By Rachel Hill
Until my first New Testament class with Charles Talbert at Baylor University, I was content to think of God as a white-haired old man, so why shouldn’t all the ministers be (old) men, too? Those four years I spent in Tidwell Bible Building on Baylor’s campus gradually opened my eyes to other images of God, and therefore God’s liaisons in the world, so that when I met my first woman pastor, my mind and heart were open to the possibility that women could, and should, step in to their calling to ministry. And, with much fear and trembling, I stepped into the possibility that I could be called to ministry.
The Women Who Paved the WayThat road was paved for me by courageous women like Julie Pennington-Russell, Gail Coulter, and Joy Yee. These giants of the faith, who diligently led (continue to lead) their congregations with boldness and grace, gave me a glimpse of the possibilities that my own calling held. And, when I discovered that my path led to chaplaincy, I found other heroes, as well: chaplains like Peggy Davis Gold and Charla Littel and Jodie Simmons. Women who walked the hallways of Duke Hospital and into the homes of hospice patients, who faced, unblinking, the tragedies there, and recognized God’s hand in these places. These teachers listened to my stories of patients who greeted me with skepticism, the patients who said they “didn’t believe in women preachers,” to which my teachers responded, “What’s to believe? It’s not like you’re a unicorn – you’re standing right there!” With grace and humor, they continued to remind me that the call is not from people, but from God.
Clarifying and Confirming My CallAnd still, though the calling is not from people, God worked through people to clarify and confirm this call. Not only did I receive encouragement from mentors, I also gained confidence from those patients and families who honored me with their stories. These patients walk with me still, even though they may no longer walk this earth. When I introduced myself as the chaplain to one of my youngest patients, she accepted me without question and showed me her Barbie doll-house, handing me a doll and assigning me the role of “big sister.” And even though the brain tumor that kept her in the hospital sometimes caused her to forget which game we were playing, she knew that I was her friend and that I came and played dolls with her, and prayed with her and held her mom’s hand when she was sad.
Another woman I visited had lived her whole life in a small North Carolina town. During the Jim Crow era, she had watched as her brothers were beaten simply for walking on the wrong side of the street. She remembered the first time she tried to vote, and the pride she felt as she placed her ballot in the box, despite the jeers directed at her. She described how she prayed over her sons, placing them “in the Lord’s hands,” trusting that they wouldn’t get stopped by anyone who would seek to harm them just because of the color of their skin. And yet, with all her life experience and tremendous faith, she accepted me as her minister, requesting prayer and communion each time we sat at her kitchen table.
And the retired Church of God minister, who cared faithfully for his wife long after she was able to recognize him, asked me where I was preaching each time I visited, and encouraged me to “keep listening to the Spirit, for this will keep you plugged in to the Source.”
An Alternative ImageI do wonder whether I would have even considered a calling to ministry in my own life it if were not for the women that I watched. These women stood in pulpits and at bedsides, giving me an alternative image of God’s messengers, highlighting the care that a woman called by God can offer to the world.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.