women professing a call from God to enter the ordained ministry were not well received. They were scorned, told that they were overstepping their female role, and considered guilty of lying or pathetic self-delusion when they shared such an idea. This made it very difficult for many women to tell anyone what they thought God was call them to do, especially denominational officials serving as gatekeepers to the ordination process."
The authors further stated…
"Such traditional thinking about who is “eligible” to be ordained contributes to the fact that over half of the clergy men in our study decided to enter the ordained ministry by age nineteen, whereas the age of decision for half of our clergy women is twenty-three. As many as one-third of the clergy women in our study decided to become ordained at the age of thirty or older; three times more women than men made the decision about ordained ministry after age thirty. In the more theologically conservative Spirit-centered denominations, five times as many women as men first seriously considered becoming clergy at age thirty or older.” End quote
In general, women enter the ministry at an older age for the above stated reasons. Many churches are reluctant to call older individuals to a first pastorate, thus adding another layer to the barriers that women face as they pursue pastoral ministry. However, God still has the last say!
Today’s interview affirms a belief that God is greater than ageism. With wisdom, vibrancy and charisma, Covenant’s Associate Minister, (where I am privileged to serve as Senior Pastor), The Reverend Julia Moses expresses faith in the face of road blocks. Rev. Moses is a “senior” clergywoman who is determined to pursue her calling despite ageism. In her story, we can hear courage and perseverance against the odds. For her, age truly is “just a number!”
Part III in the Series, “The Power of Perception and Denial: Ageism”
Interview with The Reverend Julia Moses
Associate Minister, Covenant Baptist Church
When did you first receive your calling?
"I was 57 years old. My husband knew it first. He said, ‘somebody in this house has been called to preach.’ He took a dirty clothes basket and said, ‘this is the pulpit! He put it up on the chair and said, ‘stand up here!’ I looked at my son and thought it must be him. He said that it was not him, but me! I thought he was joking. Then I said to him that we are not supposed to play with God. He assured me that he wasn’t playing.
As I began to ‘preach’ about what I’d heard in church that day, such a feeling come over me that I ended up adding more to what I’d heard and started preaching about something else."
Before that experience, had you ever felt God speaking to you concerning the ministry of preaching?
"No. The experience above was my first thought about it. I was raised as a Seven Day Adventist and at that time they did not believe in women preachers. I eventually left that church and became a Baptist. I liked the Baptist (not necessarily because they believed in women preachers, but I understood and agreed with their doctrine more)."
How long after your “clothes basket pulpit” experience did you seriously consider pursuing your call to preach?
"About four years later when my husband died. My pastor at the time asked me to prepare a curriculum for a single women’s ministry. He encouraged me to go to a bible school online to better prepare myself for the task. He told me that he believed I was called to preach, but that he could not split the church over licensing me. He offered to send me over to the Methodist church. So I went over to preach when ever invited. However, while he was alive, I never preached at my home, Baptist Church. It was not until after his death and his son took over did I get the opportunity to reopen dialogue concerning my calling."
So by this time, you were approximately 61 years old. How did people in the church respond to you first as a female and next as a senior person pursuing the call?
"It was a divided population. Regarding my age, my personality lends itself to embrace people of all ages. Young people, older people etc. In the teaching ministry, all accepted me because of my ability to meet people where they are. It allowed me access to teaching, training and just being a member who they could come to for anything.
However, when I began talking about joining the preaching ministry things were all together different. Protocol in that church required that I meet with the Pastor weekly for counsel concerning my calling and then I would be brought before the Board of Deacons to defend my call.
When the Pastor decided to take me before the board of Deacons to announce my calling into the ministry I had a rude awakening. That was my first experience with anger, hostility and rejection from male and some female church members.
There were 12 male deacons in various age groups. When I went into the room the Pastor made brief remarks about my call and one of the deacons had a Bible in his hand and told me that 'God never called a woman.' Another one got up and said that he agreed with him. 'This church has been standing for 75 years and has never had a woman preacher and I cannot vote for one now.'
After the shock and trauma I was stunned and asked the Pastor could I have the floor to talk. The Pastor told me to wait. Out of the 12, only the two spoke, all of the others remained silent. When it was my turn to speak, I let them know that I did not come to defend anything, but to tell them my story about how the Lord had called me to preach His Word.
In the final analysis, there were two who voted against (the two that spoke) my licensing and 10 for - which resulted in one deacon leaving the church."
How old were you when you entered seminary?
"I was in my 60’s."
How did you feel as an older student?
"At first, I wondered how I was going to get along with these younger students who were full of energy and bright. Initially, after looking at the members of the class and seeing how they responded so quickly to answering the questions, I began to question whether or not I could survive!
So after my first encounter, I went home and got on my knees and said, “Lord are you sure that I am supposed to be in seminary at this age? There is no one there that resembles me in terms of my hair and my appearance!” But then when I returned to class several days later, I was greeted very warmly by two students – a male and a female who asked me if I wanted to study with them.
I was a little reluctant but I said, 'Yes, I’ll sit in with you!' So we talked about our books, homework assignments, they told me that they would help me with whatever I needed. They were two angels that God sent my way."
You have shared openly that you desire to become a senior pastor. What comments have you received from mentors regarding your desire at this stage of your life?
"Upon first revealing my desire to be a senior pastor, it was met with unanticipated negativity. The question was asked, ‘Don’t you think you are too old for that?’ I had not thought anything about my age because I have been and continue to be in reasonably good health, I have a lot of stamina and I believe that is what God wants me to do. Also, I have witnessed my male counterparts who were my age and older being called and serving as interims or senior pastors.
One of my well respected mentors said to me, ‘You are in your 60’s now, you certainly don’t want to be 70 years old dragging up and down a pulpit!’"
How did those remarks and the perception of you being too old impact your desire and fervor to pursue that calling?
"Because of my respect for spiritual leadership, I withdrew. I said to myself that this must not be where the Lord wants me to be. I did not openly talk about my heart’s desire again for approximately 3 years. "
What reopened that conversation for you?
"The conversation was reopened by the prompting of the Holy Spirit, the depth of my desire to pastor and the goals and the mission that I have for the pastoral ministry. I asked myself the question, ‘Am I going to listen to what God is telling me or am I going to listen to the voices of men and women who would look at me as if I had two heads!’
I made the decision to follow the Lord. I believe my call is to become a senior pastor because no matter how many churches I attend, it is the senior pastor who has the vision for that church from God. While there are things I might want to pursue differently from their vision, I would never be able to carry out the plan that I know God has for me and me only. No senior pastor can give up their vision to acknowledge mine, nor would I expect that. That is why I must continue to heed God’s “yes” and proceed until I get a no.
It is my hope that people will look past my age, see the Christ in me and what I have to offer. I know that I would not likely be a senior pastor for a long period of time. However, that further adds to my desire to train and groom others in the ministry - others who could come alongside and I could continue to mentor them – men and women. I could eventually become pastor emeritus."
Currently, you are not serving as a Senior Pastor. What are you doing to help make that desire a reality?
"On my last birthday, I had the privilege of spending the day with my current pastor and mentor, you! I knew that this would be the day that I would tell you what I had been withholding from you for over a year. As I struggled with it and labored, God reminded me that I must go forward if I would like for Him to send me help. However, when I told you,(to my surprise) you already knew and helped me to find my voice. It was a glorious day. I have watched and learned so much from you about pastoring in a multicultural environment. I had never considered that as an option. As I observed you, I learned what it means to be patient with people with whom God is not finished – smile!
After revealing what I had withheld so long, I felt a certain degree of freedom and peace. You encouraged me to seek counsel from the Regional Executive Minister and I did. He was very pleased that I sought him out and provided the necessary information and guidance to steer me in the right direction. I am currently in the process of actively pursuing the dream that God has given to me. Regardless of who understands and who does not understand, I know that I will be, in God’s time, a senior pastor!"
What words of encouragement would you give to other senior clergywomen who desire to pastor, but are fearful of what others may think, say and do?
"I would remind them of scripture – of Abraham, of Sara, and other Biblical characters whom God called in their late years. I would encourage them to seek wise counsel from someone that they trust. I would tell them to move forward and never turn back because God’s yes is louder than their no. My prayer has been and continues to be that my latter will be greater than the former." End of Interview
Have you been affected by ageism? Are you struggling with the decision to pursue your calling because you think that you are too old? Post your comments or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you and have the opportunity to share your experiences with other clergywomen across the world!
Until next Wednesday,
In faith, hope and perseverance,