Rachel Gunter ShapardThe pastor told me I would be the first woman to preach at the church and that it would likely be the first time many in the congregation had ever heard a female deliver a sermon. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this prospect. I was humbled and honored to be the first woman invited into the pulpit. My approach to sermon preparation was a bit more cautious, ever mindful of this notable first for the congregation. Whether I liked it or not, I felt a sense of responsibility toward all women called into the ministry of the Gospel, a longing to demonstrate to this community of believers that women have much to offer in the area of homiletics.

Was my experience at Lake Church in Eustis, Florida, different from any other opportunity I have had to preach? In all honesty, no, it wasn’t. The community of faith was warm, welcoming me as sister and friend. The congregants were attentive and receptive and offered kind words in response. The pastor, Don Pratt, later shared with me, “the good news is that the congregation didn’t fixate on gender. They focused on what you had to say, and thought the message was great.”

One young woman’s comments have stayed with me since last Sunday. She said, “I enjoyed your, uh, well, I don’t want to call it preaching . . . but your message really caused me to want to explore the text further.” I was not offended in the least that she was hesitant to call my offering preaching, but thankful that she had been given the opportunity to explore her views on women in the pulpit, and grateful that my interpretation of the biblical text had given her the desire to dwell longer within the transforming realm of the word of God. What more could any preacher ask?

Rachael Gunter Shapard is associate coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida. She lives with her family in Jacksonville, Florida.