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Karen Bates ~What We’re Missing when Multiethnic Women Are Absent from Pastoral Staffs

multiethnic women

I recently participated in an online roundtable about multiethnic women in ministry. Most of the women were connected to the Wesleyan Church, of which I am a member.

The conversation reminded me that I am not alone on the journey, and that while strides have been made, there are still many miles to go. Many of the women who shared their stories have parallels to my story. I could relate to the joys — and struggles — of saying yes to God’s call but hearing “no” when it came to fulfilling it. In the end, the focus was really on women in ministry.

Here are my three main takeaways:

*God is inclusive — God doesn’t exclude women from ministry. The identity of women called to ministry is not found in the people we are called to serve, but in the God who called us. “No” from people does not negate your “yes” or God’s call. Limits that people try to put on women do not change the identity God has given them as ministers of the Gospel. No matter what people do to limit her, God will continue to bring her back to her identity in him and provide opportunities for ministry.

*Not everybody has the same excitement about women in ministry, but we are slowly inching that way. While the rhetoric and the reality are at different levels in the church, some leaders and congregations have acknowledged that God does call women. They welcome women to join with them, not because of their gender, but because they are called — period. However, there still seems to be a disconnect — most notably among congregations and local boards of administration.

*Many women find joy in discovering their place to work and serve. When a woman is affirmed by a congregation and those she works with on every level of ministry, it allows her to thrive. That affirmation is rooted in genuine friendships where the gifts and skills with which God has equipped each woman are acknowledged and appreciated. Some women work alone; others work alongside their spouses, but all are trying to get to the place where they fit so they can thrive.

Sometimes it is a struggle to find a place to belong. And for a woman of color, there are unique challenges because of her skin color.

My journey has been a long one. I have heard “no” more than “yes” and faced rejection for jobs that I was more than qualified for. Most times, there are no replies to my applications or inquiries. I have also faced a backlash when I have talked about my journey — and had to learn that some people don’t like you to talk publicly about the less flattering things that have happened.  However, you can’t see what is in the dark unless you shed light on it and you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge. One pastoral position I applied for yielded a call from a board member who asked me if I knew I was a black woman.  “We aren’t looking for a woman, and certainly not a black woman,” the caller said. I am not sure how I was supposed to know that, especially since that information wasn’t in the job announcement.

These days, I serve as a volunteer assistant pastor at a church where I am welcomed and affirmed. I have a pastor who is not threatened by me and recognizes that I have gifts that are important to the Body of Christ. I am called to full-time vocational ministry and I hope that door will open.

What I pray for my sisters as we work together in different places towards acceptance,  affirmation and a place to belong, is that each of us will find people to keep us encouraged. I pray that each of us will find churches willing to take a chance. I pray that each of us will find leaders who push back against the status quo.

I also pray that God will continue to give us courage as we live into the calling God has placed on our lives.