Each Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry features its blog series, THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE and introduces you to an amazing woman minister. This week we are proud to introduce Tonya Easterly Vickery, a member of Baptist Women in Ministry’s Leadership Team.
Tonya, tell us about your current ministry?
I serve as co-pastor of Cullowhee Baptist Church in Western North Carolina with my husband, Jeffrey. We have been at Cullowhee for almost thirteen years! We share the one position of pastor, which means we split the salary, the duties, and the preaching responsibilities.
Where and how have you served in the past?
Before coming to Cullowhee Baptist, Jeffrey and I served for five years as co-associate pastors of a mainline Protestant ecumenical church in a lake community outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. We were in charge of discipleship, outreach, and the youth ministry—and other duties as assigned by the senior minister. In that church, we served with an outstanding Methodist pastor, Russ Brown, who was nearing retirement. He gave us lots to do, and we learned there how to share a ministry position as a married couple. Russ intentionally led the church to hire a Baptist woman as their associate pastor, because he saw that Baptist churches were not giving women opportunities to preach and lead. That experience provided us with a wonderful chance to learn how to be a pastor without all the responsibilities of being the pastor.
What have been some of your “bumps in the road” as a woman minister?
There are “bumps in the road” for all women who serve in leadership roles and that includes women ministers in the church. Serving in the mainline Protestant ecumenical church, I was spoiled by not having to prove myself as a minister. When I reentered the Baptist world, however, I had to break out the “prove myself” skills all over again.
To me, the biggest “bump” for all women ministers is that we are not always heard. When people are not accustomed to women ministers and when others are decidedly against women serving as preachers, they have a hard time believing and accepting us. There have been times when I have not been given access to a church member in ICU. There have been times when I have had difficulty parking in the clergy parking spots, even in major urban hospitals. There was that time at a church softball league game when a pastor was sought out to pray before the game. I offered to say the opening prayer, and the umpire asked if there was anyone else who could lead in prayer. There was also the time when the family of a church member did not include me in the funeral service. That was hard! But these are all just minor bumps. When the wider Christian community shuns my calling, I really do not take it personally. I find it rather sad that they cannot embrace another worker in the field just because of my gender.
Who was the first woman minister you remember meeting? Who was the first woman you heard preach?
In my junior year of high school, the mother of a schoolmate became a Presbyterian pastor and began serving in Townville, South Carolina. The idea of a woman preaching and pastoring was amazing to me. I remember thinking how courageous and how bold that mama was but also how bold that church was. But I did not hear a woman preach until 1992 when I was in seminary. There I heard Pamela Scalise, Molly Marshall, Anne Davis, and Katherine Chapman all preach, but I really can’t remember who was the first. Although I had never heard a woman preach until then, the gender of a preacher did not concern me. What mattered more to me was what someone had to say about God when they opened up God’s word and proclaimed.
What advice would you give to a teenage girl who might be discerning a call to ministry?
Read your Bible every day. Pray at least every morning and every evening. Find a church family who is open to women in ministry. Cultivate friendships with people your age who are strong Christians and who are interested in being faithful to God. Listen, watch, learn, and just be open to God’s Spirit. Embrace every opportunity before you as a chance to learn something new about God, new about your relationship with God, and new about yourself as you prepare to serve God. When we remain faithful in prayer, talking out our lives with God, listening to the Spirit, God will lead and guide. My life does not look anything like what I imagined it would be when I was a teenager. I was called to ministry when I was in sixth grade, but I had no idea what that ministry setting would look like. So I just took every opportunity I had to grow stronger in my faith and my walk with God so that at any and every moment I would be ready to answer the call of God to serve wherever God might place me and the people of God might welcome me.