A few weeks ago, I was walking across the street, hand-in-hand with my friend’s nine-year-old daughter, toward the playground in her apartment complex. As we neared the parking lot adjacent to the playground, I noticed a white church bus. It was the same church that had told some of our kids they were not welcome because they were “bad.” It was the same church that had made some of our younger kids come up to me with fear and shame in their eyes–because they had been told that if they kept acting up they would “go to hell with all the sinners.” It was the same church that had walked around the apartment complex almost every Saturday handing out (in the words of my friend, who lives in this community and is a deacon at our church) “their moldy old bread and their white Jesus”.
As we neared the playground, my friend’s daughter let go of my hand and ran to the swings. I continued walking toward the playground where I noticed a middle aged man and three young adults talking with four of the kids who lived in the complex. All four of the kids either attend Literacy Camp, Homework Hot Spot, or our church on Sunday mornings.
As I approached the group, one of the kids (K, eight-years-old) spotted me and yelled out, “Hey, Pastor Rebecca!” Immediately the four adult heads snapped in my direction, with looks of curiosity and confusion. As I was returning hugs and high fives from the kids, the older man asked K if he had heard him correctly, that I was K’s pastor, to which K just nodded. The man then said, “Well, you know… the Bible says that only men can be pastors.” I took a breath and paused – partly because I wanted to see what the kids would say, and partly because I didn’t want to say anything I might regret later.
Thankfully, the kids spoke up. This is what that conversation was like:
“Uhhhh – Ms. Rebecca can be whatever she wants to be. That’s what she always tells us,” said A (eleven-years-old)
“But you are a pastor, right?” asked K (eight-years-old)
“Yes,” I said.
“And Mrs. Lanta?”
“And Mrs. Jen?”
Then, the older man began citing scripture and talking about gender roles to explain to these kids why I couldn’t be a pastor when another one of the kids (W, eight-years-old) interrupted him and said, “Well, she’s my pastor.” He then took my hand and walked with me toward the swings.
Until that moment, I really had not accepted the title of pastor. I fought the title for about a year (mostly internally). I didn’t have all the qualifications or skills I thought a pastor had to have. I couldn’t check off all the boxes I felt needed to be checked. I don’t love preaching. I’m not the most eloquent speaker. How can I be called a pastor?
One simple sentence from a child allowed me to see myself in a new light and I began to embrace the title, and the calling on my life to pastor…whatever that may look like.
On the days when my anxiety and self-doubt keep me from doing my best or believing that my best is enough, I am thankful for this story. I am thankful for a child’s words, “She’s MY Pastor.” On those hard days I am also thankful to work alongside five other incredible pastors who somehow both affirm every part of who I am and challenge me to be and do better.
I’m not perfect. I’m broken. I’m human. And…I am a pastor.