“You ‘misheard’ the call – God doesn’t call girls or women to preach. You were probably called to be a pastor’s wife, Christian Educator or missionary!” But the Reverend Amy Greene, Director of Clinical Pastoral Education and Assistant Director of Spiritual Care of the Cleveland Clinic knew she’d “heard” God’s voice correctly. In today’s blog, Rev. Amy shares with conviction, her call experience, the pain of rejection and her triumph over the voices of skeptics.
Shepastor Blog Interview
with The Reverend Amy Greene
Director of Clinical Pastoral Education
Assistant Director of Spiritual Care
The Cleveland Clinic
At what age did you first “hear” a call to the ministry?
I remember very vividly an experience around age 9, about the time of my baptism. I was reading my Bible (as I did often) and I had the thought, “If I was a boy, I would know I was supposed to be a preacher.” I remember feeling confused that God would put that desire in my heart without noticing that “he” (as I thought of God at the time) had made me a girl and not a boy. I remember feeling sort of doomed to wander and figure it out, which is what ended up happening, in a way.
Did you share your call experience with anyone? If so, how did they respond?
I did start telling folks that I felt called and I remember my Sunday School teachers and parents dismissing it and telling me that “God doesn’t call girls/women to preach” and that I had “misheard” the call -- that God would only call me to be a pastor’s wife, missionary or Christian Educator. I remember even then thinking “No way” to all three. I knew the power was in the pulpit and I knew it was that or nothing.
How did you understand and process “the call?”
I tried to put it aside but it never quite went away. Finally, when I was 21, I found out about a very unusual Southern Baptist church called Oakhurst Baptist in Atlanta. It was known for being “not typical.” When I visited, I saw with my own eyes my “first ever” real live female Baptist preacher – Nancy Hastings Sehested. I began to wonder if I had heard the call correctly after all, since clearly it was possible for a woman to be a real preacher—I could see her with my own eyes. Not only that, she was a powerful preacher and she knew her Bible.
How would you describe your journey into the ministry? (Please share the environment in which you were raised, religious influences such as denomination, church etc.)
I went to seminary in my early 20s because I simply couldn’t bear not to go. I didn’t feel any sense of hope that I’d be able to be a senior minister (i.e. be in the pulpit regularly). I definitely did not feel called to children’s and youth ministry. I had become a journalist in college (majoring in it and working for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution) and I was still working there when I just got too restless to stay. I thought I would become a religion editor or write about religion and faith in some form or fashion. In some ways the next few years are a ping-pong match inside myself over the question of whether I was a writer with a really great theological education (from Union in New York) or whether I was a minister who loved to write. I finally got clear about it the year the Olympics came to town (1996) and I was back on the newspaper staff, making great money but feeling like I was wasting my time. I had put a lot of things on hold to raise our two sons, and I had only been willing to take part-time work. That limited my options in ministry even more severely. When my youngest was almost 10, I decided to go do CPE to become a hospice chaplain. The rest, as they say, is history. I got completely bitten by the CPE bug, and got recruited by my supervisors to train for certification as a supervisor myself. My writing skills and passion helped a lot and I got through the process quickly. I have been supervising CPE for more than 10 years and I am just as excited and passionate about it as ever.
Three years ago I got a call from a head-hunter asking me if I wanted to consider directing the CPE program at the Cleveland Clinic. I’m ashamed to admit it now, but I really hadn’t heard much about the Clinic. Also I wasn’t sure I wanted to give up a great life in Atlanta for the cold, frozen north. Fortunately my husband was ready for an adventure since our sons had both left for college. It has been the fastest and most exhilarating three years of my life to be at the Clinic. I am still a Baptist. I was ordained by Oakhurst when it was still Southern Baptist but I became American Baptist later, as did the church. I belong to Peace Community Church in Oberlin, which is American Baptist in spite of getting kicked out of the Association in Cleveland (just like Oakhurst got kicked out of everything Southern Baptist in Atlanta) – for their stands on justice issues. It’s a long drive, but I have to hang my hat in a place that takes a stand for principles of inclusiveness, priesthood of all believers, autonomy of the local congregation, intelligent biblical study, justice and modern scientific understanding – just to name a few. How much time do we have?
What role models have impacted your perception of ministry (male and female)?
Both pastors at Oakhurst at the time – Mel Williams and Nancy Sehested – were my models and mentors. They remain important figures in my life, though I rarely see them. They embodied integrity and fidelity to their Baptist roots. My formative CPE supervisors were both Baptists, though I’m sure there are good ones who aren’t (that’s a joke). I would say my current boss is a mentor to me now, though we function very much as partners and learn from each other. Many of my students are role models for me, especially when they have faced struggles I have not. I hope I never get too “growed” (as my Appalachian ancestors would put it) to need role models.
In what area of ministry do you now serve? How did you get there?
See above. I am Director of Clinical Pastoral Education at one of the best hospitals in the world. I can only say I got here by sheer grace. I got called by the Director of the Spiritual Care Department (my boss and friend, Rev. Dennis Kenny) several times before I said yes. I was too stupid to say yes the first time. Thankfully I got another chance. I really can only believe it was Providence that got me here – that and a wonderfully supportive husband and grown sons who said, “Ma, it’s your turn…you should go.”
What challenges did you face (or are you facing) in your particular ministerial role?
The biggest one is that Rev. Kenny and I both want to offer excellent spiritual care as well as excellent education for ministry here at the Clinic but we have a very small staff. We both have a tendency to bite off more than we can chew. We both have a tendency to forget that it’s God who neither slumbers nor sleeps, not us.
Is it your experience that female pastors are strong advocates for other female clergy? Why or why not?
Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I find that women help women according to their personalities and their own stories. Some are jealous and bitter about their own struggles and so don’t want to see anyone else succeed. I find I really like mentoring young women, but I enjoy young men just as much. Everybody has the same struggles these days…how to live out an authentic call in a complex age. I love ministry in the clinical setting because it is by and large a lot less sexist than the average congregation (there are many women doctors, executives, etc). Also, women have had freedoms and opportunities in chaplaincy a little longer than in most mainline congregational settings.
What suggestions do you have to help create greater opportunities for female clergy?
(Specifically, what can church leaders, congregations and male clergy do to help open doors for clergywomen?)
Just be fair. If someone is called and proves they are capable, gender shouldn’t matter – nor should race, class, physical ability. If we take Acts 2 seriously, we have to stop deciding for God whom God will call and use.
What words of wisdom or advice would you share with women who feel called to become a senior pastor or to serve in some other form of ministry?
Hang in there. Trust God, not denominations. I remember very distinctly, in a moment of sheer despair (after finishing a demanding M.Div. program and moving back South), feeling that I would never actually have a job as a minister. I heard that inner voice that is not my own say, “If you believe the Southern Baptist Convention called you to preach, then I can’t help you. But if you believe the great I AM called you, just keep moving forward.” I know it wasn’t my wishful thinking because it scared me too much. I would have preferred (at the time) to give it up. My advice, which was given to me before I went to seminary and I’ve paraphrased over the years, is “If you can resist going into ministry, do resist it. And don’t be blaming God if you’re miserable. If you “run from the call” and don’t feel happy, then just face the fact that you are not doing what you really want to be doing. Don’t imagine yourself to be so important that God can’t go on doing God’s work without you. Just say yes to the life you want.”
What words of encouragement and caution would you give to those who are currently serving in that role?
Don’t get isolated. Don’t think you’re the only one doing it. Don’t think you’re special. Don’t think putting everyone else ahead of you is holy. Love God and others as (which means “in the same way that”) you love yourself. If you don’t love yourself, you’re not loving anybody else either – you’re just using their crises to feel needed. Don’t fool yourself.
Is there anything else that you would like to add to encourage clergywomen?
If it was in fact God who called you, you needn’t worry about anything. If it was not, turn back now.
Are you sensing that God has placed a call to preach or pastor upon your life yet others are saying, “Not so?” Do you have a story of victory over the voices of doubt and negativity regarding your acceptance of the call? We want to hear from you! Post a comment or send me an email at Shepastor1@hotmail.com
Until next Wednesday,
In faith, hope and perseverance,