I remember the first time I heard a woman preach. I was a freshman at Georgetown College. To be quite honest, I didn’t really like her. Based on what I’d been taught growing up and the male models I had seen as preachers, I felt that she was trying to be something that she was clearly not called by God to be. After all, God didn’t call women to be preachers. This woman preacher had a short, masculine hair-cut, wore a dark pant-suit, and even tried to talk in the low voice of a man. Secretly, I was thankful that God would never call me to be a preacher, because it simply wasn’t at all part of who I was to talk and dress so masculinely.

During my junior year, I took a class called “Women in the Christian Tradition” taught by Sheila Klopfer. We looked in-depth at what the Bible does (and does not) say about women, and I learned that there is such diversity, even within the biblical text, about the role of women in the church. I learned about women who were serving in leadership roles in the early church, and I was amazed at the way Jesus treated women compared to how they were treated by others within that culture. Granted, I was also not oblivious to other verses in the New Testament that seem to limit the participation of women in worship and in church leadership. However, I did learn that the issue was definitely not as “black and white” as I had been led to believe growing up. I left this class with more questions than answers—not only questions about the Bible, but questions about who God is and who God could be calling me to be.

While taking this class, I was approached by our associate campus minister, Bryan Langlands, who asked if I would be willing to preach at a nearby Methodist church. I looked at him in shock and said, “You want me to preach? In the pulpit? On a Sunday morning?” Bryan looked back at me in shock and responded, “You mean you’ve never done that before?” I explained to him that I had “shared my testimony” at my church back home. I had “spoken” at our campus worship service at Georgetown. I had “taught” Bible studies to campus groups. But I had never preached, in a pulpit, on a Sunday morning. I accepted the offer with hesitation. I secretly wondered if I could be disobeying God by going to preach at a Methodist church, but I prayed and asked God to guide me in this decision. I never felt like God was saying “no.” I was honestly was surprised when I felt at peace about my decision to preach.

So I did it.

I preached.

In the pulpit.

On a Sunday morning.

And I loved it!

When I was preaching, a surreal sense of joy overcame me. I felt like I was using my gifts and abilities, doing exactly what God wanted me to do. But I also remember feeling even more torn after this experience. How could God call me to do something that God didn’t call women to do? Would friends and family members ever understand or accept this calling? Would a Baptist church ever hire me as a woman preacher? Overwhelmed by such questions, I continued putting preaching on the back burner, trying to convince myself that I was more suited for another type of ministry.

My mentor and campus minister, Cynthia Insko, didn’t let me forget about my call to preaching. I so appreciate the time she devoted to guiding me in my spiritual journey. Cynthia had a gift for asking “soul questions” that made me pause to reflect on what I felt God was saying and doing in my life. I remember saying to her on several occasions, “But Cynthia, I just don’t think women are supposed to preach!”  She would smile back at me and patiently continued to encourage me as a minister . . . and preacher.

That spring, I had the opportunity to “give my testimony” during worship at my home church on Baptist Women’s Day. (This is the one Sunday of the year that they let women take up the offering and hand out bulletins and visitor cards during the service.)  Granted, the church didn’t call it “preaching” and they moved away the pulpit and gave me a small music stand to use instead, but I didn’t care. It was such an encouraging experience for me to be able to share with my church a piece of my ministry, and of myself, that they had never seen before. Again, I was overwhelmed with joy and fear at the feeling that I was doing exactly what God had created me to do.

Mary Alice Birdwhistell is a student at George W. Truett Theological Seminary and minister to children at Calvary Baptist Church, Waco, Texas.