It was the fall of 1984. If the building were still standing, I could show you the exact place. It was a Sunday afternoon and I was home from college for the weekend. I was having lunch at a local restaurant with my Dad after church. For some reason, that was the time I chose to tell him that I was changing my college major. It was not a huge change, but it was, in his opinion, a rather bold change. I was making a switch from Music Education to Church Music. I remember him asking what I was going to do with a degree in church music. I could not be on a church staff or be ordained because I was a woman. Had I really thought this through?
Now, Daddy meant no harm and he was not being discouraging, just practical. It was a bold move on my part and he knew that as well as anyone. I had grown up in the same conservative Southern Baptist church my entire life. I knew women weren’t invited to serve on church staffs, but something I could not explain to my Dad or the countless others that asked me the same question was that I only knew I HAD to do this. God was calling me to something, and I HAD to be obedient to His voice.
I found myself breaking new ground everywhere I went. In every church I served, with the exception of the one I am in now, I was the first woman on staff. I was the first woman to ever serve as a Minister of Music in those churches. It was a learning curve for everyone, including me!! There were folks in those churches who were warm, welcoming and supportive. There were folks in those churches who disapproved and made it their point to tell me often that I was not following God’s will for the church. With each passing year, though, with each church I served, it became a little easier. Less of a novelty and more of an acceptance. I began to meet other women who were serving in ministerial roles and we worked together to help young women understand how to use their gifts and callings, too.
What I didn’t realize during many of those years was that my daughter was watching closely. She was absorbing life as a “minister’s kid” but she was also constantly being surrounded by strong women who were telling her she could be anything she wanted to be. They were encouraging her to set her sights high and never look back, never allow anyone to tell her she wasn’t good enough or smart enough. As I have watched Emily grow, I have recognized the beautiful gifts God has given her. Nothing, though, prepared me for yesterday. She stood in the pulpit of our church and preached her first sermon. At the age of 20, as a junior in college, she is preparing for a life and work in ministry. Her calling? To work with impoverished children. She has already completed two summer internships, one in New York City and one in Washington, DC. This summer will take her to South Africa and a later trip to the Dominican Republic. Her thoughts are turning now to seminary and what is to come. She is remarkable. She is talented. She is beautiful. Yesterday, she boldly stood and preached about the moments where God is with us. She told stories of the children she has met and how they have changed her life.
As she spoke, I could not help but reflect on my own road in ministry. It looks nothing now like it did on that Sunday afternoon 30 years ago, but it has been fulfilling and challenging. I pray that God has been seen in me. I pray, too, that I played a small part in breaking down a few barriers and making the path smooth for my daughter and the young women who will come after us, continuing to use our gifts to serve the Creator of all gifts. Selah.