Woman In The Pulpit – Chapter 1

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Have you ever started a new job and were both excited and apprehensive? That’s how I felt when I started my new job as pastor of Hopewell Church. You see, I grew up in Piney Woods and I knew how things worked. But it’s always been my dream to return home. So when presented with the opportunity I let my excitement outweigh anything else. I invite you to come with me and share the thrill I felt as a senior pastor. The following excerpt is from the book Woman In The Pulpit.

Chapter 1

Grace Alexander placed her foot on the brake pedal, slowing the car so she could enjoy the colors of fall. Gold. Scarlet. Burnt Orange. Forest Green. Cocoa Bean. Bright Yellow. Burgundy. A kaleidoscope of vivid colors covered the trees. Every warm hue on the color spectrum was represented. Joy washed over her as the brilliant rays of the sun bathed each leaf and enriched its gloss. Trees lined the winding road majestically, each more breathtaking than the other. Every now and then a breeze rustled the trees and leaves of all colors floated to the ground. This was the part of the drive home that she loved best. When she reached this stretch of road she was almost there.

This time she was coming home to stay.

The silver Toyota Camry had served her well. A high school graduation present from her parents, it had gotten her through college and through three years of studying for her doctoral degree. She planned to keep it in good running condition for another few years.

The back seat was piled with boxes of books and other personal items. The front seat held her Bose music system and her collection of jazz CD’s. When life seemed to overwhelm her, jazz soothed her soul.

When money had been tight she had taken occasional singing gigs in the jazz clubs of Boston. Singing was second nature to her. She grew up singing at every event and every program in town and around the state. Everybody told her she would be a star someday.

But to Grace singing was personal. She did not have a desire to share her talent with the world. She only did it out of necessity. Thankfully those days were behind her. She was coming home to pursue her real dream. A dream she had held since high school.

It all seemed so easy. Too easy perhaps. First college. Next graduate school. Then dream fulfilled. No struggle involved.

She wasn’t complaining. Grace knew she was fortunate to get this job. She had been lucky all her life. Things just seemed to fall into place for her.

She hoped things would fall into place in her new job just as easily. What she was doing did not fit into men’s expectations for women. They were used to seeing a church being led by a man. Would they think she was the wrong vessel to lead them?

Grace shook her head to clear all the cobwebs away. Since when had she been concerned about what other people thought of her? She knew her calling. And she was going to carry it out.

She also knew everything was not going to go smoothly. She was prepared for opposition. She would not be well received in every situation. She knew that. But she hoped everyone would be civil and that they could all respect each other while going about their work.

Men would not be her only problem. There were women who felt the same way. They wanted, rather they needed, to be led by men. As much as they wanted equality on their jobs and in every other aspect of their lives, on Sunday mornings they wanted to see a man in the pulpit.

Grace brought her attention back to her beautiful surroundings. She drank in the lively, vibrant colors of the trees. Nothing was going to mar this sight for her. And negative thoughts would not dampen her enthusiasm for her new job.

She was going home.

Grace put a CD in her car’s music system and sang along with the jazz classic.

“What A Difference A Day Makes.

           Twenty-Four Little Hours…

             Brings The Sun And Flowers

             When it Use To Be Rain.”

She passed a sign:

Welcome To Piney Woods, Tennessee

       Population 27,000

 Grace put her foot to the pedal and accelerated.

***

Grace’s well-manicured hands, adorned with ripe peach fingernail polish, rested easily on the steering wheel. She parked her car in front of Hopewell Church, a large imposing stone structure. The sign on the lawn announced for all to see:

REV. DR. GRACE ALEXANDER

       PASTOR

 She took a moment to savor the feelings rushing through her body. One of the mainline high profile churches had called her to be their pastor. What great luck! A lot of movers and shakers of Piney Woods worshipped at Hopewell. She would be watched by everyone to see how she managed the church. She would have a highly visible platform on which to implement her programs. She had many new ideas she wanted to try out at Hopewell. If they worked she would write books and give seminars so she could help other ministers. In her wildest dreams she never imagined a plum assignment such as this.

She had thought it would take many years of working on the ministerial staffs of other churches before she assumed her first pastorate. She had been offered three such positions on the staffs of prominent churches on the East Coast. When her mother had told her that Hopewell’s pulpit was vacant, she could not resist the impulse to apply.

Rev. Odell Robinson, the former pastor of Hopewell, had been named senior pastor of a mega-church in Memphis. His preaching was legendary. He had made much of his three years in Piney Woods. Hopewell had been his base of operation as he developed a national following. His gift of preaching had taken him all across the country. Grace had even gone to support him when he came to Boston.

When Hopewell’s pulpit committee had called her for an interview, Grace had dropped everything to fly home. The interview had gone well. She knew everyone on the committee personally. Community leaders. Former teachers. Family doctor. They were used to new ideas and new programs. They wanted someone who would continue where Rev. Robinson had left off. Someone who would keep Hopewell on the national stage. They felt Grace was the person to do so.

When the call came announcing their selection, Grace was ecstatic. She had no reason to mull over any other offers. She knew what she wanted. She was going home.

Now she was here. She felt like pinching herself to make sure this was real.

Her first pastorate. Wonderful! Marvelous! Words could not describe her innermost feelings.

She was glad to be home.

***

For more information on the book Woman In The Pulpit and the story of my first year as pastor of Hopewell Church visit: Woman In The Pulpit

 

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3 Things To Do When You Become Pastor Of Your First Church

 

Have you been named pastor of your first church and you don’t know where to start? Are you wondering if the congregation will accept a woman as pastor? Are you trying to read up on what the pastor of a church should do?

You have come to the right place. I’m going to show you three things to do that will get your pastorate off to a great start. Forging new church relationships can be dicey. There is pressure to align with one group over another. As a new pastor everyone will be vying for your attention. There are many people who want their egos massaged. From the moment you are named pastor you will receive an abundance of advice from those inside your new church as well as from those outside of it. In fact you will receive so much free advice you won’t know what to do first.

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However, if you will concentrate on the following three things, you will be well on your way to making your first year as pastor a success.

  1. Be Real – Display who you really are. Let your real personality shine through. You may have thoughts of what a pastor should act like. Someone who is somber. A serious person whose every sentence has a religious tone. Remember – You are now the pastor. If you weren’t somber acting before you got the church, don’t change your personality and be somber now. If you like to laugh and have never met a stranger, keep doing what you are doing. Don’t be a phony. Be your real self.
  2. Be Respectful – Even if your views clash with board members, don’t alienate people. State your opinions without being angry. Don’t talk down to your parishioners. Do not be a dictator. Definitely don’t fuss at them and throw tantrums. You can disagree without being disagreeable. As women we are conciliators. If you have opposing viewpoints, suggest a compromise. Or try a suggestion for a month or two. If it doesn’t achieve the desired result, then implement another suggestion. You will have shown that you are willing to work with parishioners who have different views than you. Remember – You are now the pastor. You set the tone of how you will be treated. You set the tone of how you will be spoken to. You set the tone during your first few months of how the remainder of your pastorate will go. Always lead from the higher ground.
  3. Be Joyful – You have been given an opportunity that many want but few receive – Your Own Church. Display your joy and happiness. Let people see that you are glad to be pastor of your church. You don’t have to go around telling everyone that you are glad to be there. Show it in your actions and attitudes. Every time you step inside the door of the church try to remember the joy you felt when you first learned that you were selected as pastor. Your joy will be contagious. Go out of your way to spread joy as you get to know your parishioners. Display real interest in their joys and sorrows. If you want someone to do something, just ask. Keep in mind that the majority of your parishioners want you to succeed. They are rooting for you. And you, in turn, should root for them. Share great news about them. Don’t play favorites. You are pastor of the entire congregation.

Getting your first church is an exciting time. Everything you have worked for has come to pass. Your first months will set the tone of your pastorate. As you go about building relationships, let your parishioners see the real you. Talk to them respectfully and show that you value their opinions. Be enthusiastic and joyful about what you are called to do. Displaying these qualities will cause your parishioners to reward you with love, loyalty, and admiration.

Afraid To Speak Out

Today we have a guest post by a young minister who wishes to remain anonymous.

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I wrote a piece for this blog but tore it up. I am afraid to publish it.

I am a young woman in the pulpit. I have had experiences similar to the ones in the Woman In The Pulpit novel. It is so aptly named. I applaud those who are brave enough to speak out. But I’m afraid to tell my story. At least, I’m afraid to have my name attached to it.

I hold an entry-level position on the staff of a church. I am interviewing for a more senior level position at other churches.

I don’t want anything to interfere with me getting another position so I can’t let my name be associated with anything.  Even if what I have to say is true.

I can’t tell how my pastor hollers at me and makes me feel like nothing. I’m afraid to tell him that I don’t deserve such treatment.

I can’t tell how others opinions about me are believed and acted upon. Yet no one bothers to speak to me personally to get my side in the matter. I’m afraid to rock the boat, even though it seems like it is capsizing.

I can’t tell about the untrue rumors that have been started about me. I’m afraid so I hang my head in shame. My friends tell me that I’m acting as if they are true. They urge me to speak up for myself. But I just can’t. I’m afraid.

Sometimes I sit and wonder what I have done wrong. I accepted my calling into the ministry. After college I went to seminary to get my credentials. I am as well prepared or more so than most.

I hate having to prove myself over and over again.

I’ve been in this entry-level position 3 years. I haven’t been ordained. Yet male seminary students join the church and are ordained within 6 months. When I ask about my ordination I’m told that I have more to learn and it’s coming soon. I accept that answer because I’m afraid to challenge it. I don’t want to get a bad reputation.

I’ve shared my experience with a professor at my seminary. She has put me in touch with some female pastors. I am hoping to join one of their staffs.

I suppose nothing will change as long as I’m afraid to speak out. I wasn’t always like this. I started out at this church so excited about being on staff. But I have been beat down verbally so much that I don’t know what to do.

I am well steeped in scripture.

I know that no weapon formed against me will prosper. But I’m afraid.

I know that God makes a way out of no way. But I’m still afraid.

I know that God has not given us a spirit of fear. But I’m so afraid.

Afraid to speak out.

Afraid to tell my story.

Afraid someone will identify me.

Until I get into a more supportive environment and find my voice, I will remain afraid.

Woman In The Pulpit – My Story

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My first year as a pastor was unbelievable!  So I sat down with author Margaree Mitchell to tell my story. Woman In The Pulpit covers my first year as pastor of Hopewell Church. It was a year filled with challenges but there were also joyous moments. I wanted to implement the things I had learned in seminary.  I thought I might encounter opposition at some point.  But it never occurred to me that the all-male Ministerial Alliance would line up against me and do everything in their power to run me out-of-town.

Woman In The Pulpit is available wherever eBooks are sold.

First Staff Position

 

Today we have a guest post by Rev. Olivia Addison.  She lives in Atlanta and talks about her experiences on the staff of a church.

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I am Rev. Olivia Addison.  I attend seminary in Atlanta and I am a full-time staff member of a church. My official title is Special Assistant to the Pastor.  My pastor does not have a problem working with female ministers.  In fact, it was the Assistant Pastor, who was female, who recommended me for this position.  I had been helping her with her duties whenever she needed assistance.  She was going to get married and leave the state.  The pastor was also reorganizing the staff.  And this new position was added.

When the Assistant Pastor told me that she had recommended me for this position I couldn’t believe it. First I was shocked and surprised.  But as I thought about it, I was honored that she thought so well of me.  I had only been at the church for about 2 years.  But I was also apprehensive because I didn’t know what would be expected of me.

When the pastor offered me this position I accepted.  A couple of years ago I had left my job because I had been injured.  I had recuperated and was ready to start a new job.  So this position came along at the right time.

My duties are to attend functions that the pastor is not able to attend because of other commitments; attend ministerial alliance meetings that he is unable to attend; and be the go-to person for bereaved families in the church.

I am always busy.  This position requires lots of work. I have attended functions with the governor and also the mayor in my official capacity.  Sometimes I represent my pastor at meetings with other clergy.  I visit bereaved families, pray with them, see what assistance they need, approve funeral programs held at my church, and whatever else is needed.

I haven’t run into much prejudice against female ministers except on the ministerial staff of my church.  There are about 10 associate ministers.  Some have been at the church much longer than I have.  So I have heard whispering about why I was selected and not them.  This is especially true for other female ministers at the church.  I mostly ignore the whispering and remain professional as I carry out my duties.

I had already developed a great relationship with the congregation before I started this position.  Whenever something needed to be done I did it.  If the kitchen staff is shorthanded I pitch in to help.  The pastor has often told me I should let others do this, but that’s the kind of person I am.  I help out wherever needed.  So I think my willingness to think that no job was beneath me has helped me form good relationships within the church family.

One incident of prejudice against female ministers has come from another pastor.  My pastor was asked to make remarks at a funeral.  He couldn’t attend so he sent me instead.  When I arrived I discovered that there were 2 other female ministers who were to speak on the program.  We were not allowed in the pulpit.  We had to sit on the front row and speak from the floor.  After we spoke a male minister who had arrived late also made his remarks from the floor.  He was invited into the pulpit after his remarks.   He declined.  Afterwards he told me that he declined because the same invitation was not extended to us (the female ministers).  I appreciated his candor and his simple act of protest.

I enjoy working in my position.  I wouldn’t call it a job.  I call it being a servant.  I am assisting my pastor and also the members of my congregation.

My advice to female ministers is to stay humble, ask God to lead you and guide you in every decision, know how to relate to people, and keep everything spiritually based.  Doing these things will go a long way in helping you carry out your calling.

 

First Appointment

Today we have a guest post by Rev. Dr. Velecia James of Atlanta, Georgia.  She talks about her first church assignment and the challenges she faced during that time.

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I am Rev. Dr. Velecia James.  I went to seminary in Atlanta.  I am a Methodist.  In my denomination we are appointed to churches where we serve for 2-4 years and then move on to another appointment.

Needless to say, I was excited about my upcoming appointment.   I was anxious to begin full-time ministry.  Plus I would get to quit my job.  You see, I was satisfied in my job but I was more excited about the possibility of being a full-time pastor.

So I waited in great anticipation for my appointment letter to arrive.  Well the day came!  The letter arrived.  My heart was beating in anticipation of where I was going as I held the letter in my hand.  I ripped open the envelope.

And I just stared at my assignment.

I couldn’t believe it!  My joy was gone.  Instead I immediately felt a great burden.  I kept staring at the letter to make sure I was reading it right.

I had been assigned to 3 rural churches in Georgia.  The larger church had service every Sunday.  Another church had service every 1st and 3rd Sunday.  And the other church had service on the 2nd and 4th Sunday.  I was charged with growing the churches by developing programs and building up the membership. I neglected to say that the churches who only met twice a month had about 25 members each.

The biggest punch in the gut was I had to keep my full-time job because combined the 3 churches could not pay the salary I was due as a pastor with an advanced degree.

And on top of all this, it was already a taxing time for me because my mother was sick and in the hospital.

As my assignment started I went from work and church duties every evening straight to the hospital where I stayed late into the night.  Saying I was stressed is an understatement.  I was on the go so much that I couldn’t think straight.  And each Sunday I tried to pastor 2 churches.  The smaller church would meet from 8:30 am – 10:30 am.  Then I would rush to the church which met every Sunday to be there by 11:00 o’clock when service started.

There was no ME time.  I was being pulled here and there by 3 different congregations, visiting members who were sick, performing weddings, presiding over funerals, being present for special programs, in addition to being involved with the business and day-to-day running of the churches.  Plus I worked full-time.  And I was taking care of my mother.

At the time I was appointed to the 3 churches it was clear that women in the pulpit were not wanted.  It was hard for a woman if she wasn’t strong.  The sad thing is that it was the women in the congregation who didn’t want a woman pastor.  I found that men were more accepting of me than the women.

It is challenging to be a pastor.  And triple challenging to be a female pastor.  Being pastor of a church entails more than preaching.  It is demanding and requires lots of time.   Relationships with parishioners have to be developed.  Time has to be taken to listen to people and their problems.

A lot went through my mind when I was pastoring 3 churches.  I had to get to know the leadership and members of 3 different congregations.  There was not a whole lot of time to spend with either church.

The burden that I felt can best be described as constantly wondering, ‘How am I going to find time to do what needs to be done?’

At another time, if the circumstances had been different, and I only had to focus on pastoring these 3 churches maybe my excitement level would have been higher.

Several people felt that I was assigned 3 churches in order for me to quit.  But I was strong.  I determined in my heart that nothing would drive me from what I was called to do.

So I got through it!

First Pastorate

The call came unexpectedly.  The voice on the other end of the telephone informed me that I had been elected pastor of Hopewell Church in my hometown.

I had just finished seminary in Boston and I had been offered three full-time positions on staffs of large churches in the area.  If I accepted one of those positions I would get lots of experience in full-time ministry.    These were highly sought after positions.  My classmates were envious of the choices I had.  Some of them only had one offer.  Still others had none.  However, most of my classmates didn’t want to pursue full-time ministry.  They had other callings on their lives:  teaching, consulting, writing, etc.  Since many of my classmates were older with families and had other jobs before attending seminary, several returned to previous employers, not wanting to start over in full-time ministry.

So while I was trying to decide which high-profile staff position to take, I got offered the highest position of all:  my own church.  Once the call came there was no more debating what I should do.  I was definitely going home!

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It never occurred to me that I would be the first female pastor in town. I was just excited about getting the opportunity to implement some of the things I had learned in seminary.

Of course I knew there would be a learning period of settling in and getting my bearings.  But I figured it would be short because I had the best teacher of all, my dad.  While I was growing up he had been pastor of Greenwood Church in my hometown.  He held that position for 20 years, until he died.  From following him around I knew there would be ups and downs.

But none of that crossed my mind that day.  Only joy flowed through me.  I felt on top of the world.

The daunting responsibility and the enormous weight that would be on my shoulders only received a fleeting thought.  I put all of that on the back burner.

I was going home!  This had been my dream since I was a little girl.  To be just like my daddy and follow in his footsteps with a church of my own.

That day I learned that dreams really do come true!

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