We’d never had a woman pastor before.
When the United Methodist Church in my small, rural, mostly Mennonite town found out that the Bishop assigned us a female pastor, the conversation around town was in full force.
I remember one of my friend’s mom’s remarking, “I heard your church was getting a woman pastor, and she is divorced! The only thing more crazy would be if she was gay.” That conversation stung, but I didn’t know then that the pain had a name called shame.
My friends’ parents’ comments were confirming all my fears. I was worried about what people would think, how this woman pastor might lead, and if church would be different than the place that I loved. I probably always knew that it was possible for women to be pastors, but I never expected one to be mine.
I was a church nerd. I was in Sunday School, Wednesday Night youth, and Sunday worship every week. I loved it. I was coming home to my faith in middle school and something was welling up in me that I had not experienced before in my relationship with that church I knew so well. I was developing relationships with adults in my congregation who checked in on me and cared for me, nurturing me in my faith. I went through confirmation and was a clear leader in the middle school youth group. So as I entered high school, I was excited to see where this awakened faith would take me.
And then we were assigned a woman pastor.
I remember sitting in worship her first Sunday with such a tension in my heart that I could barely make it through the whole service. I went home and cried. I missed church the way it was. I missed being at a church that my friends’ parents didn’t talk about with hushed, gossipy whispers. I missed being a part of a church that was predictable, and I was quite certain that day when I was sitting in my tears that women shouldn’t be pastors.
And then I got to know Pastor Nancy. And she taught me to love liturgy and ask good questions. She showed me what it means to value children in worship and ask youth to lead rather than to only be led. She taught me about courage and confidence and conviction.
My friends and I would sit and ask her questions a lot. I remember asking, “Pastor Nancy, what’s it like to be a female pastor?”
She replied, “You want to know what it’s like to be a pastor?”
I said, “No. What is it like to be a woman pastor?”
She answered, “Well, I’ve never been a male pastor, so for me that’s just like asking me ‘what it’s like to be a pastor?’ I’m happy to answer that.”
I laughed at her response. I think it was the chuckle of a budding feminist.
Throughout high school, I continued to grow in my love for the church and my leadership there. I asked Pastor Nancy lots of questions and participated faithfully in all the ministries of the church. When my friends or friends’ parents asked about what it was like to have a woman pastor, I would often spout back something like, “It’s like having a pastor…who happens to be a woman.”
I felt pride in having a “woman pastor.” I even dressed up like her for Halloween one year.
But I never once imagined myself as a pastor one day.I never once dreamed that ten years later I would walk into a church of my own as their first full-time “woman pastor.”
But that’s exactly what happened.
I discerned a call to ministry in college, went to divinity school that could not be more different than my small, Mennonite hometown, and I came back to Kansas to be assigned as a pastor in the Great Plains Annual Conference in the United Methodist Church.
When the district superintendent told me that I would be the first female lead pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Winfield, KS, I immediately flashed back with a smile to those tears I had as a high school student after Pastor Nancy’s first Sunday when I was convinced that women shouldn’t be pastors.
Now, my tears have been replaced with hope and a heart full of God’s abundant love and unending gratitude for the women on whose shoulders I stand.
Each Sunday, I put on my robe and my stole, and I preach like the woman pastor I am. I hold the hand of people in the hospital and pray like the woman pastor I am. I sit on the floor with children and listen deeply to their questions like the woman pastor I am.
But today, little girls don’t ask, “Pastor Lora, what’s it like to be a woman pastor?”
Instead, they hand me pictures of me that they draw during worship—my long, flowing robe and big, curly hair make me look like a princess in their pictures. And I love it.
Instead of having a hard time imaging themselves as a pastor one day, parents in my church tell me stories of catching their little girls playing baptism in the bathtub and preaching sermons about God’s love and dinosaurs to their stuffed animals.
Instead of ever feeling shame for having a pastor who is a woman, they will grow up a step closer to a world where a “woman pastor” doesn’t seem as appalling as my friends’ parents thought. And perhaps one day being divorced or gay won’t be so atrocious either.
I am a woman. I am a pastor. And I am so grateful to know that there are little girls who God is already calling to serve in such a role at this. May it be so and may it be soon.
- Rev. Lora L. Andrews
Rev. Lora Andrews serves as pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Winfield, KS. She grew up in Hillsboro, KS and attended Kansas State University where she discerned a call to ministry while involved at K-State Wesley, the United Methodist Campus Ministry at K-State. Lora attended seminary at Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville, TN where she served as a Turner Scholar at East End United Methodist Church. She was appointed to Grace UMC right after seminary and ordained in June 2016. Lora has a passion for inter-generational relationships, strong worship, social justice, discipleship, and how we share God’s love, the grace of Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit on campus, in our community, and in our world.