Published by SarahSchreiber
On the floor of Synod in 1996 a group of bright-eyed candidates was approved for the ministry of the Word in the CRCNA. That year, for the first time, some of those candidates were women. This summer our denomination commemorates twenty-five years of women serving in ordained ministry. I am thankful for this opportunity to reflect on the milestone in light of my own calling.
In 1996 I was not aware of denominational affairs. I was a shy seventh grader at Holland (Michigan) Christian Middle School preparing to make my profession of faith at Park CRC. During this time, others whom I did not know—both men and women—charted a path for me to follow. I admire these trailblazers. I also acknowledge the pain of this moment in our denomination’s history: one in ten congregations left the CRCNA fearing our church no longer listened to the Word of God.
Now twenty-five years later I am a beneficiary of that history, grateful to have an office in the faculty hallway at Calvin Theological Seminary. Here with God’s help I teach students to correctly handle the word of truth. I have the amazing opportunity to introduce new groups of bright-eyed students to the Hebrew alphabet and more: the book of Jonah in Hebrew, how to read the Old Testament slowly and carefully, and the one grand story of scripture. I see our students delight in the law of the Lord in a new way. Our students are following their own callings. I admire them also.
I am grateful to God and to our faith community for this ministry opportunity. Yet as a woman there are sometimes painful challenges. There are also unique advantages and daily opportunities to reflect on God’s grace-filled work in the world and how I am being conformed to the image of his Son.
For example, studies of academic institutions have demonstrated that women on faculty are approached more frequently by students in distress than their male faculty colleagues. These students bring not only academic concerns but also deeply personal ones. When such a student knocks on my door—or knocks virtually via Zoom or email—I am reminded how honored I am to be trusted, perhaps partly because of my gender. Being a woman equips me for ministry. Yet this ongoing and sometimes unequal caregiving takes an emotional toll. Other deadlines remain. I am encouraged when I remember Jesus who faced the constant press of human need. He is the Good Shepherd to me and to our students.
Another significant challenge faced by women leaders with families is the fact that these women typically carry a greater proportion of household management and perform more unpaid care than their male partners. These women strive to cultivate a professional persona, but during this pandemic many have found themselves bouncing a toddler while video conferencing with their male peers. I’ve been there. To be a woman in ministry often necessitates finding strength in humility, resiliency, and flexibility. After all, Jesus himself turned his own interruption of bouncing toddlers into a moment of blessing and teaching on the very kingdom of God.
Even after twenty-five years, being a woman in ministry still is not the norm in the CRCNA. I have found myself in routine situations that become silly and awkward, such as wondering where to clip a lapel microphone pack on my dress or where to lactate. Yet some situations continue to strike me as quite sad, like advising an aspiring minister who will face more difficulty finding a call than her peers who are men. I am reminded of our Lord who ministers to a broken world as it is. Jesus himself ministered despite not meeting norms—he was from Nazareth and the son of a carpenter. Throughout his ministry Jesus gracefully defied expectations: eating with sinners, healing on the Sabbath, washing his disciples’ feet, and befriending women. Our Lord is still a friend of women. I know he is with me in my office.
Reflecting on twenty-five years, I am grateful for the opportunity to follow my calling. I am grateful for trailblazers. I am grateful for a community that has tough conversations on how to be faithful to the Word of God, which I love. I am grateful for our students and colleagues at Calvin Theological Seminary. Most of all, I am grateful for our Lord Jesus Christ who is always with me.
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