Tuesday, February 26, 2013

No More Hiding Behind My Uterus

I've made the joke plenty of times, but never without squirming over the inaccuracy of it: 

"I went to Bible college to marry a pastor."

You see, it's true, but it is also not true. 



I don't exactly know how to explain this. 

One group of my friends can't imagine that somebody can't do a job based solely on the fact that she is a woman. They find the idea shocking and archaic and also rather sad.  

The other group of my friends believe that it doesn't matter what the culture may say, women are limited in what they are allowed to do because of what the Bible says.  They don't have anything against women, they just think that God wants women to take a back seat to the leadership of men.  

For all of my formative years, I absorbed the idea that the Bible "clearly" teaches that women cannot lead men. They cannot pastor, shepherd or teach.  They should not take leadership in their own homes, but rather should do whatever is necessary to make their husband the leader of their home. They must be submissive to their husband's authority over them. I never questioned this teaching.  My spunky attitude was always present, but I was fenced in by the idea that my gender was limited as my punishment for being a daughter of Eve. 

So I grew up, always receptive to the Bible. Always interested in theology. Always a student of Biblical history. Always a participant in church and its ministries. My reasons for involvement were many, but one of them was that it came naturally to me. 

So after 13 years of Biblical training, I went on to Bible college for four more years. And I met a pastor. And I married him. 

Our marriage is an equal place. I spent more than 18 years of my life believing I had to limit myself because I was a girl. It has taken nearly that many years of living with someone who believes in equality to errode those mental limitations.  Years of Saturdays that found him folding laundry and me wielding power tools. Years of putting our heads together and coming up with parenting strategies. Years of throwing the budget back and forth like a grenade before finally coming up with a way of spending money that works equally for both of us.   Our marriage doesn't much resemble the notion I had early on of shoving him forward and telling him it was God's plan for him to "be the spiritual leader" (i.e. make all the decisions and then take all the blame if they went wrong.) Thankfully, he pushed back on that idea and helped us create something that more closely resembles the loving MUTUAL submission that the Bible actually describes.  

But I maintained my position of standing behind him instead of beside him when it came to church.  At our first church, we were a team. It was a survival thing. And it was a good instinct. We did everything together.  But at our second church, we were kindly told "Oh, we don't want a two-for-one deal. We are only hiring Robb for this position. We don't expect Vanessa to do anything."   They meant to be kind and respectful.  But those were some of the loneliest years of my life.   I had a newborn, I was in a different regional culture of the country, and I was shut out of the only thing I knew how to do or cared about doing. So I did it anyway, as best as I could.   Then came another baby and another ministry and I put on an apron and became everything I envisioned the perfect pastor's wife to be. Keep the children quiet in church, do the work of the deaconess board, be the perfect hostess, play the piano.  I should have been in my element. I should have been perfectly happy. I thought I was. I thought I was doing what I was meant to do. 

Fast forward 8 years and find us sitting in our bed at 12:30 a.m. having an enormous fight: because one of us has been struggling along, feeling alone and unsupported. And one of us is utterly exhausted by trying to make her business successful so she can support him. Like two magnets turned the wrong direction, we are repelling one another. He is trying to be so supportive of her business and she is trying to be so supportive of his ministry. And they are failing to connect. Hours of arguing have them weary and worn down, and the tension finds a weak spot and something comes crashing down. 

It is a glass ceiling. 

When all the pieces come crashing down, you see them so clearly for what they are. You have the part where he so strongly believes in equality. The part where he has a "day job" that he has excelled in. The part where he needs help meeting the needs he clearly sees at church. The part where she loves the work of ministry and has the time, training and heart to do it. The part where she is wired to help, support and make things happen. 

You see, I went to Bible college to marry a pastor because that was the closest way I could get to being a pastor within the confines of fundamentalism

That's why it's never quite described me to say I am "The Preacher's Wife."  It's never quite been accurate to say I'm not defined by his job.  My friends have always tried to liberate me from the false confines of what other people think a pastor's wife should be.  Maybe what I needed was for them to liberate me from the false confines of what I thought a pastor had to be....

namely...

a man.  

Missionaries have it so easy. In Fundamentalist churches, a married couple that goes to a foreign country are both missionaries, not just the husband. Or a single woman can be a missionary.  That's acceptable terminolgy.  Church planters get a pass too. But eight years in, you have more of a church than a church plant.  And that church doesn't need a planter anymore. It needs pastors. 

So I said it out loud to Robb. "What about us being co-pastors?"  He wrinkled his nose...

"Eww. I've always thought couples that co-pastor are a little weird." 

I laughed and countered "Why not? We co-parent."

To which he replied, "You are absolutely right."

I'm not settled on the terminology. If somebody called me Pastor Vanessa, I'd probably freak out. Or cringe. Like my husband does when someone calls him Pastor Robb. Because it's not about having a title or a position.  

I can no longer hide behind my gender as an excuse to NOT do things I know how to do, want to do, and in fact, am created to do.




Meeting with people. 
Giving announcements.  
Writing and giving the Ash Wednesday homily.  
Listening to people's needs. 
Studying passages of scripture and sharing what I'm learning from it.
Praying for people.  
Getting the building ready for people to worship and meet together. 
Reading and learning.

These the the things that have filled my time in the last month. These are the things that I think about the most. This is the kind of work that I am "wired" to do.  Does that make me a pastor? If a man made this list about himself, it would be an easy question to answer.  

Does the Bible really teach that I cannot do these things?  


7 comments:

natalie said...

a little freak out is happening over here. vanessa, you hit the nail on the head! loving this & sharing it with everyone i know. so thankful to know you, girl.

Jacqueline Wolven said...

Ok, the atheist in the room will tell you that yes, the bible does say that. It says that you have to wait till you get home to have your husband explain things to you. it says all kinds of weird things about women's roles. BUT and here is the big BUT - that was a LONG time a go and we have progressed as people, as humans. We see differently now. If you are called to share your life in this way I say do it. Heck, I bet you eat shrimp. Love to you Pastor Vanessa.

Vanessa said...

I love the irony that my atheist friends are so quick to affirm me, even when they don't believe in Christianity : )

It's a big, beautiful world!

Anonymous said...

I love what you wrote here. Women who have abilities in leadership and administration are so often misunderstood in ministry settings or with others...both men and women...who do not have nor appreciate those abilities! Praise God that He gave you (and me) a husband who sees this clearly!

Ron Mattocks said...

Wow! We know tons of women pastors. CBCA is spinning in the grave like a rotisserie chicken going 100mph.

Anonymous said...

One of the things my husband has told people for years is that I score higher in shepherding people on those wacky spiritual gift inventories than he does... It freaks people out. Robb will tell you I have more giftedness than he does for pastoring. I do believe that being a pastor is a specific role reserved for men not because of women's inferiority or inability, cultural tolerance or intolerance, but because I honestly believe its the instruction given to the church. I went to the same Bible college so you know why...I will not embellish. That being said... You don't have to be a pastor to do any of those things in life, home or church. Godly women cannot hole themselves up in their homes or cower in their husbands shadows... I find it insulting when others try to enforce that and I feel sad when women think that's really what God wants for them. Ladies, you have abilities...use them, you have gifts...bless others with those, you have insights, ideas, brilliant thoughts...share them! Employ them! In doing so you will bless your husband, children and community. Today, my husband came home and stayed with the kids and new puppy, cooked dinner and got them ready to leave for piano all while I went to counsel a young lady and her parents instead of him..."The Pastor". This wasn't the first time my husband has supported me by "swapping responsibilities" so that I do the things that I am capable of for the Glory of God. I expect God to bring healing and restoration in this home... And it has nothing to do with this worn out uterus.

Vanessa said...

Hey Amy : )
I read your post last night and felt like I was tracking. And then, in the shower this morning, I had an "aha moment." I want to reply, but I think it would make more sense to make it a separate post...Gonna take some time to think it through...