But it is true. I have never been ordained. It is a long story (I am fifty-two-years old, trust me, it is a long story), but the short version is this: I have long had a strong sense of calling, one that I have spent forty years exploring. I have filled multiple ministry roles, including serving on church staffs, teaching in two seminaries, and working for non-profit organizations. I have preached in scores of churches (mostly Baptist), officiated at weddings and funerals, and planned and led worship and communion.
Through all those years and experiences ordination never happened for me. My own theology, polity, and strong commitment to equality in Baptist life were contributing factors to my not being ordained, but location, timing, and closed doors also prevented ordination from naturally unfolding for me.
Growing up a Southern Baptist girl in Texas in the 1970s meant that I had no awareness that ordination would be possible. Actually, I had no awareness that ministry was a possibility either, even though I sensed a call from God as a twelve-year-old girl. As a teenager, I had no imagination when it came to ministry or ordination. Both were just too far outside the reality of my experience.
In high school, I knew of no women who were serving in official ministry roles . . . except for missionaries, and while I loved missions, being a missionary just never felt right for me.
But then my imagination was stretched. In college, I suddenly had a few female models for ministry, and I watched and prayed and wondered.
I served churches during the summers of my college years and then headed off to seminary, completed a Ph.D., and prepared myself to teach church history to college or seminary students.
The 1990s turned out to be painful years. By 1992, I was well educated and trained . . . and unemployed. Even with Dr. in front of my name, I bumped into closed doors, lived through some painful rejections, and experienced a good bit of anger, fear, and heartbreak. But in the midst of even my hardest days, grace kept showing up. Friends circled around me. Family encouraged me. Mentors gave me a nudge. Pastors prayed for and with me. God showed up and kept showing up for me, more often than not through acts of kindness by those whom I loved.
Finally in 1999 a teaching position showed up. My family (a husband and two young children) moved half-way across the country to North Carolina, and suddenly, I was a professor, teaching in a seminary, instructing ministers and soon-to-be ministers. Ordination could have happened for me then, but I was reluctant. I had no church that I loved enough to ask for ordination, and no church was asking me.
Fifteen years later I remain among the unordained Baptist women ministers. I have given thirty years of my life to service and ministry, but ordination still has not happened for me . . . yet.
But life brings surprises, unexpected graces.
One grace is my church. Three years ago I joined Cornerstone Church in Snellville, Georgia. Cornerstone has become my home, my heart. The people of Cornerstone have offered me places of service, a pulpit from which to preach regularly, kind support for my ministry with BWIM, and friendships that have shaped who I am and who I am becoming.
Another grace for me are the women who serve on the Leadership Team of Baptist Women in Ministry. Last February they circled around me at the end of our spring meeting. They reached out their hands to me, offered words of affirmation and care, and said, “Now is the time, Pam, for ordination, for your ordination.” They invited me to pray, to dream, to explore, and they nudged me a bit. They then reached out to my pastor and church, requesting that I be ordained.
It only took me six months to say yes. I prayed hard, worked through my reservations, talked with trusted friends and my pastor. I sought counsel from a spiritual director. I prayed some more.
There are long stories involved in the process, but the short version is this: You, yes all of you, are invited to the ordination of Pam Durso!
My church, Cornerstone Church in Snellville, Georgia, and the Leadership Team of Baptist Women in Ministry are pleased to invite you to a service of ordination at Smoke Rise Baptist Church in Stone Mountain, Georgia, at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, February 28, 2015. We hope many of you will join us there for a time of affirmation and blessing.
After all these years, with open hands and an open heart I am saying yes to ordination.
Pam Durso is the executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.