I knew that it was important for me to do this work, but I just could not continue at that moment. This was the trail of my thought and laments:
WOW, this is harder than I thought it would be!
I would rather be getting a root canal than be listening and imagining the pain of all of these women!
Please, Lord, help the bleeding stop!
The transcribing had come to a screeching halt for a couple of weeks. As I was praying about my lack of progress, I started to cry again. Through the tears and laments above, I was sorting through all of the pain that I had felt during similar meetings. I faced the fact that because of my own wounds, I was being asked to sit with these stories and show honor to those who have been hurt by the church. Denial can only last so long. The gentle whisper in my mind and spirit assured me of a crucial truth as I cried out, "Please, Lord, help the bleeding stop!" It was the Heavenly Father giving me the power through partnering with Him to hear these excruciating stories. When we know that we have been heard,when the one listening to us is loving us through listening, healing comes rushing in.
May it begin with me?!
This work was good and was necessary and was extremely hard.
This idea about gathering stories of female pastors had first occurred to me long before I thought that I might research them. I was attending a Wesleyan Holiness Women Clergy conference where women in ministry from many denominations gather to encourage and enrich one another. There were four or five women in a row telling me their stories. These stories included such pain. Before this, I assumed that I may be the only one in the world who was told by a best friend: "You are an apostate! Women preaching is of the devil!" I thought that I may have been the only one who had sat across the table from a denominational official and heard the words: "Maybe you should find another denomination!" There was a consistent thread of being marginalized even in these denominations that, at least in theory, affirm women in all levels of church leadership. The stories tell of a different reality.
This is what I found as I researched the lived experience of female pastors: good, bad, and ugly responses to them as they followed their call in the church. I found women who were filled with passion and compassion, they were strong and tenacious, and they had persevered in ministry in spite of the fact that most of them had considered leaving the denomination.
The truth is that listening to such stories either in an official capacity as a researcher or in the capacity of fellow female pastor, is hard. I was given the gift of comfort that day as I prayed, I remembered that listening is an act of love. I am given the ability to sit and listen because the One who created me is a good listener. I have the best listening coach on earth. God is especially quick at hearing cries of those suffering under injustice. It is this God that "heard their groaning" and remembered the covenant (Exodus 2:23-24). It is this God who "is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth" (Psalm 145:18-19). The Lord assures us that when we humbly cry out to him and share our cares, we will know His presence (Isaiah 58:9 and 1 Peter 5:7).
God is near to all who call on him.
God listens and we listen.
My hope is that the stories that I listened to, transcribed, and researched would help change the minds and hearts of people. The stories shared are not intended to be all-inclusive, rather they represent the types of challenges and barriers female pastors encounter in their every day life. It is my prayer that the church will be a good listener. The documentary "Lived Experience" is based on my research and there has been a significant seed pledge by the denomination for about half of the cost. I would love for you to consider giving toward this project. Will you prayerfully consider if you are being called to contribute in order to make this a reality? If you're interested in making a financial gift, it can be made at FMCUSA website designated for the strategic implementation, with "Lived Experience Documentary" in the comment box (https://give.fmcusa.org/donation/strategy-implementation).
Will you lean in, uncross your arms, and look into the eyes of your sisters in Christ and listen? Are you ready to hear your pastor's story, your ministry colleague's story, and your co-laborer in Christ's story?