As one of the pastors of a small progressive Baptist church in Atlanta there is hardly a dull moment, but I must admit that I expected my 10:30 a.m. appointment with the copier salesperson on Tuesday to be just that, dull and uneventful. The part of our meeting that pertained to the copier was dull and uneventful, but I noticed a hesitation in ending our conversation. She stopped and started a sentence a few times searching for the right words, like an artist reaching for the perfect shade of green, until she finally just gave up and said, “Can I just tell you something? I am just shocked to find a female pastor here. Do you go by Pastor Lyon or Rev. Lyon.”

“I mostly go by Jen, but I am ordained and a pastor, so the others work too.”

“I have never met a Baptist pastor who is female,” she said.

“I understand that. It is not very common, especially in the South,” I said.

“Did you always want to do this?” she asked, “I mean, no offense, but why would you want to be a part of something that doesn’t want you?”

Her question has haunted me this last week. I have answered many questions about the intersection of my calling and my gender, but I have never been questioned exactly in that way. I was reminded of the end of the book of Genesis when Joseph confronts his brothers who valued him so little that they literally forced his removal from their family by selling him in slavery. When they finally see each other face to face and the power dynamic has shifted in Joseph’s direction, he says to them:

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20, RSV)

It is true, there have been and continue to be many voices who fervently speak out against women in pastoral leadership. I have personally been told by well meaning “brothers (and sisters) in Christ” that I am wrong, that in fact I am actively defying God and cannot be apart of their “church family.”

And I am left again with that question posed by the sage copier salesperson. Why would I want to be a part of something that doesn’t want me?

I choose to follow God’s call in my life because Joseph’s words in Genesis 50 are true for me as well. What others mean for evil, God means for good. The congregation I am a part of is full of folks others have left behind or pushed out and those who stand in allegiance with them. I cannot count the number of conversations I have had with people in our congregation recounting how someone has told them they can’t be fully a part of church because of one thing or another, and I can say, “yep, me too.” It is in those moments that I know the answer to the question, because what I have experienced as rejection, the creative Spirit of God turns into inclusivity. And that is the life giving work of God. I will always choose to be a part of that life giving work.

My prayer for my sisters in ministry and all those who hear words of hate from the mouths of people of faith, is to remember that what some mean for evil, God means for good.

Jen Lyon is pastor of congregational leadership at Park Avenue Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.