I was lucky. In my home, I never doubted that if I wanted, I could become a minister. My dad, who was also my pastor growing up, was always encouraging of me and my gifts. He took me to deacons meetings (it wasn’t a punishment, I asked to go) and let me know that if I ever wanted to be a pastor, I could be.
But I remember looking up at the pulpit as a young girl and trying to imagine myself up there in my father’s clothes. There I was standing in an oversized ill-fitting suit with a tie that never felt right. Even though I was told that I could preach, I still couldn’t see myself doing it.
A few years later, I saw Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor speak, and everything changed. Finally, I could see someone, a woman, preaching in front of a congregation. She didn’t need to look exactly like me, just close enough. It was her presence that sparked in me an imagination that didn’t involve my father’s ill-fitting suit and tie but let me see a vision for ministry in my own skin and clothes.
This is women’s history month. It is a moment that I get to stop, and I hope you will to, and think about and thank those women who have come before. Women who had eyes to see something that they were told was not just impossible, but wrong for them to even imagine.
But they understood what the prophet Joel saw coming when he said that the Spirit would pour out on all flesh and “your sons and your daughters will prophesy.” (Joel 2:28 NRSV) Maybe they read Mary’s Magnificat when she sang her sermon and said, “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:52-53)
Or maybe they noticed that the first person to see and then proclaim the risen Christ was Mary Magdalene when she told the disciples in hiding, “I have seen the Lord.” (John 20:11-18) It could have been they noticed when Paul praised Junia as an Apostle, Phoebe as a Deacon and Priscilla as a pastor. (Romans 16:1-7)
Representation matters. It matters with race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity and more. Who we see in leadership is not just about the leaders of today but leaders for generations to come. It matters for those who are looking around for inspiration about who they can become. We cannot achieve what we cannot imagine, and it is so much harder to imagine the things we have never even glimpsed. This is why I am so thankful for the women who have come before me who gave me so much more than just a glimpse even when that was all they had.
A friend recently told me a story of how she was raised to believe that she could never be a pastor. When she felt a call to ministry, she went to seminary but told herself she would only ever teach children. But when she opened the Bible and saw the example of others, she began to hear her calling more clearly.
After a few years into her first calling as a senior pastor at a church, a mother approached her after a service. She explained, with a smile, that her daughters had a small tape player with a microphone. They used to only use it to sing Disney princess songs. But now their new game was to play pastor. When their younger brother wanted to join, they hurt his feelings by telling him, “No silly, only girls can be pastors!” The mother concluded with a laugh, “Would you mind letting my children know that anyone can be a pastor?”
May all God’s children know that the Spirit is upon us all. Each of us is called. And this month, I thank those who have gone before me that helped me discover this truth.