*I keep imagining the conversation in my head:
Me (introducing myself to the conservative Complementarian minister of the church): so yes, I’m really looking forward to serving in this church. I’m quite gifted in teaching, preaching, service leading, leading prayer, mentoring etc. So if you ever need a woman to preach, I’d love to (I paste a smile on my face).
CCM: ohhh. Hah hah. Hah. Yes, well, excellent, that’s great (thinking: ok, keep this woman away from the young people and don’t let her lead a bible study).
The thing about choosing a new church in a new town is that the recommendations most of my friends make are for conservative complementarian churches. They usually make this recommendation because they, and I, want me to go to a church that preaches Jesus as Lord. The unfortunate baggage however that usually accompanies these churches is that women’s gifts and ministries outside of “the home” are treated with contempt. At a practical level, even if spoken about differently. As a less-conservative complementarian who constantly thinks about becoming egalitarian instead, this is pretty difficult for me.
The reason I can imagine the above conversation is because those things have already been said about me and to me. And about my friends, often to me, by a person who clearly doesn’t know me very well because they’ve assumed I will join them in their perspective that a female happy to preach to mixed congregations is “dangerous”.
And I’ve tried. I’ve been patient. For 35 years. So I’ve given it a red-hot go. Staying in and ministering in churches that mostly only have women visible from the front if they’re leading singing, and some that don’t even allow that.
It’s not all been stifling. I’ve also been in churches that have allowed and sometimes encouraged me to lead services, lead prayer, as well as co-lead mixed Bible study groups and occasionally preach to small mixed congregations. Especially my most recent home church in Sydney – while I have still experienced very real struggles there with the role of women in parish, I was encouraged to do far more there than in any other churches I’ve been a part of. And I’m thankful for that. In fact, every task on my list above were open to me at NEAC, the only time for me that whole list has been in the mix.
There’ve been glimpses, gasps of fresh air before I’m submerged again, drowned, in a church culture that often doesn’t do a good job of encouraging any lay persons’ gifts, but especially not women’s. Even when I’m experiencing something positive in my own church, there are reminders of hurt and dissatisfaction among my friends and wider circle.
But it’s hard. It’s really hard. Feeling invisible, being actively discouraged from using your gifts, feeling dangerous and naughty for something that is so secondary to the core of the gospel. Contemplating that prospect is tough.
And coming out here, I’ve been trying to keep in mind that no church is perfect, so I won’t find perfection, and that most of the local churches are conservative complementarian so I better just get used to it again.
But when a friend remarked recently that she doesn’t think I should choose her church because I’d struggle with the women thing, it unlocked something in me. It unlocked the frustration and hurt that I usually keep suppressed and was pre-suppressing to be able to integrate into a church in my new town.
Now, I may have shot myself in the foot here (a not infrequent occurrence for me), because while all this has prompted me to check out the less conservative churches, I may find that none of them preach Christ and so my only choice is to go to one of the churches I’m now expressing hurt and frustration with.
But hey, it’s not like this is a secret part of me. And I certainly don’t think it needs to be. My position is entirely Biblical, and held by many many other dedicated followers of Jesus. It is secondary to the creedal truths passed down to us in the church and therefore secondary to the core of the gospel. That’s why I can put up with being drowned at church, because I have to keep telling myself it’s a secondary issue. But it’s also why I’ve now quite firmly decided to look elsewhere first.
I don’t think I’m ready to sign up for another 20 years of discouragement.
*updated to make clearer that I’m not primarily talking about the church I’ve just left in Sydney when I describe the sense of drowning. I was given many opportunities there that I’ve not been given elsewhere. And the same for other women in that church as well. I of course still wasn’t perfectly happy – but just like there are no perfect churches, there are no perfect people. And I’m one of them.