Some conversations stick with you. At a recent social event I was making small talk when a lady asked, “What do you do?” I told her that I was an ordained minister. She asked what denomination, and when I told her Baptist, she breathed, “Oh” with the sub-context of “Really? I didn’t think they did that.” Then she asked, “So do you pastor a church?” I explained that I am the at home parent to my two girls, I write for BWIM, and I volunteer in my church.” She shared, “My niece is going to a divinity program in the fall. She wants to be a minister.” I declared my delight, and then her next comment surprised me. She asked, “But what can she do if she becomes a minister?”
I was silent in the face of her question. What ran through my mind were the faces of friends and colleagues who serve as chaplains, pastors, professors, leaders of non-profits, staff ministers, and on and on. I didn’t know what to say because I didn’t know where to begin. She filled the silence by saying, “Well, I know she could go into missions. I know women can be missionaries.” And then it occurred to me. She really doesn’t know what options are available to women in ministry because her church experience must not include women clergy. I answered her question in a way that I perceived would intersect with her church experience. I asked, “Do you know what men in ministry do?” She said, “Oh yes.” I replied, “Your niece can do that.” She asked, “Preaching, funerals, weddings? She could do all of that?” I answered, “Yes. She can do all of that and more.”
I have encountered negative responses to my calling at one time or another; and by the tone of the ongoing conversation, I expected this woman to question why I was ordained or why her niece was pursuing something that could not become a ‘real job’. Instead, I was faced with the chance to put a face to women in ministry and to give testimony to how it works. I continue to question my answer because “What can she do?” is such a broad and far reaching question. I could have told story after story of amazing women in ministry and how God uses them to further the kingdom. Instead I chose to plant the seed that women can serve churches.
I am thrilled the lady cares so dearly for her niece that she is asking, “What can she do?” and she is permitting her niece to change her understanding of what a minister looks like. I don’t know if I will ever meet this lady again but I sure would like to know what path her niece’s ministry takes; and I hope there are many women in ministry along her way who give faces to the many ways God can use us.
Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, regular contributor to BWIM’s blog, mother of two amazing daughters, teacher for children’s Sunday School, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.
*Pictured, from top to bottom: Rev. Tammy Abee Blom, Rev. Courtney Allen – Minister of Community Ministry and Missions at First Baptist Church, Dalton, GA, Rev. Lauren Waggoner – Minster to Children at First Baptist Church, Marietta, GA, and Rev. Jessica Prophitt – United States Air Force Chaplain