Each Friday Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister, and this week we are thrilled to introduce Patricia Hernandez.
Patricia, tell us about your ministry journey — where you have served and what you are currently doing in ministry.
I was born in Geneva, Switzerland and spent the first two years of my life in the former Yugoslavia (now Croatia) before my parents who were missionaries at the time returned to the United States. When I was in Yugoslavia, I was a foreigner due to my American heritage. When I returned to the U.S., I was a foreigner due to my foreign birth. This sense of foreignness set the stage for a deep affinity and sensitivity toward those who in one way or another have been rejected by mainstream society.
Growing up, I lived on the outskirts of mainstream society, living in the inner city neighborhoods of Dearborn, Detroit, and Philadelphia. Living on the outskirts of society further strengthened affinity for and sensitivity towards those who live on the margins. Out of this concern emerged my call to ministry, which first took shape in a call to a missional ministry serving migrant farmworkers. Subsequently, I was called to pastor churches in New York and Pennsylvania. After pursuing a keen interest in spiritual direction and spiritual formation, I was called to serve the American Baptist Churches of Michigan first as area minister and then as consultant for leadership development. The call to my current position emerged out of my passion for the gifts and calling of women in ministry and my deep desire to support and encourage women in the living out of their gifts and the fulfillment of their calls. I am especially passionate about working towards a world in which all the gifts God has given to all God’s people are able to be fully accessed, embraced, and utilized.
As the national director for ABWIM (American Baptist women in Ministry), I seek the full partnership of men and women in ministry in which both women and men are able to fully utilize their God-given gifts and fully live out their God-given call, living into the dynamic and transformative partnership of God’s new creation.
What are some of the challenges you have encountered along the way in ministry?
The very first search committee with whom I met moved quite quickly to call me as their candidate. However, a week later instead of receiving a phone call to schedule a candidating date, I received a call in which the Chair of the search committee informed me, “we’ve decided we are not yet ready for a woman…”
That “not yet” has, unfortunately, not gone away.
Later, when I was called to serve on region staff, there were churches that refused to have me preach from the pulpit and a number of churches that refused to consider women candidates, even sorting out the personnel profiles of women from those of men with me sitting right at the table with them! After ten years of building relationships, one of those churches actually invited me to consider being a candidate for them! However, I was already in the process of being called to my current role.
In my current role, rarely a week goes by in which I don’t receive a call, email or contact from a woman sharing poignant challenges of the journey into or through ministry. Despite these challenges, God continues to gift and call women into ministry and to open doors for them to serve. To bar God’s gifts is to block God’s activity. To be on mission with God is to welcome, embrace, and celebrate all God’s gifts in all God’s people, and to be part of the Divine door-opening, access-creating activity for the good of all and the glory of God!
Tell us about your D.Min. project. What was the most surprising thing you learned? What would you like women ministers to know based on the research you did?
The question guiding my project was “What ministry practices can create access for women in ministry seeking senior or solo pastoral positions?”
This grew out of the current situation in which women comprise on average 50% of the student body at American Baptist affiliated seminaries across the United States but only 10% of the senior or solo pastoral positions. The purpose of this project was to discover the ways access is gained for women seeking to use their gifts and fulfill their call to pastoral ministry.
As I interviewed many women from many walks of life, what was surprising was how many varied and different paths women traveled to the pulpit, in fact, as many paths as women interviewed! For women, the journey to the pulpit is not a linear trek moving from point A to point B, but often a meandering journey of many miles, attending to multiple matters, juggling a multiplicity of roles.
Women’s journeys are complex and multi-layered. Because they are often longer and more layered, they have not always been recognized as legitimate pathways to a call.
For instance, one woman in sharing her call story apologetically reflected, “it really isn’t much of a burning bush story.” She then proceeded to tell me a story that was every bit aflame as the burning bush of so long ago. Women’s stories are different; women’s journeys unique. But that God is calling and that God has gifted, there is no doubt.
What advice would you give to a young woman searching for a ministry position?
You are created in God’s image, called by God and given great gifts for ministry. Trust in the uniqueness of your journey. And don’t give up!
In addition, I would strongly suggest finding a community with which to connect or a companion to travel the way. As one woman I interviewed said, “Never travel alone!”.